June 19, 2022

An ugly exit for Tribune reporter Molly Ivins and a terrible month for the Twins

After three years at the Minneapolis Tribune, reporter Molly Ivins, who would go on to become a celebrated columnist/humorist in her home state of Texas, finally had a come-to-Jesus moment about her career.

She was frustrated working within what she viewed as the constraints of the Tribune and increasingly wrestled with the notion that objective journalism was the best way to serve the truth. Ivins was not convinced of it and had long admired and read the more opinionated Austin-based Texas Observer, so she finally applied and was hired, giving her an exit out of Minnesota.

In true Ivins style, she resigned via a collect phone call to her Tribune editor Wally Allen. She later formalized it in a letter of resignation in June 1970.

All of this is according to her biographers Bill Minutaglio and W. Michael Smith and their book, “Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life,” which was published in 2009.

According to the book, Ivins wasn’t quite done saying goodbye to her former employer because her biographers say she produced “The Mother of All Fuck Off Stories,” an eight-page spread that appeared in an alternative newspaper called the Twin Citian in August of that same year.

Ivins wrote:

I worked for the Minneapolis Tribune for three years. No, the paper is not hell — just a stone wall drag. … The Trib doesn’t permit its reporters time, money, freedom or space and so we continue to crank out schlock. The horror stories are endless — every reporter has dozens.

And she also shared her thoughts on objectivity.

I don’t believe in the stuff myself — I’ve seen the truth murdered too many times in the name of objectivity — but I am open to the argument that what we really need is a better definition of objectivity.

Meantime, while Ivins was burning bridges, the Twins in August 1970 were struggling through their worst month of the season, a month that included a nine-game losing streak, the longest of the year. And that streak was punctuated by a doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. The second game was especially painful because the Twins took a 7-3 lead into the fifth inning and then coughed up eight runs to lose 11-7.

“I thought we were going to steal one,” said Twins Manager Bill Rigney to the Tribune. “I thought we had found a way to get going.”

Although Ivins had adopted a scorched early policy, the Tribune didn’t exactly roll over. Editor Allen, who had accepted that collect call from Ivins, fired off staff memo No. 77, according to her biography, defending the objective pursuit of journalism.

It is interesting that Ivins’ biographers chose to reprint the memo in full.

It reads:

The objective story tells what happened by giving the reader the facts, accurately, fully, fairly, dispassionately, to the best of our ability as, let’s admit, prejudiced, fallible human beings. It tells what happened in terms of facts, and facts are beautiful. They are not dull and bland. They do not lack color. They do not bore the reader. They do not lie. They need to be piled up, one on another, until the reader understands and sees and hears and smells what is being written about. My objection is to the reporter’s assuming the role of the advocate, playing with the facts, insinuating his feelings into the story, using loaded words, pointing his story toward proving what he himself sees as the truth. My objection is to the reporter’s assumption that he alone sees the truth, that because he is “involved,” he knows. Spot news isn’t enough, of course. It’s merely the beginning, because the facts aren’t always what they seem. We have to go far beneath the superficial daily event to find out why it happened and what it means. … We can do this digging objectively — through background pieces, through analysis and, yes, even through first-person stories … Personal opinion can’t do the job. For those who want it, there is the editorial page. But don’t let it into the news columns.

Ivins would go on to develop her reportorial voice at the Texas Observer, but ironically she would also go on to work for the New York Times, the bastion of objectivity. And once again it was a step back because she was fed a steady diet of general assignment stories that were produced in accordance with the Times’ conservative editing style. Ivins covered the funeral of Elvis Presley, but in true Times style she had to refer to him as Mr. Presley, not Elvis. And when she wanted to describe someone with a “beer gut” it was changed to “protuberant abdomen.”

Her exit there would finally land her a job with a newspaper that wanted to shake up the competitive landscape of Dallas, Texas: The Dallas Times-Herald. The newspaper that gave birth to drive-in movie reviewer Joe Bob Briggs had a welcome spot for Ivins.

And things would soon look up for the Twins. Despite a 14-18 record in August 1970, the Twins went 22-10 in September and October to win the AL West by nine games.

Extra innings…

-After an embarrassing 7-2 loss to the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, the Twins came right back Saturday and silenced the Snakes with an 11-1 win. The Twins go for their third consecutive series win on Sunday. Chris Archer gets the ball.

-The Cleveland Guardians lost Saturday so the Twins now lead the AL Central by two games.

Sources: Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life, MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com, Newspapers.com.

COMMENTS

Hi, I’m Rolf Boone, Twins fan.

I became a fan of the Minnesota Twins after a friendly wager in the early 1980s. I survived Ron Davis, the meltdown in Cleveland, Phil Bradley at the Kingdome and then marveled at a rising generation of stars and two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991. Brad Radke made the 1990s bearable, while Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, exit from the game and eventual death made it almost too much to bear. The new century ushered in more talent — Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau — and consecutive seasons of playoff baseball, followed by consecutive seasons of losing baseball. A winning season returned in 2015. So here we are. Go Twins.