Shortly after Ronald Reagan became President of the United States, the nation’s capital got a second morning newspaper. Eventually, Dr. Ronald Goodwin, formerly the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s lieutenant at the Moral Majority, became its publisher. The owner was the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who claimed to be the second coming of Christ, the true Messiah devoted to uniting both Eastern and Western civilizations under his South Korea-based Unification Church. Moon was eager to underwrite a conservative newspaper to advance his cause and raise his profile; American neoconservatives needed a vehicle to promote their rigid ideological orthodoxy. Neocons already controlled several magazines and right-wing foundations, but they needed a daily newspaper to help them set the agenda on Capitol Hill.
From the start, it was apparent that the Washington Times would be an unusual paper, a more sophisticated version of the Manchester Union Leader in New Hampshire, where I lived as a young man and so could not avoid reading it. The editorial preferences were similar: fierce anticommunism, tax-cutting, unionbusting, deregulation, dismantling of social welfare programs and particularly strident advocacy of bigger military budgets. Neither allowed dissenting views in its opinion pages. Both specialized in the half-fact and the semi-story.
The Union Leader was primarily a business–a profitable one at that–and its editorial extravaganzas were the work of its archconservative publisher, William Loeb. Loeb was said to relish the national attention accorded him every four years in response to his frequently vicious and wholly unjustified attacks on liberal Democrats and Republicans running in the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primaries.
The Washington Times, on the other hand, was primarily a platform for a movement, which included the Christian right, conservative Jews and the radical right wing of the Republican Party. The paper was staffed with ambitious and talented young scribes, many of whom knowingly ignored the basic conventions of American journalism and followed instead the party line laid down at Wednesday-night gatherings of under-30 neocons at the Heritage Foundation. This mixture of politics and journalism has not been a commercial success, even though its news presentation is punchy, well written and often more lively than that in the rival Washington Post. After two decades the Times is still being practically given away. (My annual home delivery cost $20, or less than what the Post charges me per month).
Yet the Times has arguably been a dramatic success in advancing the neocon agenda through Congress. It has kept up a steady drumroll of dire warnings about the mortal threats facing the United States by a disintegrating Soviet Union and later by China, Iraq, North Korea and various other “rogue” states, by the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court, and especially by the continued adherence to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which proscribed the development and deployment of a national antimissile defense system. Relying on a network of neocons inside and outside government, it frequently offers bits of information–scoops–that cannot be found in other newspapers. Its star reporter, Bill Gertz, has built a dazzling reputation with stories on military and foreign policy issues, making the Times a must-read for anyone interested in national security. True, his scoops mostly involve the kind of information that cannot be proved or disproved–stories claiming that Russians are hiding especially dangerous chemical weapons, or that “China apologists” in the CIA are feeding wrong assessments to the President. But they are sufficiently alarming to generate public calls for Congressional inquiries or to clamp a freeze on funds already allocated for the destruction of Russian chemical weapons. Gertz, in short, has become the sword of the right-wing guardians of America’s security, a journalist with “unparalleled access to America’s intelligence system,” as claimed by the publisher of his book Breakdown: How America’s Intelligence Failures Led to September 11.