- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

The Washington Times turns 20 today with the international reputation for hard-hitting news reporting and robust opinion pages that even its most loyal readers would not have dared predict when the newspaper was born in the late spring of 1982.
Certain wise men said this new newspaper in the nation's capital would survive six months. Some said six weeks. They said it never would live long enough to earn respect and credibility, to achieve influence, to win the admiration of skeptics, to see the dawnof its third decade.
But it did.
The Washington Times would not only survive, but thrive. It began as a scrappy alternative to its entrenched competition, speaking to the world as a ringing independent voice. The Times matured in its second decade as a reliable source of news and information that readers say they can't find elsewhere and, on the editorial page and in its commentary pages, a vigilant and unapologetic defender of the values of God and country, of faith and family.
Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, expresses the oft-heard verdict: "Washington has not been the same since The Washington Times arrived on the scene 20 years ago. It has become a more informed city where a real diversity of opinion is heard."
Readers who may disagree with the editorial page's firm, clear stand on traditional values and conservative principles nevertheless say that both Washington and the national debate are livelier and more honest for the presence of The Times.
"Debate is the noise of democracy," says Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the town's top Democrat. "That's why I value The Washington Times. For 20 years, The Times has helped make Washington noisier, our national debate more vigorous and our democracy stronger."

Defying the odds
The story of an unexpected second newspaper in Washington is a story of tenacity and determination, of two decades of dedication and distinction.
The Times struggled to establish itself as an alternative to The Washington Post and the dominant media culture at the apogee of the Cold War, when communism and despotism seemed to be on the march, with the traditional American values in apparent retreat. The newspaper had to overcome suspicions of its founder's purpose and endure the hostility of a smug media establishment while learning the hard way from its growing pains.
In its second decade The Times could consolidate its strengths and, with communism at last relegated to the ash heap of history, contribute to the reshaping of the media landscape and project its influence over the national agenda. Its news and opinion columns spurred among other changes a historic turnover in Congress, the close questioning of a president's character and a reawakening of appreciation for the values upon which the nation was founded.
The Times, in no small part because of aggressive coverage of the White House, Congress, national security and foreign policy as well as local affairs, grew to be one of the most quoted newspapers in the world, read not only in Washington but in the capitals of the rest of the world.
"There's nothing like a good Washington Times editorial to get my juices going for the day's debates in the Senate," says Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. "I respect and commend The Times for its in-depth coverage of Congress. I send my congratulations and best wishes on the 20th anniversary."
Today, a top-rated Web site (www.washingtontimes.com); a National Weekly Edition (that overtook The Washington Post's national weekly edition in circulation); and dozens of monthly "pickups" of its stories by other news organizations have combined to project the influence of "America's Newspaper" far beyond its growing Washington circulation base.
Unofficial audited daily circulation climbed to 110,200 in March even as The Post's formidable circulation, which had reached 780,000, continued to fall. The Internet edition, introduced in May 1996 and upgraded regularly, early this year recorded a peak of 18 million monthly "page views" measuring visitors, not multiple visits.
Wesley Pruden, who shaped the newspaper as managing editor under Arnaud de Borchgrave in the first decade and then as editor in chief through the second, has kept the emphasis on the fundamentals of old-fashioned "shoe-leather" reporting. He nurtured a period of stable growth and acceptance in which The Times projected a mature influence while attracting new talent and solidifying its reputation as a must-read for everyone with a stake in what goes on in Washington.
The Times is not only "a very good read," Brookings Institution media analyst and senior fellow Stephen Hess told the trade magazine Presstime last month, but can be counted among the nation's best 10 newspapers.
None of this could have been foreseen on Aug. 7, 1981, the day newspaper competition disappeared in Washington. Time Inc., unable to extend its talent with glossy magazines into the gritty, down-and-dirty world of daily newspapers, finally shuttered the 129-year-old Washington Star, which had been the dominant voice and advertising vehicle in town as late as the 1960s.
"The first thing to be said about The Washington Times is that its existence is a small miracle, or maybe even a big one," says Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican. "From its first day, the paper has defied the experts, the critics and the odds just by being there. The Times was born into a market famous for killing off major dailies, and it arrived at a time when big-city newspapers had begun to die off all over America."
In a time and place before the Internet, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, when information, and control of access to information, was the ultimate power, The Washington Post reigned in splendid isolation in the nation's capital, answerable not even to public opinion.
The Post, which four years earlier had celebrated its centennial status as "the powerful voice of liberal American democracy," was perhaps the newspaper least vulnerable to competition in all the world. Not even Pravda enjoyed such domination of the early-morning attention of policy-makers in its capital.
Ronald Reagan was still new in town, trying to stoke the fires of the free market and buck up the courage of the free world. But a lot of his matches were wet. Mr. Reagan had achieved the impossible; he was a conservative who had gotten himself elected president of the United States. He was greeted by the dominant media establishment with incredulity, suspicion, frustration, even anger.
A recession inherited from his predecessor threatened to descend into a depression as the unemployment rate, the highest since 1940, bumped 10 percent. Interest rates nudged close to 20 percent. The news on the financial pages was grim, almost without relief: layoffs, factory closings, declining personal income.
The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the Korean evangelist who had survived communist persecution, torture and imprisonment in the 1940s to found a worldwide religious movement in the 1950s and promote intercultural understanding in the 1960s, anticipated the death of the Star with growing concern.
A group of Korean businessmen and others, members of the Unification Church, had managed successful enterprises around the world, including newspapers in Tokyo, Paris, New York and Cyprus in the mid-1970s. They regarded the lack of robust press debate in Washington as a danger not only to their own country, threatened by a heavily armed and hostile neighbor only 38 miles from Seoul, or to the United States, but to the free world that looked to America for leadership.
"When Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, ended up with one liberal newspaper, The Washington Post, I waited for some rich people with a lot of resources to come forward and publish a patriotic newspaper there," Rev. Moon said in December 1982, seven months after the founding of The Times. "Since no one did, I stood up and said, 'Let's do it.'"

A new day
News World Communications Inc., publisher of a small daily in New York and headed at the time by Bo Hi Pak, a businessman and onetime Korean diplomat, was assigned to turn the founder's vision of a new and independent, and wholly secular newspaper, into reality in only nine months after the Star's presses fell silent. Using borrowed presses and staffed on the fly by a few newspaper professionals recruited by News World's small working group, The Washington Times began publishing five days a week on May 17, 1982, from a makeshift newsroom, still under construction in an old warehouse at 3600 New York Ave. NE. One of the last remaining veterans of the beginning of the long march is Ted Agres, who is now the deputy managing editor.
The motivations and aspirations of the men and women who invested the money to start up The Times were spelled out in an inaugural editorial:
"They feel, in common with many other conservatives, that the left side of the debate has been more than adequately represented in that [Washington] media mix the right side hardly at all. But they are also realistic enough to know that this vitally needed newspaper could not survive, either, unless it were free and independent."
Creative turmoil and a transient newsroom staff dominated by former Star hands and assorted colorful characters one of whom lived in a hearse in the parking lot until the cops told him to move on characterized the early years. One visitor took a look around the newsroom and said, not without ironic appreciation: "The Times is the Foreign Legion of newspapers."
James R. Whelan, the first editor in chief, departed after two years in a dispute with corporate management. He was followed briefly by his No. 2, Smith Hempstone, who had been an editor at the Star and who would later become U.S. ambassador to Kenya.
Arnaud de Borchgrave, a storied foreign correspondent and editor at Newsweek, arrived as editor in chief in 1985. The European-born Mr. de Borchgrave, who had gone to war at sea as a teen-ager at the outbreak of World War II, put The Times on the map with an emphasis on exclusives especially in international news, intelligence affairs and foreign policy and including his own interviews with world leaders.
He relishes telling of how the late Katharine Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co., approached him at a state dinner some months into his tenure. "Arnaud," she said, "I have to tell you, the paper is looking good in fact, too good."
Wes Pruden, an old-school American newspaperman and Baptist preacher's son who had first come up from Little Rock to work on Dow Jones' National Observer, had joined The Times as chief political reporter three months after the founding. He had covered the civil rights struggle in the South, the Vietnam War and fighting in the Middle East for the Observer. He took over as editor in chief in 1991, the year he won the H.L. Mencken Prize for his wry, take-no-prisoners column, Pruden on Politics, which has been a popular fixture in The Times since 1984.
He is fond of reminding the newsroom of an ancient axiom in the trade, that "a newspaper editor has no friends." A good reporter follows the story, and an honest editor lets the chips, the embarrassment and on occasion an indictment or a lost election fall where they will. "Your ultimate responsibility," he tells editors and reporters, "is to your readers, not to your sources." The only way for a newspaper to win readers, "who are more important than prizes," he often says, is to "get it first and get it right."

'A paper to reckon with'
Some signposts along the 20-year march:
The initial thrust of The Times was to chronicle the twilight years of the Cold War, America's struggle against communism. These were the years when President Reagan pushed for aid to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua and the toppling of the Marxist Sandinista regime; aid to El Salvador while it was under siege by Soviet-backed leftist guerrillas; support for the Solidarity movement in Poland and the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan; economic warfare against the Soviet Union and development of a space-based Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars." Mr. Reagan's unwavering stand on "Star Wars," which few major newspapers besides The Times supported is widely regarded now as the beginning of the end of the Cold War.)
The Times promised readers it would be "a newspaper of ideas and ideals," and the cultural arguments over what came to be called "traditional values" have been carefully and dispassionately chronicled in the pages of The Times. Five fronts predominated the "culture war," education, the sexual revolution, religion and social-welfare policies as the newspaper documented and analyzed such divisive issues as abortion, AIDS, homosexual rights, welfare reform, drug abuse, family breakdown, sexual promiscuity, social engineering in the military and failed experiments in public education.
Investigative reporting by The Times on a succession of congressional scandals in the late 1980s and early 1990s contributed to the downfall of several powerful political figures, such as House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas and Rep. Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, and prompted the House's severe reprimand of Rep. Barney Frank for using his public office to assist the sordid business of a live-in "call boy." The voter backlash in 1992 against abuses of power and public trust at the House Post Office and House bank was fueled by numerous disclosures in The Times, producing a turnover of 100 seats in the House the largest number in four decades. Two years later, Republicans running as reformers took over both houses of Congress.
The Times early on proved itself to be an equal-opportunity watchdog of the public trust, from George Archibald's exposes of influence peddling by Michael Deaver, once Ronald Reagan's top aide, to Ralph Z. Hallow's reports on the unkept promises of the first President Bush and onetime House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The Times made its name in local coverage during the tenure of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, uncovering case after case of bureaucratic bungling, cronyism, corruption and waste in the District's government and schools that ignited the outrage of taxpayers and eventually fueled congressional resolve to impose reforms on the city.
The Times was the first national newspaper to raise questions about Bill Clinton's personal misbehavior while he was still governor of Arkansas, and despite early criticism from other news organizations, it never let go of the unfolding story. That initial reporting in 1991 on long-rumored sexual dalliances made a compelling link between the future president's private and public behavior the abuse of his office to feed illicit appetites. It proved a foretaste of the obstruction and false testimony that led to Mr. Clinton's impeachment by the House in 1998.
The Times was credited for setting the pace in investigating and detailing the Whitewater scandal, such as Jerry Seper's landmark exclusive in late 1993 that Clinton aides had removed Whitewater-related documents from the office of White House Deputy Counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr. the night he killed himself. Within weeks, the president no longer could resist Hill demands for an independent counsel to investigate. The twisting trail of presidential peccadillos, and worse, would lead four years later to an intern named Monica Lewinsky.
Pentagon correspondent Rowan Scarborough led coverage of the Clinton administration's repeated efforts to sacrificing combat readiness and morale to the demands of radical feminists and homosexual activists, over the spirited protests of senior military officers. Military voters proved a decisive bloc in George W. Bush's victory over Al Gore in 2000.
Bill Gertz, singled out by military and intelligence experts as the most respected (or feared) national-security reporter in Washington, broke so many stories about threats posed by communist nations and rogue states that officials in four administrations complained that he embarrassed or angered their president. His reporting, particularly relentless on China's arms buildup and provision of nuclear missile technology to Pakistan, Iran and other countries in violation of international agreements, led to his denunciation by the Beijing government.
"The Washington Times, fighting biases against both its founder and its editorial page, has quite simply become one of the most influential newspapers in the world," says Francis B. Coombs Jr., who rose from national editor to deputy managing editor in the 1990s and was named managing editor early this year, following the distinguished tenures of Josette Shiner and William E. Giles. "We always set our sights on the New York Times and The Washington Post as our chief rivals, and we've gone a long, long way in challenging them, despite disparities in budget and personnel."
The second decade brought additions and innovations, starting with the debut in September 1991 of Saturday and Sunday editions that gave readers a weekend choice in Washington for the first time since the demise of the Star.
Other now familiar offerings include Washington Daybook, Inside Politics and Inside the Ring on the national pages; the Briefing Page and Embassy Row on the foreign pages; Culture, et cetera, a page covering the intersection of politics with religion and culture; and a section called Family Times to help families meet and survive the latest challenges to successful parenting.
"[A] growing number of fans, many of them liberals, have stumbled upon a useful little secret," Washington Monthly said in a 1997 cover story. "The Washington Times has become a must-read. Not only because it occasionally breaks a really big story, but because The Times now offers a daily menu of straight, ground-breaking, essential news, often on subjects to which other outlets give short shrift."
As an unidentified official in the Clinton White House told the magazine: "You can't not read The Times if you're working in government and politics in Washington. There's unique information that they get that you won't find anywhere else."
Reported MediaWeek: "Like it or not (and many folks don't), The Washington Times, founded in 1982, has become a paper to reckon with. Now, on any given Sunday, viewers may see Tim Russert, host of 'Meet the Press,' waving a copy of the paper as he fires salvos at the White House chief of staff or the Democratic leadership."
Joseph Laitin, onetime ombudsman for The Post, memorably observed: "The Washington Times on the whole has better judgment of what to put on Page One than The Post." Another Post ombudsman, Michael Getler, wrote last fall that The Times "administered the water-torture treatment to The Post" with three important exclusives the previous week: "Every newspaper, even one as big as The Post, gets beat from time to time on local stories. But three pops in one week ought to flash yellow lights here."
And the yellow lights keep flashing brighter.
Ken McIntyre, assistant managing editor

Staff writers George Archibald and Ralph Z. Hallow contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide