"A miserable, carping, retromingent vigilante" is the way former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee once described the founder of Accuracy in Media, the nation's oldest media watchdog organization. Even if you don't know what retromingent means ("urinating backwards," actually), it's pretty clear that Reed Irvine wasn't the darling of what he liked to call "the left-wing media."
Reed Irvine, a Utah native who lived just outside the beltway in Maryland for decades, is considered by some to have paved the way, ideologically, for all the conservative talk shows and Web sites to follow. And Accuracy in Media (AIM) still ruffles feathers as it goes about its business of shooting at media it considers inaccurate and biased. The group got lots of print last fall when it attacked CBS for its handling of stories about President Bush's National Guard service accusations that eventually cost veteran anchor Dan Rather his job.
AIM's chairman is now Reed's son Don, who continues his father's mission to prod the liberal media. Don Irvine will be in Utah Friday to speak to the Utah College Republican State Convention.
"I'll build a case about where the media has been heading," Irvine said in a phone interview from his home in Maryland. "You still have a very liberal mind-set (in the media). We're seeing progress made, but the people making most of the decisions are the entrenched liberals."
Reed Irvine died last fall at the age of 82. Because his father had been incapacitated for some months, Don Irvine isn't sure his father could really appreciate the Dan Rather episode.
"It was kind of sad that my father was not functioning so he could see the fruits of his labor," Irvine said.
Not that the fruits are quite fruitful enough yet, he added. "CBS hasn't really truly cleaned house. . . . Rather is still employed by CBS. And should the head of CBS News still keep his job? That sows the seeds of distrust."
Irvine, who still has ties to Utah (his daughter attends Brigham Young University), said he grew up in a "very conservative" household but that his father actually started out his career as a liberal.
"He went to the University of Utah, where he got very enamored of socialism, and he spent a good portion of his adult life following that edict."
His father's ideology shifted after meeting what Irvine categorizes as "hard-core anti-communists." During the Vietnam War, Reed Irvine joined a group that later became Accuracy in Media, which argued that newspapers and the networks weren't reporting the war accurately. "Do you understand how brutal communists can be?" Irvine says his father asked. "But no one wanted to listen, for the most part."
Reed Irvine was a tireless letter-to-the-editor writer. "He knew the issues. He would pound away. But he wasn't a scary type of person. He was well-reasoned, and he won begrudging respect from other journalists," Don Irvine said.
On the other hand, he acknowledges, his father and AIM have also been characterized as conspiracy theorists. Reed Irvine pushed hard for more questioning about the death of Vince Foster, deputy White House counsel in the Clinton administration, and about the reasons for the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800, which he alleged was caused by rocket fire.
Reed Irvine bought stock in the big media companies, which enabled him to attend shareholder meetings at places like his nemesis, the New York Times. Twenty years ago, Reed took Don to one of those shareholder meetings at the Washington Post.
"I introduced myself to (former publisher) Kay Graham, and she looked at me and said, "Oh God, do you have any children?"Graham sensed that an Accuracy in Media dynasty was already in progress.