Starting a newspaper “is worth doing, and we make our first public appearance with a heady sense that we can do it. Our confidence rests in part on the zest and skills of the staff we have recruited. Just as importantly, it rests on the need we find expressed all over Washington for a new perspective on local, national and world events.”
— From “Introducing The Washington Times,” Monday, May 17, 1982
The headline of the main front-page story conceded it was an eleventh-hour “miracle” that the first edition even got out the door. On Page 2, Prince Charles was eagerly awaiting the birth of his first child with Princess Diana, even as British Sea Harrier warplanes were strafing Argentine military vessels ahead of an expected invasion of the Falkland Islands.
President Reagan’s plan to abolish the Department of Education was mired in Congress. Actor Hugh Beaumont, the stern but wise father of “Leave It to Beaver” fame, had just died of a heart attack while visiting West Germany. The final Business Brief item of the day concerned plans by Ocean Spray Inc. for the national rollout of a newfangled “aseptic container made of layers of paper, foil and polyethylene” for its fruit drinks — the first juice box.
Thirty-five years later, some would say the miracle is that The Washington Times (unlike juice boxes) has survived at all, let alone thrived as a daily newspaper and — through WashingtonTimes.com — a powerful conservative online presence in an age when publications of the left, right and center have been falling by the wayside at an alarming rate.
The Times has by no means been immune to the gale-force winds that have buffeted the industry, but with a commitment to solid journalistic values and a commitment by the paper’s founder and the managers and editors to support that vision, the newspaper has made the transition from the Age of Reagan to the Age of Trump.
Every newspaper, every day, is a slice of history preserved in pixels, pulp and printer’s ink. That first issue of The Washington Times, debuting at a time when — as even the paper’s first editorial noted — “so many papers, old and new, are closing,” was launched to fill a commercial and an ideological void.
The demise of The Washington Star nine months earlier left the capital of the free world a one-newspaper town in an era when there were just three national broadcast networks, no cable channels and no internet, and just a handful of weekly newsmagazines. The liberal editorial tilt of the nation’s top news organs left a lot of room on the right for the upstart newspaper to cover stories and publish voices that others ignored and to pursue its mandate to champion “freedom, faith and family.”
Against some considerable odds, and in the face of vicissitudes both internal and external, the newspaper and its WashingtonTimes.com website continue to pursue that mandate each day.
It has chronicled daily life in a time rich in historical significance, reporting and commenting on six presidents and nine presidential elections; the end of the Cold War and the dawn of the global war on terrorism; the impeachment of a president and the dramatic cocaine arrest of a D.C. mayor; wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria; and tragedies in Chernobyl, Columbine, Oklahoma City, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Beslan, Virginia Tech, San Bernardino and Orlando.
The Times era also covers three Washington Redskins Super Bowl wins; the Republican Revolution of 1994 and the tea party revolt of 2010; the Black Monday market crash of 1987, the dot-com crash of 1999 and the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009; a presidential election that turned on hanging chads and one eight years later that produced the nation’s first black commander in chief; the improbable Trump insurgency; an earthquake in the eastern U.S., three popes; and 35 Academy Awards best picture honorees.
The Times not only persevered but thrived in the wake of the September 2012 passing of founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon, whose vision for a credible, conservative voice in the nation’s capital has been upheld by his family and the Washington Times Foundation.
Former Washington Times Chairman Dr. Douglas D.M. Joo recalled being “very proud” of what the newspaper has contributed to the history of this country, helping to establish freedom, shape American culture and make the family healthier. He said The Washington Times “has more than lived up to the ideas” it said were the reasons for its creation, noting that former President Ronald Reagan described the newspaper as a “loud and powerful voice” that helped America win the Cold War.
Breath of fresh air
From the outset, The Times proved to be a breath of fresh air for conservatives looking for a mainstream, professional news outlet that honored their principles and gave voice to their discontents. A daily multipage Commentary section, filled with writers not given platforms in other “prestige” media, quickly became essential reading for many, including one of the paper’s earliest fans, President Reagan. In its early years, Mr. Reagan publicly praised the accurate reporting of The Times.
Bo Hi Pak, the Korean businessman and diplomat who served as The Times’ first president, said the paper’s role was “not to bend to the right” but to “provide the balance so obviously lacking in many other major newspapers.”
If its editorial pages carved a distinctive conservative identity, the newsroom’s willingness to skewer the powerful on an equal-opportunity basis earned it fans — and readers — across the ideological spectrum.
“I will reliably report to you that it was an awful lot of fun in a Democratic White House to read The Washington Times every day, [with its] great insights into the infighting among movement conservatives,” President Clinton’s White House spokesman Michael McCurry told The Times for the volume marking the newspaper’s 20th anniversary. “It skewered the Clinton administration on a regular basis, but we turned to The Washington Times to find out what the other side, the Republicans, were doing. The Times has much better sourvces on the right than much of the mainstream press.”
The paper’s commitment to national defense and the value of military service led to some of the most focused and substantive coverage of issues facing the military of any mainstream news outlet in the country, from matters of grand national strategy to the gripes and frustrations of ordinary grunts and their families. Unlike many other U.S. media outlets, The Times has kept its commitment to fair and hard-hitting foreign and national security coverage, even as it remains must-reading inside the Beltway and on Capitol Hill.
Taking the lead
The paper proved itself repeatedly willing to pursue stories and scandals that the established media gatekeepers dismissed or overlooked: the book publishing deals that brought down Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright; the House bank scandal; the reprimand of Rep. Barney Frank; Whitewater and the personal scandals that dogged Mr. Clinton throughout his presidency; the massive Promise Keepers march on Washington; the ethical shortcomings of a string of D.C. mayors; China’s military buildup and its efforts to infiltrate the American military and commercial establishment; the international tug of war over the fate of a Cuban boy named Elian Gonzalez; the crippling Republican infighting over the tenure of party Chairman Michael S. Steele; the coaching merry-go-round that has undermined the once-mighty Redskins; the long-running policy debates on immigration, education, religious freedom and the decline of the family.
Born in an age when typeset tastes in newspapers ran the gamut from dark gray to light gray, The Times pioneered — along with USA Today, another mold-breaking daily newspaper with national ambitions that debuted five months after The Times hit the newsstands — the use of color and eye-catching graphics to enliven coverage and enhance the reader’s understanding. The WashingtonTimes.com website launched on May 17, 1996, and now is the foundation of The Times’ integrated online and in-print news coverage.
Even in times of organizational and financial uncertainty, Times’ officials have expressed a commitment to the paper’s values and a willingness to provide the support needed to keep it in the marketplace.
At the 2012 funeral for Rev. Moon, Bo Hi Pak, who worked beside and translated for Rev. Moon for more than a half-century, expressed a quiet optimism in an interview that the church and The Times could handle the difficult transition period.
“Rev. Moon’s teachings were completely recorded. We know what he left us as a spiritual will,” said Mr. Pak, who was president and chairman of The Washington Times when it was founded in 1982.
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