November 18, 2004
Media Watchdog Reed Irvine, 82
Obituary, The Washington Post

Reed Irvine, 82, the founder of a 35-year-old conservative watchdog group called Accuracy in Media, died Nov. 16 of complications from a stroke at the Casey House in Rockville.

Mr. Irvine, an economist, annoyed and infuriated major media for years with his syndicated critiques, prolific letters to the editor, and confrontational questions at corporate meetings that routinely accused the press and broadcasters of a liberal bias. In vilifying the media, he was at the forefront of a conservative movement that over the next several decades evolved into a well-funded cottage industry.

"I think he was the first to really sound the trumpet of liberal bias," said Michael Hoyt, executive editor of Columbia Journalism Review, based at New York's Columbia University. "I think he represented a resentment that was larger than him. Some people treated him as a kook, but others thought, 'Maybe he's got some points here.' That had a lasting impact."

Among his campaigns was an effort started 16 years ago to "Can Dan" Rather, the CBS News anchor. Mr. Irvine forced the Public Broadcasting System to run an hour-long rebuttal by his group to the 1983 documentary "Vietnam: A Television History."

During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, he accused CNN and its reporter Peter Arnett of airing "Saddam Hussein's version of the truth. There's no way his reporting is helping America win this war," Mr. Irvine told The Washington Post.

In 1998, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he maintained that there was a conspiracy within the Republican Party to suppress investigations of Clinton administration scandals. "Conspiracy is a word that has been given a very bad connotation -- it's become synonymous with 'kooky,' " he told a Post reporter. "But really it has a very good connotation." In other words, he elaborated, some conspiracy theories are valid. But not Hillary Clinton's notion of a vast right-wing conspiracy. "She's kooky," he said.

In 1986, Mr. Irvine predicted erroneously that coverage of the Iran-Nicaragua connection could cripple anti-communist efforts in Central America and would lead Mexico into communism.

"He was a die-hard anti-communist," said his son, Donald Irvine, president of Accuracy in Media. "There was a bulldoggedness, an incredible determination in my father. Nothing ever stopped him; he wore a shield of armor, and you couldn't hurt him. It didn't matter if he was talking to [the late Washington Post Co. chairman] Katharine Graham or [former Post executive editor] Ben Bradlee or [former New York Times publisher] Arthur Ochs Sulzberger."

Mr. Irvine was born in Salt Lake City. He graduated from the University of Utah in 1942 and attended graduate school at the University of Colorado. He served in the Marine Corps during World War II, where his job was to learn Japanese and translate interviews with prisoners of war. After the war, he returned to graduate school, enrolling at the University of Washington until he won a Fulbright scholarship to Oxford University from 1949 to 1951, leaving with a master's degree in literature.

He worked as an economist with the Federal Reserve from 1951 until 1977, when he retired. In 1969, when he was still at the Fed, members of his lunch group regularly complained that conservative points of view were not adequately reported in the media. Mr. Irvine appointed himself as just the one to set the nation's media straight. He formed Accuracy in Media.

"I think he was ahead of his time in drawing attention to media misbehavior and misdeeds, pointing out that if media didn't correct its own errors, its credibility would suffer drastically. And that's exactly what's happened," said Cliff Kincaid, editor of Accuracy in Media Report.

Ben Bagdikian, a critic of media consolidation whose view is more liberal, said that Mr. Irvine's influence waned after its first splash.

"He was a very doctrinaire, rather unchanging ultraconservative critic. In the years since the mid-1970s, a much more intellectually sophisticated conservative criticism of the news media began to emerge," Bagdikian said. "His criticisms were so stereotyped that they didn't carry the information that backed his accusations. It was an indictment without individual charges."

Mr. Irvine was nominated to the board of directors of The Washington Post Co. in 1978 by another media gadfly. He netted 19 votes, compared with 5,531,784 for his nearest rival.

In 1985, he started a companion organization, Accuracy in Academia, that fought "political correctness" on campuses.

His organizations' major contributor for the past 20 years has been billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, said Mr. Irvine's son. Mr. Irvine wrote several books, including "Media Mischief and Misdeeds" (1984), and was coauthor of "Profiles of Deception" (1990), "The News Manipulators" (1993), "Why You Can't Trust the News" (2003).

Survivors include his wife of 56 years, Kay Araki Irvine; his son; and three grandchildren, all of Gaithersburg.