For one, the ranks are thinning, with newsroom employment falling 25% in the last two years. For another, journalists are an increasingly endangered species, from the assassination of columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to murder here, in an Annapolis, Maryland newsroom.
All those “fake news” tirades from President Donald J. Trump, when they’re not semi-comical, are dispiriting.
That’s why I pounced when “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” came to Hulu. I missed it when it premiered last year. Please don’t miss it. It’s so much more than a career pep talk for journos, although it's that, too. It's also a celebration of charm, common sense and American vernacular, wrapped in a free-speech taco.
And it felt personal to me.
I moved to Dallas as a young reporter for Ad Age in 1984. I never met Ivins, though I realize a cub reporter at a trade pub is to a syndicated columnist what a Beefeater is to Princess Kate. Still, I pretended to bask in the light she shone over the entire state.
Acknowledged as pure Texas genius, Ivins’ columns skewered politicians regularly. This is the woman who said Ross Perot was “all hawk and no spit,” gave George W. Bush his “shrub” nickname and who teased the Right with lines like: “I’m not anti-gun. I’m pro-knife.”
She was a populist in the best sense of the word, when it just meant not-fancy people. (That was before it came to imply men in red MAGA hats who favor defacing synagogues and mosques.)
She was also brave. And this documentary, which doesn’t shrink from her warts, conveys it. That meant something to me back then, when I was, frankly, a mess. Broke and lonely, I had hoped my new press pass would fill me with some Ivins-esque zeal. It never happened.
Here she was, blasting any old Bubba, whether he was a senator, governor or even president. By contrast, my First Amendment gumption wilted every time I got chewed out, either by a source who thought I was too harsh, or an editor who said I was too soft.
Her newspaper columns were a shot in the arm for anyone wondering what it takes to speak truth to power. And “Raise Hell” is a nostalgic cocktail, reminding me of how the Golden Age of Molly Ivins fortified me. Journalistically, one of her columns had five times the kick of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and seven times the wallop of a Jimmy Breslin piece.
Ivins died in 2007, so we never got to hear what she would have said about Washington today. But give this great film a watch and use your imagination.
To get you started, here’s something Ivins wrote back in 1994, inspired by politician Newt Gingrich, one of her favorite foils: “When politicians start talking about large groups of their fellow Americans as 'enemies,' it's time for a quiet stir of alertness. Polarizing people is a good way to win an election, and also a good way to wreck a country.”