Molly Ivins was known in her time for pulling no punches and taking our political leaders to task with her fact-based, irreverent and always entertaining journalistic style. Ivins spent many years at The Texas Observer, so it’s a fitting homage to honor a journalist whose work focuses on civil liberties and social justice, and embodies the intelligence and passionate wit that marked her work. This year’s winner of The MOLLY National Journalism Prize, Jeff Sharlet, wrote a ground-breaking expose in Harper’s titled “Straight Man’s Burden,” which detailed the links between a powerful Christian fundamentalist group in America and anti-gay pogroms in Uganda. I spoke with Susan Longley, co-chair of The MOLLY and president of The Texas Democracy Foundation, the parent board of The Texas Observer.
Why do you think Molly Ivins holds such a special, revered place in the hearts/minds of Texans and journalists?
I think Molly gave (still gives!) us two gifts: she had an unerring ability to sniff out injustice and folly in our politicians and then could work this magic with words that made make us laugh ‘til we cried, or while we cried. It helped us keep on fighting in the face of some pretty abysmal times, politically speaking. She always said Texas is a laboratory for bad government and of course that’s gone national before and we’re about to see it again with Rick Perry. No one that loved Molly’s work can help but think about what she’d be saying right now.
How do you feel this year’s winner, Jeff Sharlet, embodies the values that Molly Ivins espoused in her long career?
Jeff’s article, “Straight Man’s Burden,” goes into the heart of the lives of gay Ugandans who are subject to draconian social ostracism and are watching tensely as their parliament considers a horrific bill that includes execution for homosexual activity. He also delves into the secrets of a little-known U.S. Christian organization with strong ties to many members of Congress that’s influencing the Ugandan government. We had many, many excellent entries, but Jeff’s really embodied the passionate pursuit of social justice that marked Molly’s work.
What was the best or most fun part of the awards ceremony at the Four Seasons last week?
We were so pleased with the event. It’s relaxed, people laugh and engage their brains and this year was no exception. Folks arrived an hour early to visit. Gail Collins and Wendy Davis were funny and smart and reminded us why we support investigative journalism. We were treated to a humorous poem and extemporaneous speech by former Lt. Governor Hobby. Jeff Sharlet and our honorable mention, Joshua Kors, talked about their very serious work yet managed to make us laugh. And we got to highlight our excellent Texas Observer reporters who are doing this kind of work for Texas every day. Then Marcia Ball closed with singing Molly’s favorite song, “Great Balls of Fire.” We all left smiling.