By Daniel Junas
Sun Myung Moon, the charismatic leader of the Unification Church, founded the Washington Times on May 18, 1982, the day after he was convicted of tax fraud and related charges. That conviction, for which Moon served 14 months in federal prison, contributed to a widespread perception that Moon was a discredited and fading cult leader. But while Moon himself has faded from the consciousness of the American public, the Washington Times has left its own mark on the political consciousness of the nation’s capital and, indirectly, the entire nation.
The Washington Times‘ circulation has never topped 100,000, less than one-eighth that of its competitor, the Washington Post. The Times‘ influence, however, is not derived from raw numbers, but from its role as a bullhorn for the conservative movement. Despite Moon’s frankly theocratic political agenda, aimed at placing Moon and his followers at the head of a global government, the conservative movement has embraced Moon’s newspaper. The Times ensures that, every day, thousands of D.C.-based conservative activists, including legislators and their staffs, are literally reading from the same page.
Consequently, the Times can intimidate its foes. Referring to a scatological NEA-funded performance piece that had been hailed as a “badge of courage,” then-NEA chief John Frohnmayer reportedly remarked, “I don’t believe that the Washington Times will view it that way” (Washington Post, 9/18/91). Frohnmayer was a frequent target of Times attacks over “obscene” art.
The Washington Times enjoyed its greatest influence during the Reagan administration, which had a warm and cooperative relationship with the paper. The administration provided leaks and exclusive interviews, and in return, the Times provided supporting fire for the president. The Times also influenced policy-making: Pat Buchanan said that when he was White House communications director, the paper was read by everybody before the senior staff meeting, and that often the president made phone calls on the basis of stories in the Times.
The Washington Times supported Reagan’s pet causes in its editorials and news articles—and, in the case of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, with cash contributions as well. In March 1985, then-White House aide Oliver North wrote a memorandum suggesting that if Congress failed to grant the Contras $14 million in a forthcoming vote, a nonprofit “Nicaraguan Freedom Fund” should be launched to raise the same amount from private sources. Two months later, after the measure had lost in Congress, Washington Times editor Arnaud de Borchgrave announced that his paper was creating the Nicaraguan Freedom Fund, and Moon’s chief lieutenant, Bo Hi Pak, donated the first $100,000. The NFF board included such conservative luminaries as Jeane Kirkpatrick, William Simon, Midge Decter and Michael Novak.
The Washington Times has been useful for launching partisan attacks against Democrats. In 1988, the Times published a rumor circulated by followers of Lyndon LaRouche that candidate Michael Dukakis had once received psychiatric treatment, pushing the smear into the mainstream media and forcing the Dukakis campaign to respond. The paper also became known for attacks on progressive movements, publishing evidence-free articles like “Sandinistas, Khadafy Fund U.S. Protest” (4/24/87).
When Bill Clinton entered the White House, the Washington Times became as hostile to his Democratic administration as it had been hospitable to the Republicans. The Times has given prominent coverage to the Whitewater scandal, Paula Jones’ accusations of sexual harassment and other stories that have plagued the Clinton White House.
Although the Times is not as widely read as the Washington Post or New York Times, the impact of its coverage is felt through its-influence on other reporters. “The Washington Times,” notes Washington D.C.-based investigative journalist Robert Parry, “induces fear in the mainstream press that if they do not cover certain stories aggressively, they will be accused of covering up.”
This fear sometimes leads to inaccurate reporting. Last fall, for instance, the Washington Times reported (10/19/94) that Arkansas state trooper L.D. Brown had overheard a conversation between then-Governor Clinton and David L. Hale, in which Clinton improperly asked Hale for a Small Business Administration loan to the wife of James B. McDougal, who was Clinton’s partner in the Whitewater real estate deal. If accurate, the story would have corroborated a key accusation against Clinton. The next day (10/20/94), the Washington Post ran essentially the same story. But the day after that (10/21/94), the Post printed a correction that stated that Brown had only overheard Clinton asking Hale for general financial help; he had not corroborated the accusation at all.
Nonetheless, since the end of the Reagan era, the Washington Times has slightly changed its profile. “It’s become less of a strident, overfly right-wing paper,” says Sara Diamond, who has written extensively about the right wing and has subscribed to the Times since 1984, “and more of a city-oriented daily paper.” The Times now runs more wire-service copy and fewer articles generated by its often-partisan reporters. This shift was apparently motivated by business considerations, as the paper’s executives have sought to stem heavy losses, as well as boost circulation by appealing to a wider readership, particularly Washington’s African-American population.
The paper still gives considerably more coverage to the conservative movement than other papers, sometimes operating as an organ of the movement. It frequently publishes extended articles on debates within conservative circles.
The Washington Times also covers right-wing activity outside the Beltway, throughout the 50 states. In July 1994, for instance, the Times published a lengthy, informative article (7/21/94) exploring anti-tax initiatives in five states mat would require voters to approve all tax increases by referendum. The Washington Times has a decidedly less East Coast-centric perspective on politics than the Washington Post or the New York Times, covering regional and national political trends not reported elsewhere.
Although the news pages have toned down their rhetoric, in me last year the Washington Times expanded its editorial and op-ed section, which is slanted heavily to the right, from two to four pages. The syndicated columns of conservative pundits, such as Pat Buchanan and Cal Thomas, are featured regularly, although the Times has also added a centrist Democratic columnist, Christopher Matthews, to the mix.
The Washington Times recently began publishing a national weekly edition to distribute its daily material more widely. The paper’s parent company also produces Insight, a would-be right-wing alternative to Time or Newsweek, and a glossy, nearly telephone-book sized monthly, the World and I, aimed at conservatives with intellectual pretensions.
All of these publishing ventures have cost the Moon organization an enormous amount of money. In 1990, Moon’s top lieutenant, Bo Hi Pak, estimated that the Washington Times had lost $250 million in the first eight years of its existence. And at the time of the paper’s 10th anniversary, Moon himself said that he had invested close to $1 billion in an effort to make the paper “an instrument to save America and the world” (Washington Post, 5/28/92).
It is remarkable that so few questions have been raised about the source of Moon’s money. The official explanation is that the paper is subsidized by Unification Church businesses in South Korea, but business analysts in that country have said that Moon’s business conglomerate is not particularly profitable, and that it also receives mysterious infusions of capital.
In the late 1970s, the Moon organization was investigated by a Congressional subcommittee headed by Rep. Donald Fraser (D.-Minn.) as part of its investigation into the Koreagate scandal. The Fraser Committee reported that it was unable to determine the source of Moon’s funding. The Congressional investigators may have been frustrated, however, by the scope of their mandate, which was limited to U.S.-Korean relations.
An FBI report–prepared in 1977 during the first two months of the Carter administration, and recently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act–points not to Korea, but Japan. Moon, according to this report and other published accounts, received critical backing from three Japanese power brokers, Ryoi-chi Sasakawa, Yoshio Kodama and Nobu-suke Kishi, all of whom were accused of war crimes at the end of World War II, but were eventually released without trial.
Kishi went on to become prime minister of Japan (1957-60); Kodama became an asset of the Central Intelligence Agency and was later implicated in the Lockheed scandal; Sasakawa made a fortune in the gambling industry and became a major funder of the Japanese right wing. The FBI report also stated that Moon enjoyed connections with the Japanese government at the highest levels.
According to a former member of the Unification Church interviewed in 1984, an estimated $800 million flowed from the Japanese Unification Church to Moon’s U.S. operations between 1975 and 1984 (Washington Post, 2/16/84). The Far Eastern Economic Review (11/1/90) has reported that the Moon organization is propped up through borrowing from wealthy Japanese individuals, although their identity is unknown. But whoever is paying Moon’s bills has obviously decided that influence in the most powerful capital in the world is worth the expense.
Daniel Junas is writing a book about the Unification Church.