If you’re a media hack, you do not want to get on the bad side of Mollie Ziegler Hemingway.
The senior editor at The Federalist is getting a reputation for the ferocity of her take-downs of journalists who do just that foolish thing. Take poor Dana Milbank, for instance. The Washington Post opinion writer poked at Hemingway along with a couple of other conservative women in a March column: “Conservatives to women: Lean back.”
Milbank mocked Hemingway and her colleagues who had concluded in a panel discussion that marriage is, on balance, good for women. Apparently, this was not a notion that progressives like Milbank are willing to entertain as it smacked of that fabled Republican war on women. Milbank scolded the panel for their retrograde views.
“[T]he consensus was that women ought to go back in history,” he chided.
Hemingway didn’t take kindly to Milbank “mansplaining” the whole business. She replied with a column of her own: “Dana Milbank Is Incoherent On Marriage.” In it, she picked apart Milbank’s assumptions about marriage, and about what women want, piece by painful piece, with solid data and arguments.
Along the way, she slipped in some uncharitable references to the writer. “Now, normally I wouldn’t even bother responding to such idiocy,” she wrote, “as I was under the impression that everyone realized Milbank was a partisan hack.”
It didn’t end there. A couple of months later, in mid-June, she took another crack at him in a column titled, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Dana Milbank.” It opened, “Dana Milbank is a columnist for the Washington Post who serially exaggerates or distorts what he writes about. It’s just what he does.”
Milbank hasn’t been Hemingway’s only target. In her Federalist columns, she’s taken shots at NPR’s Terry Gross, Esquire‘s Charles Pierce and The New York Times‘ Charles Blow, to name a few of the mugshots.
The Federalist has only been on the web since September of last year, but Hemingway has helped it to stand out quickly.
By April, based on her success The Independent Women’s Forum included a profile of her in their Portrait of a Modern Feminist series (which incidentally took pains to explain that Ziegler Hemingway did not consider herself a feminist), praising her erudition and wit.
Her July 9 column, “Media Ignorance Is Becoming A Serious Problem,” she broadened the attack on her profession. Hemingway concluded that the all-time low of trust in journalists might have something to do with the amount of basic errors evident everywhere, but seem particularly egregious in the left-of-center press. In that column, she demonstrated this by itemizing 19 different obvious and avoidable screw-ups by Vox’s executive editor Matt Yglesias.
Overall, Hemingway says she optimistic about the future of journalism, just not in short term. A big part of the problem, she says, is that nobody seems to be getting a classical education anymore.
“Although some of these people are Ivy League educated they don’t seem to have a very good grasp of history, recent history or ancient history. They don’t seem to have a very good grasp of the philosophical underpinnings of different belief systems and it is reflected in their writing,” she says.
She believes American education is failing whole generations of people. “They don’t know how to think. They know how to share their emotions and they’re rewarded for sharing their emotions,” says Hemingway.
“But they’re not taught how to make an argument or be persuasive. I think that’s a major problem you are seeing, being reflected in poor journalism today.”
So how did she escape this emotive trap? Born Mollie Ziegler in Denver, Colorado, she was raised by someone who was given, and evidently prized, a great education. Her father is a Lutheran pastor (set to retire this September) whose seminary work included the classics. Her mother is a retired 4th grade teacher.
Being a “PK” (Pastor’s Kid), the family moved around a good deal. Hemingway spent part of her childhood and adolescence in Wyoming and California before eventually returning to Colorado. She says she survived the PK experience well as did her siblings, a brother and sister.
“I think that there’s even a name [PK] that goes with it is because everyone recognizes that it is kind of unique,” she says. “You don’t just have your parents, you have an entire congregation that is shall we say interested in how you are behaving. For some people that can be traumatic.”
Her parents, she says, were really good about shielding their kids from this kind of scrutiny. “Frequently, there’s an outcome for pastors’ kids where they’re either like super good, super well-behaved and super pious, or they’re like rebels beyond belief.” But Mollie and her brother and sister went “straight down the middle.” They are all weekly church goers. None of them went into church work nor, apparently, did they rebel.
Her goal in high school was to become an economist. She earned a degree in that subject at the University of Colorado. In her final year, however, she realized she wasn’t cut out for academia and so she headed off to Washington D.C., where she found work fundraising for free market think tanks, work that she doesn’t elaborate on other than to say that she hated it. It was then she decided she might take a stab at journalism.
She eventually landed a job at Radio and Records, a now-defunct weekly trade magazine covering the recording and radio industries. “Actually it wasn’t even a reporting job,” she says. “It was a answer-the-phone and get-coffee kind of job, you know, take the faxes off the fax machine type of thing.”
The bureau chief let her try her hand at writing copy and she took advantage of that opportunity. In 2002, she moved over to Gannett Publishing, a major media conglomerate, where she went to work at the Federal Times, a publication that covers management of the federal government.
“This was just really good experience for learning how to write. Three stories a day, and call people and all that kind of stuff,” she says.
It was here that she found ample opportunity to write about big government with its “waste, fraud and mismanagement.”
In 2004, she landed a journalism fellowship from the Phillips Foundation which allowed her to take a year and write about the topic of her choosing. She chose civil religions, which she describes as “the blending of religion and politics in American culture.” When the fellowship ended, she returned to Gannett. At the end of 2005, she picked up a side gig at a website called GetReligion, which analyzes how well or poorly the mainstream media handles religion news.
But her life beyond the career had been changing in big ways. She married Mark Hemingway—a senior writer for The Weekly Standard—and with the birth of their first child in 2008 (the couple now has two daughters, five and six years old), she decided to give up the newspaper job to spend time with her newborn at home.
She concentrated on her GetReligion blogging and any other freelance she could pick up. She wrote a column for Christianity Today, contributed to the Wall Street Journal’s Houses of Worship feature and to a host of other sites like National Review and Ricochet.
She even for a while wrote a sex column for the conservative-libertarian magazine Doublethink. She quite enjoyed that. “I’m Christian so my idea about sexual ethics is shaped by that,” she says.
“I’ve often found that people who write about sex are complete degenerates who have the worst advice in the world. And if you want an actual happy sexual relationship you need to make sure that people who don’t have horrible ideas about sex are weighing in. I’m certainly not an expert on anything but it’s fun for me to write about sex.”
When her children reached school age, she found she had more time to write. She returned to her career full time by signing up for the launch of The Federalist. According to her, the site is doing “fantastic.”
She has stated that she enjoys writing about—in no particular order—economics, sex, religion and baseball. Noticeably missing from that list are “the media” and “other writers.”
She may not enjoy brutalizing other writers but she’s pretty good at it, and it’s a living. My best advice is: If you consider yourself a journalist, mind your p’s and q’s and double check those facts if you intend to pass anywhere near Mollie Ziegler Hemingway.