Reed Irvine, the founder and central figure of Accuracy in Media, the first conservative media watchdog group, died on Nov. 16 at the age of 82. For inventing the field of professional conservative media criticism -- to fight not just the liberal bias within the media but also its attendant arrogance -- the entire conservative movement, and American journalism in general, owe him a debt of gratitude.
In its infancy, network television news was a rip-and-read enterprise, 15 quick minutes of wire service copy. But as TV news divisions recognized their own political power, they began actively to steer a national audience toward a political worldview of their liking.
Sometimes it was as simple as covering something, or refusing to cover something. Armed with slogans like "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" "-- a calling based on political motivation, not journalism -- they used their dominance of the machinery of public opinion to preach one message and one definition of "news." It also became the most hypocritical of professions. Wrapped in the fig leaves of "objectivity," "fairness" and "balance" was a deeper truth. Neither the conservative perspective nor its leaders were to be granted credibility by serious journalists.
In the fall of 1969, after a number of years as an economist at the Federal Reserve, Reed Irvine began a second career, this time to become one small David against the liberal media Goliath. Immediately he was dismissed as an unserious critic because, proclaimed the scribes, Reed Irvine wasn't part of the working press. Lost in that argument was its reverse postulation: How, then, are reporters qualified to cover fields wherein they can't document professional experience?
But Reed Irvine was a pioneer who wouldn't be silenced. His courageous example showed that the American news consumer was just as intelligent and qualified to judge the coverage of news as those hired to report it.
When he started in 1969, the time for media watchdogs was ripe. That November, Vice President Spiro Agnew had delivered his famous speech in Des Moines decrying "a small group of men" at the networks settling on the 20 minutes of film and commentary the American people would see, with the result being "a narrow and distorted picture of America often emerges from the television news."