More than 50 years later, 35 of it as a driving force at The Washington Times, Mr. Pruden’s wry, witty, take-no-prisoners commentary, “Pruden on Politics,” remains a popular fixture in print, online and by email for a legion of loyal Times readers.
A Baptist preacher’s son, Mr. Pruden grew up on words, the rich cadences that make up the music of the King James version of the Bible. He was hired at 15 by the Arkansas Gazette in his hometown of Little Rock. He continued to work there after graduation from Little Rock High School while attending classes at what is now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Three years later, he joined the Commercial Appeal, a Scripps Howard newspaper, in Memphis.
Mr. Pruden joined The Times as a political columnist on Day One and quickly became the fledgling paper’s managing editor, guiding a rowdy and eccentric collection of rogues, scamps and vagabonds, all skeptical of nearly everything, living by the famous newsroom maxim that “if your mother says she loves you, check it out.” He helped shaped the newspaper alongside several editors-in-chiefs, including Arnaud de Borchgrave, in the first decade and then as editor-in-chief himself through the second. He kept the emphasis on the fundamentals of old-fashioned “shoe-leather” reporting, setting the yardstick by which today’s newsroom operates.
Drawing on his experience as a newspaperman in Arkansas and Tennessee and a war correspondent in Vietnam and the Middle East, Mr. Pruden quickly set out to develop The Times’ unmistakable identity in which respect for institutions could be spiked with an irreverent, occasionally irascible attitude, qualities that later would come to be decried in polite parlors as “politically incorrect.” This became a mantra.
“We’re the way we are because that’s the way we were designed to be,” Mr. Pruden insisted that each recruit, whether cub or veteran, be told. “If you want to work on a plain-vanilla newspaper that looks and sounds like a thousand others, this is not the place for you. Don’t come here thinking you’re going to change the way we are. But if you want to work on a newspaper that chases the unexpected story, the story other papers ignore and your readers crave, finding and printing the inconvenient but illuminating fact, this is the place for you.”
Mr. Pruden nurtured a period of stable growth and acceptance in which The Times projected a mature influence while attracting new talent, several who have become the core of today’s news gathering and opinion operations. And he is one of four who can say they have seen it all at The Times.
Ralph Z. Hallow, senior political correspondent
Senior Political Correspondent Ralph Z. Hallow has a knack for the exclusive, and he’s been doing it since the beginning.
The Reagan White House’s secret program to finance the rebels in Nicaragua with proceeds from arms sales to Iran had begun to leak in early November 1986. In a Nov. 21 recording for his diary, Vice President George H.W. Bush called the Reagan administration’s internal bickering over who knew what “unseemly,” and “like blood in the water and sharks are coming in.” Then: “There was the first linkage of me to all this today when Ralph Z. Hallow, a horrible fellow, a right-wing guy from The Washington Times, wrote a piece that wasn’t bad at all but just talked about what the vice president knew and when he knew it.” Mr. Hallow, naturally, took the “horrible fellow” as a compliment.
And it was Mr. Hallow in The Times who first noted the “wheels are coming off the McCain campaign,” as the lead on a March 3, 2000, report put it, because the senator continued to alienate core Republican voters — as was abundantly clear to anyone willing to see and report it.
David A. Keene, then chairman of the American Conservative Union who would later serve as The Times’ opinion editor, says: “The Times saw and reported early the defects in the McCain candidacy at a time when most of the other media were so emotionally involved that they couldn’t see he was planting the seeds of his own destruction.”
The Times “remains the best place to read about internal Republican politics because its reporters are so plugged in,” Washington Monthly noted in 1997, citing as an example Mr. Hallow’s description of a private meeting at which 32 conservative activists sharply criticized House Speaker Newt Gingrich for “going soft” on tax cuts.
Less than a decade later, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reiterated the importance of reading The Times to better understand the Republican Party as she regularly read Mr. Hallow’s coverage of shenanigans and infighting of the Republican National Committee under the stewardship of Michael Steele. Mr. Hallow’s meticulous reporting and sources within the RNC led to Mr. Steele’s downfall and the rise of Reince Priebus, whose transformation of the committee’s operations is credited with helping the GOP win the White House and re-establish itself in many states.
Mr. Hallow came from the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, but he honed his reporting chops at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Not long after the newspaper’s founding, Mr. Hallow, then a relative newcomer to Washington, accompanied House Democrats and their families to an annual retreat at a resort in West Virginia. One evening, the pols threw a dinner and dance, at which they and their families occupied dozens of tables. While mingling and schmoozing as good reporters do by definition, Mr. Hallow recalls, he was invited to pull up a chair.
“And as I moved from table to table and conversation to conversation, it became clear to me that they sought my company because of the newspaper I represented — and the traditional family values that paper already was known to respect,” Mr. Hallow says.
It goes with the territory that any political writer covering a campaign event or state or national political convention in cities and towns across America will be asked repeatedly by attendees what publication he or she works for.
“But almost from Day One,” Mr. Hallow says, “upon learning I was from The Washington Times, the convention delegates, candidate supporters or members of the state or national Republican Party committee would pump my hand, clap me on the back, even hug me, and say thing like, ‘Thank God for The Washington Times.’”
Alexander Hunter, art director and an illustrator for The Times’ Commentary section
Alexander Hunter was the last staffer personally selected by Rev. Sun Myung Moon at a draft of Unificationists held in New York at the inception of The Washington Times in January 1982.
He arrived in Washington that year and went to work as an information graphic artist and illustrator for the paper, adding publication design and art direction to his repertoire under the tutelage of The Times’ designer Gil Roschuni and its art director, Joe Scopin.
Over the past 35 years, Mr. Hunter served as political cartoonist, art director and chief illustrator for the Commentary section through the 1980s as well as designer and art director at various times for virtually all other sections of the paper, save the front page and sports.
Winning the Society of Newspaper Designers Gold Award for Design in 1985 (shared with illustrator Dolores Motitchka) began a period of recognition that racked up over two dozen local and national awards for illustration and publication design.
Mr. Hunter created a full-page Sunday feature, Hunter’s Big Picture, which in its first year tied for second place in the Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award for Editorial Cartooning competition in 2008. This same feature won first place in the same category in 2009.
Still swinging a bicuspid-bitten Venus No. 2 in either fist, he currently reprises his role as art director and an illustrator for The Times’ Commentary section and has recently become a contributing cartoonist for its Editorial Page and website.
Frank Perley, senior opinion editor
Frank Perley received a tip in August 1981 while working in San Diego that a startup newspaper with a conservative editorial perspective would debut the following year to replace the defunct Washington Star. A native New Yorker, he headed back East with his English degree to ensure he was front and center when hiring began.
He signed on to the original staff in January 1982 to begin prepping for publication from offices in the basement of the National Press Building.
“We practiced putting together prototypes with news stories we banged out on typewriters and edited by hand,” he recalled. “I remember all of us running around Capitol Hill before the crack of dawn on March 1, delivering our first real paper to congressional offices. It was then that Washington knew we were for real.”
After the paper went daily on May 17, Mr. Perley spent three years gaining reporting experience covering a full range of news beats in Prince George’s County — courts, police, schools, human interest. Moving to Fairfax County, he held down the same role, always a one-man news bureau competing against as many as a dozen reporters from The Washington Post. For a while, he had with him a young, ambitious sidekick learning the reporting ropes. The kid has since done well: Peter Baker, now chief White House correspondent for The New York Times.
Mr. Perley spent the early 1990s working with Washington Times Editor-in-Chief Arnaud de Borchgrave. Organizing an endless series of newsmaker luncheons, Mr. Perley had close encounters with a variety of political and entertainment figures — Dan Quayle, Condoleezza Rice, Dionne Warwick and Louis Farrakhan among them. Most impressive was Henry Kissinger. “He was the only guest who talk could incessantly and still manage to clean his plate,” said Mr. Perley.
Moving on to another choice assignment, Mr. Perley joined the Opinion staff in 1992 as articles editor, working with Tony Snow, who later served as chief speechwriter for George H.W. Bush, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mary Lou Forbes. “Tony was a great tennis player and an even better editor,” said Mr. Perley. “Mary Lou was tough on the outside and soft on the inside. They were both dedicated to the core mission of conservative opinion.” Tony passed away in 2007, Mary Lou in 2009.
As senior opinion editor since 2010, Mr. Perley has written editorials and edited the Opinion section together with Associate Managing Editor for Opinion Carol Herman, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Wesley Pruden and, until recently, Opinion Editor David Keene, who has been succeeded by Charles Hurt.
Along the way, Mr. Perley, with his wife, Marianne, raised three sons to become engineers, and picked up a couple of writing awards from the MDDC Press Association and the Virginia Press Association. But, he said, spending 35 years at The Washington Times has been its own reward. “The paper has always been about ‘faith, family and freedom,’ and so have I. What more could I ask for than to be where I belong?”
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