Whatever else was happening in 1982 — the country’s worst economic slump since the Great Depression, a war in the Falklands, trouble in Lebanon, Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” on top of the charts — prospects weren’t good for founding a newspaper, much less one that confronted the titans of the news establishment.
It hadn’t been done in a major American city since 1940, and that enterprise — New York City’s PM — had gone belly-up in eight short years.
Locally, the Washington Star had shuttered in 1981, with The Washington Post slurping up its physical remnants and the fledgling Washington Times taking on some of its staff.
If you had asked a member of that hardscrabble newsroom if The Times would be the vanguard of a media insurgency, you might have elicited a look of puzzlement or perhaps a modest line about ignoring the construction noise and just trying to put out a newspaper.
Yet with 25 years in the rearview mirror, it’s clear The Washington Times helped unlock the liberal media’s grip on the news.
“The arrival of The Washington Times was for conservatives both a breath of fresh air and a daring challenge to the media establishment,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says.
While conservative periodicals catered to intellectuals, The Times, as a daily newspaper in the nation’s capital, had a louder megaphone; it constantly challenged the agenda-setting capability of major newspapers and television broadcasters.
“From day one, conservatives on Capitol Hill and throughout the city looked to The Washington Times for lively, aggressive reporting and bold conservative editorial commentary,” says Mr. Gingrich, Georgia Republican.
An important lesson
To some, The Times’ overarching mission — defeating communism — may have seemed quixotic in 1982; the Cold War had reheated, and the economic renewal and military reconstitution triggered by the Reagan administration had yet to gather steam.
The founding vision of The Times proved prescient, and the methodology with which the paper pursued that vision had practical implications as well. By boosting the morale of the pro-American West and delivering a real, dependable product, The Times both instilled the spirit and created the architecture for today’s news counterestablishment.
Indeed, by succeeding as an independent voice in a town that had become stony ground for “second” newspapers, The Times taught an important lesson that still resonates: The news elite shouldn’t have the last word on what is and what is not news.
“The Washington Times, more than any other media establishment in America, has served to blunt the oftentimes leftist agenda of The Washington Post by telling the other side of the story,” says L. Brent Bozell III, president of the conservative watchdog group Media Research Center.
Mr. Gingrich says, “When The Washington Times and Rush Limbaugh were added to the Wall Street Journal, Human Events and National Review, a genuine counterestablishment of conservative news and opinion began to take hold.