Irvine, Reed John
Irvine, Reed John
(b. 29 September 1922 in Salt Lake City, Utah; d. 16 November 2004 in Rockville, Maryland), economist with the Federal Reserve Board, founder of the conservative watchdog organizations Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia, and pioneer in criticizing what he saw as the liberal bias in the media and on college campuses.
The youngest of five children born to William John Irvine, a worker, and Edna Jessup (May) Irvine, a homemaker, Irvine was reared a Mormon. At the University of Utah, Irvine made Phi Beta Kappa and received a BA in 1942, when he was nineteen years old. He went to the University of Colorado from 1943 to 1944 for postgraduate study. Irvine also served in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1942 to 1943 and in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 1943 to 1946. From 1945 to 1948 he served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an intelligence officer. He learned the Japanese language quickly and participated in the campaigns of Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa. He later served in Tokyo with the U.S. War Department at the General Headquarters of the Allied Occupation of Japan.
Returning home in 1948, Irvine married Kay Araki, a survivor of the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki, Japan, on 14 August. They had one child. In 1949 Irvine went to the University of Washington for more postgraduate study and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Oxford University from 1949 to 1951. Irvine earned a BLitt in economics there.
In 1951 Irvine started a long career with the Federal Reserve Board, first as an economist and later as an adviser in international finance. He traveled extensively in Asia and Latin America and wrote numerous articles as well as books in the field of development economics. He advocated free market economics and encouraged private enterprise and investment as the best policies for developing countries. Irvine retired from the Federal Reserve Board in 1977.
While he was with the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C., Irvine chaired luncheon groups of economists and others with anticommunist and conservative beliefs. In the 1960s the members increasingly voiced their concern over what they saw as the liberal bias in major news media, mainly the tendency to expose the “evils” of the Western capitalist system while glorifying the communist Soviet Union and various socialist movements. Irvine and his colleagues started writing letters to the editor as private citizens, trying to balance the stories with the information and facts that they felt the news media either erroneously reported or omitted. Most of the letters were rejected. The few corrections they obtained were ignored in future references. Thus the idea of forming a citizens’ media watchdog organization took shape.
In 1969, as the controversy about the Vietnam War began to be reflected in the major news media, Irvine launched Accuracy in Media (AIM), with a donation of $200. He would lead AIM in an unprecedented public crusade, taking on such media giants as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Columbia Broadcasting System, National Broadcasting Company, American Broadcasting Company, and later Cable News Network and Public Broadcasting Service as well as some prominent journalists who he felt were liberally biased.
At the same time Irvine became a prolific investigative journalist himself. He published the biweekly AIMReport; wrote a weekly syndicated column, which was carried by some one hundred mostly small newspapers across the nation; and did a daily three-minute “Media Monitor” radio program, which was distributed to more than two hundred radio stations. He also wrote and cowrote books on the subject. Meanwhile, Irvine urged major networks to air documentary and television movies to counter previously aired programs that he asserted presented positive images of the Soviet Union and negative images of the United States in the Vietnam War.
Pursuing his mission, Irvine became an activist as well. When his letters to editors were ignored, AIM bought advertising space to expound his views in those same newspapers. Irvine also encouraged AIM members to bombard editors with thousands of letters. He personally purchased stocks in major media companies, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and major TV networks, so that he could confront executives at annual shareholder meetings. He also made appearances on TV discussion programs, oftentimes the only conservative on the panel. Michael Hoyt, executive editor of Columbia Journalism Review, commented that Irvine was “the first to really sound the trumpet of liberal bias.”
In Irvine’s eyes, the left-leaning media had been enjoying an unchallenged credibility. He believed that in journalism schools, “objective news reporting” was being replaced with “interpretive reporting.” As Irvine’s dogged criticism was gaining momentum, some in the mainstream media reacted strongly, marginalizing Irvine’s and AIM’s voices. While the New York Times executive offered to meet Irvine over lunch annually, the editor in chief of the Washington Post stopped attending shareholder meetings and wrote Irvine a letter calling him a “miserable, carping retromingent vigilante.” Irvine took it as a badge of honor—the letter was blown up and hung in AIM’s conference room.
Irvine’s work attracted the interest of a broad spectrum of policy experts. AIM’s advisory board included former ranking government officials, former ambassadors, scholars, a Nobel laureate, and one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union. Under Irvine’s chairmanship, AIM became a prominent citizens’ news media watchdog group, funded by membership fees and donations from corporations and foundations.
In 1985, operating on the belief that the liberal bias in higher education was as pervasive as in the media, Irvine founded AIM’s adjunct organization, Accuracy in Academia (AIA), to document and combat the supposed left-tilting teaching by professors and in curricula. The group reached out to college students nationwide through the monthly Campus Report and through student conferences. Some academics claimed that Irvine’s and AIA’s activity was an assault on the First Amendment and on academic freedom and that it was politically and ideologically motivated. AIA’s tactics of taking students’ intelligence on professors as a method of exposing reportedly biased teaching also drew criticism. AIA countered by arguing that freedom of speech and ideology were at issue when college teaching was one-sided. AIA virtually introduced the term “politically correct” into the American lexicon.
In 1980 Irvine was awarded the George Washington Medal by the Freedoms Foundation. In 2002 AIM’s chairmanship was passed on to Irvine’s son, Donald, a longtime executive secretary of AIM’s board and overseer of finances and operations policies. Irvine became chairman emeritus and remained active until his last days. He died at a nursing home of complications from a stroke he had suffered at the end of 2003.
When Irvine started AIM, he was probably the lone rider in a barely trodden field, trying to break what he saw as the dominance of the liberal bias in major news media. He said, “I think what we ought to see—what I wish we’d see—is a greater willingness on the part of the media to give the other side of the story.” Irvine, who had the appearance and evangelical style of a country parson, relentlessly fought to have his views aired. Most of the cases reflected Irvine’s staunch anticommunist and conservative beliefs, but he also advocated for groups that did not necessarily share his viewpoints and exposed controversial stories that both ends of the political spectrum wanted to leave alone. The news anchor Ted Koppel noted that Irvine was “never anything but courtly and personally gracious.”
A biography of Irvine is in Contemporary Authors (1990). Articles on Irvine, AIM, and AIA include “One Man’s Accuracy,” National Journal (10 May 1986); “Accuracy in Media,” National Review (2 Nov. 1984); “Profiles of Deception,” Columbia Journalism Review (Jan.–Feb. 1991); “The Media’s Wacky Watchdogs,” Time (5 Aug. 1991); “Reed Irvine Takes AIM at the Media,” Human Events (21 Jan. 1994); and “Irvine Fights War of Words to Correct Media’s First Draft,” Insight on the News (17 Mar. 1997). Obituaries are in the Washington Post (18 Nov. 2004), New York Times (19 Nov. 2004), and National Review (13 Dec. 2004).