REID, ALAN (1914–87)
Nicknamed the ‘Red Fox’, Alan Reid dominated the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery for more than four decades. Courted and sometimes reviled by politicians, he was often accused of being a player in national politics rather than a reporter. In fact, he revelled in both roles.
One of Reid’s stories, revealing the Catholic activist B.A. Santamaria as a hidden manipulator of Labor politics, has been credited with provoking the 1955 Labor Split. Another, depicting Labor leader Arthur Calwell and his deputy, Gough Whitlam, waiting impotently for the decision of Labor’s 1963 special conference on US bases in Australia, coined the phrase ‘faceless men’. Reid’s interventions were not confined to Labor politics: in the late 1960s, his reports on disaffection within the Gorton government contributed to the destabilising of that government, and to (Sir) John Gorton’s replacement by (Sir) William McMahon.
Born in Liverpool, England, Reid emigrated with his family to Sydney in 1927. After leaving school he drifted between jobs in outback New South Wales and Queensland before being hired as a copy boy on the Sydney Sun by Robert Clyde Packer.
In 1937, Reid was sent to Canberra to cover national politics. Although initially critical of John Curtin, he developed a close relationship with him and his successor, Ben Chifley. In 1954, Reid changed employers, moving to the Sydney Daily Telegraph under R.C. Packer’s son, (Sir) Frank, the Menzies Coalition government’s strongest media supporter. His relationship with Frank Packer was stormy, but it endured. Reid continued working for Kerry Packer until 1985, producing three books on Australian politics as well as a prolific stream of journalism for outlets including the Bulletin and TCN9.
Reid has often been characterised as a Machiavellian, interested in power rather than ideology or partisan allegiance. The reality was more complex. Although he moved closer to Menzies after joining the Daily Telegraph, Reid’s own politics always retained traces of the Lang Labor populism he had acquired as a young man during the Great Depression—he despised the ‘trendies’ he thought had taken over the party under Whitlam. And he denied there was a conflict of interest between his professional obligations as a journalist and his membership of the ALP, which he regarded as a private matter and maintained until he was expelled in the party’s post-Split recriminations in 1957. If Reid sometimes straddled the line between players and reporters, willingly or at the behest of publishers, he had no doubt where it lay.
REF: R. Fitzgerald and S. Holt, Alan (‘The Red Fox’) Reid (2010).