“The Times was to be a different kind of newspaper, one that would go for inspiration ‘back to the future,’ to a time of national consensus on issues of ethics and morality, with an emphasis on the message and not the messenger. We would not only cover the news without slant or bias, but give voice to those who have been shut out of the national debate. The Times was to be wholly secular, to hold to no sectarian cause, to champion no denomination above any other but never to mock faith and belief, to proselytize only for the principles that liberate men from the tyranny of closed minds.”
— Wesley Pruden, former Editor-in-Chief, The Washington Times
If there is a signature image of the impact and influence The Washington Times has had over its four decades chronicling the city, the nation and the world, it came on the night of April 29, 1995, in a Washington ballroom packed with politicos, bureaucrats, journalists and celebrities.
It was the annual White House Correspondents’ Association black-tie gala, and President Clinton, his gritted teeth hidden behind a practiced campaigner’s smile, is extending a hand to congratulate The Times’ investigative reporter Jerry Seper for his work exposing much of the Whitewater scandal that would cost Mr. Clinton and his administration dearly.
Noting that staff photographer Ken Lambert needed enough time to get the photo for the newspaper, Mr. Seper held on to the president’s hand a beat longer than was comfortable for either of them.
“I looked at the president and said, ‘Rather an awkward moment, isn’t it, Mr. President?’”
Mr. Lambert got the shot.
COVERAGE: Freedom, family, faith: Celebrating 40 years of The Washington Times
Creating awkward moments has been a Washington Times trademark since before the first edition hit the streets and landed on doorsteps across the Washington area on Monday, May 17, 1982.
Hindsight has a way of making the improbable seem inevitable, but few would have predicted that day that The Times would not only endure but also thrive. The venerable Washington Star had folded nine months earlier after 129 years of publication, the number of newspapers in cities across the country was shrinking, and the liberal-leaning Washington Post, with its virtual monopoly, dominated the market as few media properties have before or since.
Skeptics doubted that an upstart startup could last in the market, especially one with a skeleton staff housed in a former paper company warehouse on New York Avenue Northeast after The Post swooped in to buy The Star’s shuttered production plant.
But the paper’s founder had a simple but radical idea: that there was always room for a legitimate, professionally reported newspaper with an editorial page not ashamed to embrace traditional values, an outlet that would give each voice and viewpoint an honest hearing and a thorough, fairly reported vetting. A world capital like Washington not only needed but also deserved more than one editorial voice, especially one deeply entwined with the prevailing liberal orthodoxy.
For The Washington Times’ founder, Dr. Sun Myung Moon, the idea for a new newspaper was both counterintuitive and blindingly obvious.
“When Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, ended up with only one very 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,” he recalled shortly after newspaper’s founding.
“Since no one did,” he added, “I stood up and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
The front page of that first, 25-cent edition that May 1982 morning — which even The Times’ editors called in a headline an “eleventh-hour miracle” — included a news report on developments in the fighting between Britain and Argentina over a remote chain of South Atlantic islands known as the Falklands, a skeptical look at the Reagan administration’s heavy reliance on “executive privilege” to frustrate congressional oversight, and a “Statement of Principles” by founding editor and publisher James H. Whelan, promising subscribers a “striving, truthful” newspaper that would be both conservative and balanced.
“By that, we mean it will strive to tell the truth to the best of our lights and abilities. It will strive to be fair, and it will strive, in the measure that will and nerve will sustain us, to be a fearless newspaper. It will strive to do these things at the highest level of quality and professionalism and integrity. This Capital, this nation deserves no less.”
DAILY TIME CAPSULE
That very first edition captured the diverse spectacle of news, opinion, art, fashion, sports and commerce that would make The Washington Times a daily time capsule for the city, the region, the nation and the world for four decades, never missing a publication date.
On that ordinary but fateful May day in 1982, Times readers would learn that President Reagan’s plan to abolish the Department of Education was still 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 on a visit to West Germany. The New York Islanders had just clinched their third Stanley Cup, and Britain’s Prince Charles and Princess Diana were eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child and future heir to the throne. A “brief” on the inaugural Business page reported on 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.
Charles and Diana’s marriage may not have survived, but The Washington Times, to the astonishment of many, did.
Over the next four decades, The Washington Times would be there to report on six presidents, 18 Supreme Court nomination battles, three popes, six mayors of the District of Columbia (with Marion Barry in a notable reprise that inspired a collectors special afternoon edition of The Times after his drug possession arrest), two wars in Iraq and a 20-year war in Afghanistan, the AIDS and COVID-19 epidemics, the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks. The Times was there for the advent of the war on terror, three presidential impeachments, four changes of power in the House and seven in the Senate, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the building of the wall on the Mexican border, the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, the election of the nation’s first Black president, the improbable rise of Donald Trump and the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
That’s not to mention an earthquake, 40 Academy Awards best picture honorees, three Washington Super Bowl wins, a Stanley Cup and a World Series championship for D.C. sports teams. The Washington Times was there to cover them all, with a hard-hitting editorial page and a rotation of conservative commentators to tell readers how it all fit together.
The breadth of the coverage is matched by the breadth of the professional recognition that Washington Times reporters, columnists, editors, graphic artists and photographers have received, including from the White House Correspondents’ Association, the Virginia Press Association, the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society for News Design, the National Newspaper Association, the Center for Immigration Studies, the Blinded American Veterans Foundation, the Religion News Association, the Mason-Dixon Outdoors Writers Association and the Chess Journalists of America.
The Times began by covering the war in the Falklands. It will mark its 40th year of publication by covering an even more epochal war in the heart of Europe, with Times reporters again traveling to the front lines to bring the story home to readers.
The era was just as turbulent inside the industry. Computers, quieter phones and no-smoking laws transformed the newsroom, and email, the internet, social media, Zoom meetings and instant messaging were transforming how news was gathered, analyzed, fact-checked and disseminated. Newspapers were disappearing by the score, and web-based publications of varying degrees of sophistication and accuracy came onto the scene. Ad revenue and classified ads that once provided the financial lifeblood of traditional media migrated to the web, never to return.
The demise of The Washington Star left the capital of the free world a one-newspaper town in an era with just three national broadcast networks, no cable channels, no internet, no social media and just a handful of weekly newsmagazines. The unquestioned liberal tilt of the nation’s top news sources in print and broadcast left a lot of running room on the right for an upstart newspaper to cover stories and publish voices that others ignored while faithfully pursuing the founder’s mandate to champion “faith, family and freedom.”
Despite its conservative principles, The Times has always been an equal-opportunity offender.
“The Washington Times helps keep both political parties and other media in check,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who arrived in the Senate one year before The Times began publishing. “It helps keep Republican members and administrations accountable to the conservative base, and it blows the whistle on big-government policies that may not receive the same scrutiny from other media outlets.”
The Times not only persevered but also thrived in the wake of the September 2012 passing of Rev. Moon, whose vision of a credible, conservative voice in the nation’s capital has been upheld by his family, associates and the Washington Times Foundation.
Former Washington Times Chairman Dr. Douglas D.M. Joo recalled being “very proud” of what the newspaper and The Times’ website have contributed to this country, helping establish freedom as a preeminent value, shaping American culture and political debate, reporting fairly but fearlessly on events of the day, and helping to strengthen the health of the American family. The Washington Times, he recalled, “has more than lived up to the ideals” that were present at the founding. He noted that President Reagan, an avid reader from the start, described the newspaper as a “loud and powerful voice” that helped America and its allies win the Cold War.
Current company President and Executive Editor Christopher Dolan and Managing Editor Cathy Gainor helped steer the company through another difficult decade for the industry in the 2010s, when newspapers were folding left and right and huge chunks of traditional business lines were migrating to the internet. The Times was not immune to the competitive pressures and the need to streamline, but with unflinching support from its owners and groundbreaking, must-read coverage of issues such as immigration and race, the challenge of China, wasteful government spending and the latest inside-the-Beltway gossip, The Times continues to put out a daily newspaper while investing heavily in an award-winning, constantly updated internet presence that combines speed with old-fashioned dedication to accuracy, fairness and grammar.
BREATH OF FRESH AIR
Throughout its 40 years, The Times has proved a breath of fresh air for conservatives looking for a mainstream, professional news outlet that honored their principles, took their ideas seriously and gave voice to their discontents. The daily multipage Commentary section, a unique feature of The Times from its very earliest days and filled with writers not given platforms in other “prestige” media, quickly became essential reading for many, starting with President Reagan.
One measure of The Times’ influence over the years is the number of star conservative commentators who got their start and honed their craft writing and editing for the Commentary section under the guidance first of the legendary Wes Pruden and today under Opinion Editor Charles Hurt.
The Washington Times “fills an important void in our nation’s capital, bringing much-needed accountability to the federal government. For 40 years, Americans have benefited from The Times’ journalism,” said Mercedes Schlapp, CPAC senior fellow, co-host of “CPAC NOW: America Uncanceled,” and a onetime columnist for the newspaper and website.
Filling that void honors the stated mission of The Times’ founders. 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 that was “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 no matter their ideological persuasion has earned it fans and readers across the ideological spectrum. Political reporters and commentators over the years, including Ralph Z. Hallow, Don Lambro, Tony Snow and Dave Boyer have sparked nearly as much angst in Republican circles as they have in Democratic circles over the years. The Times’ great tradition of cartoonists — Peter Steiner, Bill Garner and Alexander Hunter — have carried on an honorable tradition that has all but passed away at many other media outlets.
“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 press secretary Michael McCurry once acknowledged. “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 sources on the right than much of the mainstream press.”
The tradition lives on: With his hard-hitting reports on the crisis at the Mexico border and his bird-dogging of official reports and obscure statistics, Washington Times senior correspondent Stephen Dinan has earned a reputation as perhaps the capital’s preeminent voice on the immigration beat, with scoops and analyses that regularly embarrass or enrage the Biden administration. Yet top Homeland Security Department officials were recently heard praising Mr. Dinan’s coverage for its thoroughness and accuracy, saying it helped keep the bureaucracy on its toes.
The paper’s commitment to a strong defense and the value of military service — evident in the work of national security reporters over the years such as Bill Gertz, Rowan Scarborough and Guy Taylor — has led to some of the most focused and substantial coverage of issues facing the military and the national security establishment of any mainstream outlet in the country. The Times’ defense reporters covered not only matters of grand national strategy but also the gripes and frustrations of ordinary grunts and their families. Other U.S. media outlets have sharply cut back on coverage beyond the country’s borders, but The Times has kept its commitment to fair and hard-hitting foreign and national security coverage, embedding reporters with American forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and getting on-the-ground reports on stories as varied as the massacre at a Russian grade school in Beslan, a standoff on the tense dividing line between North and South Korea, and the recent refugee crisis on the Polish border sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
TAKING THE LEAD
The paper repeatedly proves itself willing to pursue stories and scandals that established media gatekeepers dismiss or overlook. Among them: the book publishing deals that brought down Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright, the House bank scandal of the 1990s, the reprimand of Rep. Barney Frank, Whitewater and the other personal scandals that dogged Mr. Clinton throughout his presidency, 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 scandals and coaching merry-go-round that have undermined the once-mighty Washington football team now known as the Commanders, China’s efforts to block any inquiry into the origins of the virus that led to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the long-running policy debates on immigration, education, religious freedom, race, gender, abortion 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 — a mold-breaking newspaper five months after its debut: the use of color and eye-catching graphics to enliven coverage and enhance the reader’s understanding. Washington Times designers have routinely been honored over the decades for the paper’s clean, colorful and unfussy look, one that has been widely copied.
The washingtontimes.com website launched on May 17, 1996, and is now the foundation of The Times’ integrated online and print news coverage. A website team edits and fact-checks staff filings seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Even in times of organizational and financial uncertainty, The 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. That commitment is echoed by the commitment of The Times’ daily staff. In an industry where transience is the norm, The Times’ newsroom boasts dozens of reporters, editors and other staff members who have stuck with the paper for decades through thick and thin, giving an editorial identity and institutional memory that virtually no media competitor can match.
At the 2012 funeral for Rev. Moon, Mr. Pak, who worked beside and translated for Rev. Moon for more than a half-century, expressed a quiet optimism in an interview that The Times could handle that transition and whatever the future may hold.
“Rev. Moon‘s teachings were completely recorded. We know what he has left us as a spiritual will,” Mr. Pak said.
Mr. Dolan, The Times’ president, acknowledges that, like his reporters and editors, he tends to be focused on tomorrow’s edition or next week’s special editorial project. But he said a 40th anniversary marks a good milestone to celebrate and reflect.
“You could have gotten some pretty good odds back in 1982 that The Times wouldn’t survive the year or the decade,” he said. “I’d say that’s a pretty good reason not to bet against us in the future.”