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Moonstruck: The Reverend and his Newspaper
By Ann Louise Bardach
Killed by Vanity Fair, 1992
I became interested in the Reverend Moon and The Washington Times while reporting on the Clarence Thomas Senate hearings for Vanity Fair in 1991. The Washington Times aggressively covered the Thomas hearings both on the front page and in its editorial pages--with multiple stories about the identity of the suspected leaker of Anita Hill’s explosive testimony. During this period, I learned that Times’ reporter Dawn Weyrich Ceol, daughter of the conservative icon, Paul Weyrich, had resigned from the paper claiming that her coverage of the Hill/Thomas hearings had been re-written and politicized by her by editors.
I was further interested when I learned that the paper’s deputy editor at the time, Josette Shriner, hailed from the same town in New Jersey that I had. I remembered well her father, James Sheeran, a former WWII paratrooper and FBI agent and the Republican mayor of our town, West Orange. Few could forget his public anguish during his campaign with the Unification Church to win back his three daughters who had become converts. Indeed, it was Mayor Sheeran’s tenacity that triggered investigations into Moon--with Senate hearings in 1977 and later tax evasion and perjury charges that eventually sent the Reverend to prison. The fact that the fiercely proud Irish Catholic patriarch had won his battle against Moon- but lost his daughters [though Josette reportedly left the Church a few years ago]- was the stuff of Greek tragedy.
My editor Tina Brown seemed keen on the story--and dispatched me back to Washington. I spent nearly a month there--at some expense--interviewing dozens of staffers as well as boosters and critics of the newspaper. The conventional wisdom that reporters, famously thin-skinned, resist the spotlight when turned on themselves, proved not to be the case with this story. It seemed that everybody in Washington wanted to talk about The Washington Times--including the paper’s staffers. But, the most generous and garrulous sources turned out to be among the most influential players in the conservative establishment.
I spent another two months doing research into Moon and his Church. It was within his Church that I encountered the veil of silence—with the exception of former Moonies. But some of the stories from former Church members were as bizarre as science fiction. Hence, I had made the decision to tape all interviews relating to the story.
Because of the tapes, I thought I was home free. But alas, as I would learn in ten years on staff at Vanity Fair, there is no guarantee of publication until the magazine hits the stands. Stories were sometimes killed even after they went to “blues” - an advanced and expensive stage of print production.
I was never given a specific reason why this story was killed. However, reservations were expressed about litigious Moonies. I think it is fair to say that taking on a billionaire mogul, especially one who happens to believe he’s the Messiah, with powerful pals in the White House, and more money (and lawyers) than God, was the primary, and perhaps, only factor.
MOONSTRUCK: The Reverend and His Newspaper
In May, The Washington Times will celebrate its tenth anniversary as "the conservative alternative to the Washington Post," with a month long party. While launching a second newspaper in a major city is an extraordinary achievement in ordinary times, sustaining it through a recession that has silenced dozens of newspapers nationwide, is nothing less than astonishing. Not only has the paper survived, it has carved a niche for itself inside the Beltway, championed by no less than a current and past President. "Quite simply, life would be hell in Washington without it," says William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review and the guardian of American conservatism. However, the existence of the Times owes virtually nothing to its circulation numbers or advertising revenues, the traditional criteria of a newspaper's health, but rather to the munificence of its owner, the controversial Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
Though the Times is technically a part of News World Communications, a media
conglomerate owned by Moon’s Unification Church, few doubt who the power
is behind the checkbook. Nearly a decade of public relations' work assuring the
public that the Times had no ties to the Reverend flew out the window last July
when the 72 year old Moon made a surprise appearance at a party at the newspaper's downtown headquarters.
The Reverend, who has described himself as the Messiah, addressed some 200 staffers, wearing a beige suit and a snug-fitting silk shirt. According to one guest, Moon spoke to the gathering in "rapid-fire, high-pitched peals of oratorical Korean alternating with incomprehensible English," with both languages requiring the translation services of Moon's close ally, Times President, Bo Hi Pak. Bristling with emotion while thumping the podium, he told a stunned audience that he had already poured a staggering $830 million into the Times. Moreover, he said that he personally raises the $7 million dollars each month needed to keep the newspaper afloat.
If Moon’s figures are correct, they are a record-shattering sum for
the newspaper business, surpassing previous estimates of $35 to $50 million annual losses for the paper. Time-Life pulled the plug on The Washington Star when its losses hit $30 million while The Dallas Herald owners closed their doors after less than $20 million had seeped into the red. Nevertheless, Moon told his audience that it was his privilege to fund a newspaper which was part of the fight for a new, moral, and Christian America-- one free of drugs, crime, and homosexuality.
According to John Podhoretz, an editor at the paper at the time, the evening's most embarrassing moment came when Reverend Moon demanded of his audience of paid employees, "Do you like me?...Some people don't like me...You don't like me, do you?...Do you want to see more of me here?" After a protracted silence, a scattering of applause broke out, primarily from the two dozen Church members present. His remarks concluded, Moon vanished into his Rolls Royce limousine.
For the editors and staffers who have doggedly pursued respectability and acceptance in the nation's capitol, it was a demoralizing evening. Once again, they would have to face charges of being a Church-controlled organ and hear their newspaper, which even Times’ critic Michael Kinsley describes as "perhaps graphically the most beautiful paper in America,” contemptuously dismissed as "the Moonie-paper." Their fears were soon confirmed. Six months later, a PBS Frontline segment on Moon hurled a volley of charges--the most serious being that the paper is in violation of the Foreign Registration Act, as a political entity financed by Korean and Japanese money. Nor was it the first time the charge has been made.
Worse, credible rumors persisted that Reverend Moon, despite his boasts to the contrary, had recently taken some mighty punches with record losses in several segments of his empire. How long can the Reverend throw away $84 million annually on a newspaper that has yet to turn a profit?
The paper's birth in 1982 could not have been more auspiciously timed, only months after The Washington Star, the sole challenger to the Post's supremacy, had died. Conservatives, at the apex of their power with Reagan's presidency, lamented the Star's demise and hungered for an alternative newspaper that spoke to them. Although many had misgivings over Moon's ownership of the paper, the hiring of veteran editor James Whelan from the eminently conservative Sacramento Union, owned by right wing crusader Richard Mellon Scaife, did much to soothe jitters. Whelan says he signed an ironclad contract which stipulated "there could be no direct contact between any of the editorial staff and the Moon organization," and was able to assure staffers that "Church officials understand the only way The Washington Times can become anything is for them to keep their hands off of it."
To further bolster credibility, Smith Hempstone, whose venerable Republican family had once owned The Star, was brought on board as executive editor. When asked at the time whether he had misgivings working for a Moon-owned enterprise, Hempstone quipped, "I've worked for lots of publishers who thought they were God."
Soon, an extraordinary romance bloomed between right wing ideologues and Church members--a courtship fueled not by common interests but by a common enemy: the dragon of communism. In 1982, communism was still, if not a national obsession, a Republican one. Ronald Reagan was lambasting the former Soviet Union as "the evil empire," while Reverend Moon was telling followers that communism was the earthly manifestation of Satan.
As no one else was about to fork over the bucks to start a major newspaper, there was a great urgency to make the marriage work. According to Arnaud de Borchgrave, who later became the Times editor-in-chief, "I went around cap in hand all over the country to raise funds after The Star folded and I talked to the one hundred wealthiest people in America. All everyone wanted to know was when they were going to get their money back."
At the Times’ lavish debut gala, held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, some 2000 Washingtonians showed up for lobster and crab claws. While protestors outside picketed the event with placards reading, "You've been Duped by The Moonies," and "The Washington Times is a Moonie Paper," inside staffers and Church officials were rubbing shoulders with conservative heavyweights of the day like Moral Majority co-founder Richard Viguerie and S. I. Hayakawa, the late Republican Senator from California.
From the outset, no expense was spared on the paper. More than twenty million dollars was spent converting a shabby warehouse on the outskirts of D.C. into a sparkling ode-to-God office building, replete with marble floors and walls,
bronze fittings, oversized doors, cathedral windows and a state-of-the-art, computerized newsroom. "The office joke is,” noted one staffer, “that if the newspaper fails, they can always turn the building into a Church." With unlimited funds on tap, Whelan and his staff were able to put out an impressive, lively, well-illustrated newspaper. In its early months, the paper didn't
even solicit advertisers. Free introductory subscription offers drenched the nation's capitol and bright orange boxes selling the daily sprouted up at every street corner--right next to the Post’s boxes. A host of toys and ploys were offered to new subscribers including a raffle for free Caribbean vacations.
But persistence had its rewards and circulation grew--slowly but steadily to roughly 100,000, where it remains today. Although never a threat to the Post, with a circulation of 830,000, the Times established itself as a voice and presence to be reckoned with.
The paper's most powerful booster, President Reagan, let it be known that he "reads the Times first thing every morning at breakfast." It quickly became apparent that the Reagan Administration was doing more than just reading the paper; the Times became the enviable recipient of numerous leaks and exclusives, including coveted interviews with Reagan. The paper was the first to report the President’s intention to seek re-election, the resignation of James Watt, and the defection of KBG honcho Vitaly Yurchenko, among other scoops.
Although its critics charged that the paper was little more than a house organ for Administration policy, the Times was the first to break the story that former Reagan aide Michael Deaver was lobbying former contacts with unprecedented greed-- charges that led to Deaver's conviction--and even investigated charges about an alleged callboy ring servicing high-level Republicans (the charges proved unfounded).
Among the ace journalists currently on staff are foreign correspondents Paul Bedard and whiz-kid Warren Strobel, national reporters George Archibald and Rowan Scarborough, who broke the Navy’s scandalous handling of the explosion on the battleship Iowa which killed 47 sailors, and Metro writers Patrick Boyle and the eagle-eyed Paul Rodriguez who dug out stories on the House check-cashing scandal months before it became news elsewhere.
Notable among early hirees were the children of conservative luminaries, a
group dubbed the "mini-neocons.” They included John Podhoretz, whose
parents Norman Podhoretz and Midge Dexter are a veritable conservative institution, Liz Kristol, Irving's daughter, Danny Wattenberg, son of Times’ columnist Ben, and Dawn Weyrich Ceol, daughter of conservative icon, Paul Weyrich.
Podhoretz, 30, who left the Times last October after five years as a columnist and an editor, describes his tenure at the paper as a "wonderful and extraordinary opportunity." Known for his encyclopedic memory (he was a five time Jeopardy winner) , Podhoretz says he had little patience with colleagues who complained about the Church owners, who, he says, stayed clear of the editorial side "99% of the time. There was exceptional freedom at the paper, but the price of working there was that sometimes you had to carry water for a madman."
Podhoretz spent time with the "madman" on four separate occasions, including the July party where Moon spoke for nearly 45 minutes. "He was ranting and pacing behind the podium," remembered Podhoretz. "He wanted credit for the paper and wanted to be thanked and no one felt very grateful. He was saying things like, `Maybe I should shut this place down?' in this rhetorical style and then he'd say, `But I'm not going to!' He started telling us this parable with nautical imagery about how he was the fuel of our boat but then he tripped over the parable so it made no sense. He was more histrionic than just whining. There was a pall of embarrassment over the room. Basically, he was there to remind us how grateful we should be."
Podhoretz describes his decision to leave the Times as a "personal one which I will not discuss." However, some of his colleagues say that he was deeply troubled upon his return from an Alaskan fishing trip he took with Moon last August. Moon used the occasion, say sources, to expound on his "Zionist conspiracy theories" and what Podhoretz perceived to be undiluted anti-Semitism. Indeed, some of Moon's teachings contend that the Jews have "suffered 4000 years of punishment for killing Christ."
"Everyone knows there's a price for working at the Times," said former staffer Mary Belcher. A current staffer notes that the newspaper “knows they have to offer more to get people to work here. I don't know anyone who wouldn't leave for a job at the Post, " despite generally higher salaries at the Times. Jack Shafer, editor of D.C.'s alternative weekly, City Paper, and a longtime Times' critic, derided the broadsheet’s payroll as "Moon welfare."
Charlotte Hayes, who wrote a hilarious and snarky memoir in The New Republic entitled "I was a Moonie Gossip Columnist" about her tenure at the paper, still laments the loss of her generous expense account. "This is on the Rev," Hayes, a thoroughbred conservative, would tell sources as she lunged for meal checks. “The Times,” she added drolly, “is a place for free-market conservatives to escape the free market."
Despite the financial perks, many reporters have been unable to make the leap. Jan Ziff, a top Mideast correspondent for the BBC, remembers being offered the prestigious job of Deputy Foreign editor several years ago while she was between jobs. "The money was fabulous, just fabulous," she said, "and I was practically out of money. It was very, very tempting but the more I thought about it, I just couldn't work for the Moonies."
In July, 1984, founding editor James Whelan discovered that he could no longer work for the Moonies either. "The rule was that there had to be a wall separating the paper and the Church," says Whelan, "and they were constantly challenging it." He objected to Moon’s newsroom visits and he said he felt harassed by complaints from Bo Hi Pak—the Reverend’s right hand man--about the paper's reporting on Church matters.
Until quite recently, all coverage of the Church and/or Moon was conducted via the wire services to avoid charges of conflict of interest. Church officials, says Whelan, were especially miffed by the lack of a positive write-up on Moon's mass wedding of 2075 couples at Madison Square Garden in 1982, an event that included 75 staffers. Then there was the paper's reliance on AP reporting of Moon's appearance before a Senate subcommittee concerning charges of tax evasion and perjury filed against him in 1982 by federal prosecutors. "We might as well give our money to the Washington Post!" Pak hollered at Whelan.
"I have blood on my hands," Whelan says of his tenure at the Times. Lately, he has made something of a career out of Moon-bashing. He says that the newspaper's owners agreed they would never use the Times’ building for any Church-sponsored business. "A week after my leaving, they broke that rule, " lamented Whelan, who noted that the building has since become a veritable dance hall for social functions for the Church's hundreds of front organizations. "Another rule was that we would not have any Moonie officials at any of our tables at any events such as White House Correspondence Dinners," said Whelan. "There is almost a bidding war to see which news organizations can seat the greatest number of heavy hitters at their tables. Well, a year after I left, that rule went out the window and a very startled Donald Regan, then Chief of Staff, found himself seated next to Bo Hi Pak." Ronald Godwin, the current President of the Times, disputes all of Whelan's charges, adding that "Whelan was asked to leave."
After a brief stint as editor by Smith Hempstone, Whelan's shoes were filled by Arnaud de Borchgrave, who says he has read "a confidential file," and concluded that Whelan was simply "very greedy. He was asking for a limo around the clock, a driver on standby. He thought this was an endless source of welfare for himself. And it's very convenient when people don't get what they want to shout `the Moonies have taken over.'" Though de Borchgrave was not the first or even fourth choice for the job, he proved to be a match of, well, divine inspiration.
A veteran of Newsweek, the indefatigable de Borchgrave was a legend of sorts, having covered a dozen wars including seven tours of Vietnam where he was twice wounded. But in 1980, he was fired for politicizing his reporting with his fervent anticommunism. Born in Belgium and educated in English public schools, he has been nicknamed "the short Count" for his eccentricities and upper class drawl. Famous for his year round tan, the George Hamilton of the Beltway has been said to go into combat zones carrying a sun reflector. Although an irrepressible name dropper, he is nonetheless regarded with bemused affection by most staffers. "Arnaud has no hidden agenda," says Mary Belcher, "he wears everything on his sleeve."
I caught up with the jet setting journalist at his father-in-law's condo in Los Angeles, a pit stop on his return from a vacation in Acapulco. "I've never worked for Moon in my life," he began, clinging to the notion that businesses owned by the Church, such as The Washington Times, are not Moon-controlled.
"If it was owned by Reverend Moon," he insisted, "I wouldn't have been there. I've never known such freedom in my 45 year career. I fired 25 people who were members of the Unification Church without ever knowing they were members and I never got a phone call saying you can't fire so-and-so."
De Borchgrave literally lived at the newspaper for much of the first three years of his watch. "I installed a bed in my office and worked around the clock," he says proudly, "to turn this damn thing around and put it on the map." In addition to
revamping the newspaper, plastering the newsroom with his personal memos known as "Arnaudgrams," he started the weekly magazine Insight after shutting down a short-lived national edition of the newspaper.
As one of the capital’s marathon party goers, de Borchgrave's social connections opened significant political doors for the newspaper. Republican luminaries, including the Reagans, former CIA chief Bill Casey and Senator Bob Dole, became frequent dinner guests at the de Borchgrave Georgetown home.
Though de Borchgrave's first year at the helm coincided with Reverend Moon's time in federal prison for tax evasion and perjury, de Borchgrave says he was untroubled by the matter. "I investigated through the Justice Department exactly what led to his conviction," he says, "and five assistant attorney generals recommended against pursuing the case. He can barely speak English. Obviously, he is not filling out his own tax returns. He knows nothing about it.
I don't fill out my own tax returns."
Convinced of Moon's innocence, de Borchgrave became one of the guru's most outspoken champions. In August 1985, following Moon's release from Danbury Federal Penitentiary, de Borchgrave gave a rousing speech for 1700 of the Reverend's supporters at a welcome home bash. Months later, he published an open letter in the Times, arguing for a presidential pardon for Moon.
De Borchgrave denies publishing the letter at Moon's behest but concedes that "a pardon is very important to him." Podhoretz, who described de Borchgrave "as a force of nature," says "the letter was entirely Arnaud's show. I don't think he takes prodding from anyone."
Asked whether the letter didn't make him a target for critics charging that he was pandering to his boss, de Borchgrave retorts, "Let them take a shot at me. Who cares? I've survived much worse, including 17 wars."
Indeeed, de Borchgrave shrugged off the resignation of four editors in 1987 who accused him of being a "lackey" of the Church owners. William Cheshire, who was the paper's editorial page editor of three years, issued a statement that "it is no longer possible for the Times to maintain independence from the Unification Church under the editorship of Mr. de Borchgrave." At stake was a planned editorial that criticized South Korean President Chun Do Hwan for a crackdown on human rights and a retreat from democracy. Cheshire, who became editor of The Arizona Republic, claims that after de Borchgrave made a visit upstairs to Sang Kook Han, the senior vice president of News World and longtime Moon pal, the editorial was rewritten "changing its essence 180 degrees."
De Borchgrave doesn't deny speaking with Han, who once served as the Korean Ambassador to Norway and Finland, but says he saw no impropriety about incorporating an owner's input. "It was a personality thing," says de Borchgrave, "Cheshire hated my guts. He felt he should have had my job."
As for the undiluted conservative slant of the paper's coverage, de Borchgrave makes no apology. "I'm not a rightwing fruitcake," he says. "I'm a Republican. Ben (Bradlee) says, `I'm an independent.' Well, that's hog wash. Ben is a liberal Democrat. There's nothing wrong with that at all. What's wrong is to conceal where one is coming from."
De Borchgrave even wrote a passionate editorial denouncing the termination of U.S. financial aid to the Contras and ran it on the front page. Inserted at the end was an announcement that the Times owners were donating $100,000 to a newly created fund, the Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters, to keep the Contras armed. De Borchgrave denies reports that he was in cahoots with Oliver North, whom he claimed he barely knew at the time, explaining that he was simply "trying to raise money for the Contras. I had nothing to do with running the fund. I just had the idea for starting it." Nor did he see any ethical problem for a newspaper to solicit funds for a guerrilla group seeking to topple a government. When asked how he would have responded if Ben Bradlee had solicited $100,000 for the Sandinistas, de Borchgrave is uncharacteristically quiet.
The one blunder he admits to was running a page one story under a banner headline during the 1988 election asserting that Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis saw a psychiatrist after his brother's death. The story, attributed to the candidate's sister-in-law, turned out to be false, and prompted the resignation of reporter Gene Grabowski. "The Dukakis story was bogus," says conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, "and it really hurt their credibility."
“It was a deadline rush. I admitted I goofed and apologized,” says de Borchgrave. “How many people admit they goof in this business?! No one!’
Unlike his predecessors, mixing newspaper functions with other Church businesses did not trouble de Borchgrave. “He's appeared at every Church picnic, conference, symposium, seminar, and clam bake under the sun," says Whelan. De Borchgrave doesn't deny having socialized with Moon and Church officials, and admits to taking fishing trips with the Reverend, even flying to Seoul to attend Moon's 70th birthday party. "The (editorial) wall was very important," says de Borchgrave, "but I didn't go out of my way to insult the owners, which is what Whelan did. I went out of my way to be diplomatic with them."
While de Borchgrave views the Times as just one of the many businesses owned by the Unification Church, many regard it as the crown jewel of Moon's empire. Moreover, says Whelan, it is the medium for Moon to garner the necessary respectability to accomplish his goals which, he adds, are nothing less than “the conquest of global power in order to establish a totalitarian theocracy headed by Moon."
Reverend Sun Myung Moon is a man of no small ambition. The entrepreneurial guru claims that Jesus Christ visited him when he was 16 years old on a North Korean hillside on Easter Sunday, 1936. According to Moon's teachings, Jesus told the young man that he was to be sent on "an important mission to accomplish the fulfillment of God's providence." In 1990, Moon went even further, telling a stunned San Francisco audience that the world was in search of its "true parent, the Messiah. To fulfill this very purpose, I have been called upon by God."
To accomplish his destiny, Moon created his own religion, founding the Unification Church in 1954, a theological stew of Christianity, Taoism and Oriental mysticism. For his anti-communist and religious activism, Moon says he did three stints in a North Korean jail, though the government of South Korea, where Moon found refuge in 1950, claimed his crime was draft evasion, a charge denied by the Church. A French journalist has also charged that the last arrest in 1955 was for adultery and bigamy, which Church officials say is "absolutely untrue."
In 1960, the 40-year-old Moon remarried for the fourth and last time, to 18 year old Hak Ja Han. They have thirteen children. In Church theology they are regarded as the "True Parents" of the entire human race and are addressed by their followers as "True Mother" and "True Father." Marriage is crucial to spiritual development according to Moon, whose teachings state that Christ failed in his mission by getting crucified and also by having never married. Moon has been reputed to speak for sixteen hours at a time and according to James Baughman, president of the American Unification Church, True Father is in contact with the spirit world. Asked to be more specific, Baughman claims that Moon has direct channels to Adam, Jonah and Lucifer.
Unification missionaries first came to America in 1960 and laid the foundation for Moon's arrival in 1971. Followers were encouraged to call themselves "Moonies," and did so until quite recently when the term was abandoned because it had acquired a pejorative connotation. The Church's aggressive recruitment techniques created a public relations disaster, not unlike that of rival Scientology. Scores of parents claimed that their children had been kidnapped and brainwashed into evangelical robots spewing the miracles of Moon; travelers in the 1970s often had to dodge clusters of young Moonies at airports peddling flowers and handing out Church literature.
Then there were the mass weddings. In 1982, almost 11,000 devotees who had never met each other, were paired off by Moon and married en masse at Madison Square Garden and in Seoul. Church officials claim that today their flock comprises more than three million members, with the great majority living in Japan and Korea. Although the Church says they have 5,000 American members, congressional sources say the figure is less than 3,000.
In late 1982, the bubble burst for Moon when he was convicted on four counts of perjury and tax evasion. He eventually served 11 months of an 18 month sentence followed by two months in a halfway house.
Despite his criminal record, Moon decided that he wanted to be a world leader, not just an evangelist--and he was willing to pay for it. Some insiders contend that the Unification Church was the number one contributor to conservative causes throughout the 1980s. In 1984, the Church gave $750,000 to the Conservative Alliance, a group spearheaded by the late Terry Dolan. It was a transaction riddled with irony: the Church fiercely condemns homosexuality and Dolan, a closeted gay man, was already sick with AIDS. Two years later, the Church bailed direct mail king Richard Viguerie out of financial trouble by buying his Virginia office building for a whopping $10 million dollars. Observers saw the transaction as a reward for a longtime friendship; Viguerie has handled the Church's direct mail business since the late 60's. In 1988, the Church made a $50,000 contribution to President Bush's re-election campaign.
In pursuit of a Presidential pardon for himself, Moon spread even more money around. Paul Laxalt, Reagan's best friend and the former senator from Nevada, was put on a retainer of $50,000 a month plus expenses to lobby Reagan while Sen. Orin Hatch became the point man for the "pardon team." Moon was said to be prepared to offer a half million dollars to anyone willing to guarantee him a pardon from Reagan. Rory O'Connor, who produced the Frontline documentary on Moon, believes that it was Nancy Reagan who terminated speculation about any such deal.
From the start, the Times PR team made sure everyone knew it was not the only church-owned paper around, citing The Deseret Times of Salt Lake City, funded by the Mormons, and the well respected Christian Science Monitor. "I can't say that the Unification Church is much loopier than some of the tenets in the Mormon Church,” noted Times critic Jack Shafer. “The difference between a cult and a religion seems to be about a hundred years."
However, while there are other Church-owned newspapers, The Washington Times is the only one that is also foreign financed. "To date, the Times has hidden behind freedom of press and freedom of religion," says Lars Erik Nelson, a New York Daily News reporter who has investigated Moon's finances, "but there's no excuse for them not registering under the Foreign Registration Act." That legislation, created in World War II to prevent the dissemination of German and Japanese propaganda, specifically states that any newspaper financed by a foreign principal must be registered with the State Department.
Currently, such diverse organizations as the British Information Services and the Japanese Auto Owners Association, which publishes sales bulletins, are registered. However, despite the fact that Church officials have admitted that most of the Times financing comes from Korea and Japan, the newspaper has never been required to register. Registration under the Act, which requires all entities to disclose the source and amounts of its financing, would quickly demystify Moon's empire. Critics contend that the Reagan-Bush Justice Department turned a blind eye to the conservative newspaper's finances and possible violation of the law. Calls to John Martin, whose division at the Justice Department enforces the Act, were not returned.
Seeking to divine the source of the Church's vast wealth, I met with Ronald Godwin, senior vice president of the Times for the last six years, and Tony Webb, their new general manager. The interview was held in Godwin's third floor office at the newspaper, a sparsely decorated room, save for an American flag standing next to Godwin's desk.
Godwin, who was sporting a Rolex and hunting boots, prefers being called Doctor Godwin in deference to a PhD. he earned at Florida State in planning and management. He is a wiry Southerner in his 50's who previously worked for Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority. "I've made a career working for controversial religious leaders," he said. Godwin says he was recruited by Moon’s top aide, Bo Hi Pak, also a supporter and generous contributor to Falwell.
Asked about reported frequent sightings of Moon in the newsroom, Godwin dismisses them as rumor, and asserts that Moon has visited the paper "maybe ten times in ten years. Total." Although Godwin says "there's been no lessening of commitment to the paper, it's fair to say that our owners are expecting an increase in revenue. I don't want to be a foundation publishing house.”
Godwin, who dismissed the Frontline documentary as "the Geraldo show” and a “prostitution of the journalistic process," was particularly irked by the program’s speculations concerning Church's finances. Asked why the Times’ owners haven't revealed their funding to silence their critics, Godwin said, "They regard it as a private business, which it is, and frankly it's none of anyone's business." In any event, says Godwin, it would be "an exercise in futility" to open up the Times’ books. "As Bill Clinton has learned, the questions would never stop." Webb said that after viewing the Frontline segment, he wanted to know "what the hell is wrong with democracy, the fight against communism, and supporting the troops and Desert Storm?"
Forty-five minutes into the interview, Webb asked pointedly. "What's the tone of your story? What's your angle?" Told that the story would be a profile of the newspaper and its benefactor, Godwin's eyes narrowed. "I didn't fall off of a pumpkin wagon yesterday," he grumbled and signaled that the interview was over. All previously scheduled interviews with other staff members were suddenly canceled. The Washington Times was no longer available to answer questions.
In July, 1991 de Borchgrave handed over the reins to managing editor Wesley Pruden and became the paper's editor-at-large. Although observers talked of feuding between the two very different men--the imperial de Borchgrave and the reclusive Pruden, a Baptist from Arkansas--de Borchgrave dismissed such reports. "I simply adore Wes," he said. Pruden, who has been in the trenches at the Times since its inception, is best known for his hands-on aggressive editing, known in the newsroom as "Prudenizing," a process that invariably insures that stories have the correct conservative spin.
Jim Whelan says that he hired Pruden at the urging of Smith Hempstone despite the fact that Pruden had been fired as a staff writer from the now defunct National Observer magazine, according to Whelan and others, for having “doctored” quotes . (Pruden refused repeated requests for an interview.) "He had been on the beach for almost five years," says Whelan. "I hired him and put him on probation for the first year." Eight years ago, he began a thrice weekly column, Pruden on Politics, which he continues to write in addition to running the newspaper. His reign began auspiciously enough with a lunch date on day one with President Bush and then chief of staff, John Sununu.
Directly under Pruden is deputy managing editor, Josette Shiner, perhaps the most enigmatic member of the Times family. Shiner, an attractive woman of 37, is frequently described as the "number one Moonie" at the paper. Some, in fact, regard her as the "de facto power," and one recently departed staffer says that "Josette runs the paper more than Wes." Following Whelan's departure in `84, Shiner and another Church member, Ted Agres, were made assistant managing editors. While staffers are known to snicker over "the mindless cheerfulness" and "vacant eyes," of some Church colleagues, Shiner gets consistently top marks for her work, even from snipers who call her "the Ice Queen." Recently, she was invited to join the Council of Foreign Relations, nominated by de Borchgrave. "She simply breaks the mold," says Dawn Weyrich Ceol, "You would never know she's a Moonie."
In 1975, 21 year old Josette made headlines when her distraught father, James Sheeran, then the New Jersey State Commissioner of Insurance, charged that he, his wife and 14 year old son had been beaten up by Moon followers when he tried to find Josette and her two sisters at the Church's 200 acre compound in upstate New York. Sheeran, a decorated World War II paratrooper and former FBI agent, had been a two term Republican Mayor of West Orange, New Jersey where he raised his large Irish Catholic family.
Following the lead of her older sister Jamie, Josette had dropped out of the University of Colorado in late 1974 and joined the Church. A third sister, Vicki, signed up with Josette. "I have seen personality changes in my daughters," an anguished Sheeran said at the time. "They seem to think that there's a Communist under every bush and they're seeing God all the time. I really love them, but Moon's got them selling peanuts and other stuff on the street while brainwashing them into thinking that no assault took place."
Two weeks after the assault, the three blue-eyed Sheeran girls, flanked by Bo Hi Pak and other Church officials, read a prepared statement at a press conference saying "we love our parents very much," but stating they had no intention of leaving the Church. They also denied being brainwashed. In 1982 Josette told The Washington Post that she “joined the church full well knowing it is something not yet understood by society. For me, it has an intellectual appeal."
Although the assault charges were later dropped, the publicity generated by the Sheeran family's distress galvanized state and federal investigations into Moon and his Church, culminating in Moon's eventual indictment for tax evasion in 1982. Despite his war against Moon and the Unification Church, Sheeran failed to win back his daughters into the family fold and faith. Several years later, however, a family truce was declared, though Sheeran says hopefully, "I still believe the Moon organization will fall by the wayside by its own weight."
Josette eventually returned to college. Upon graduation, she went to work in 1976 in the Washington bureau of the now defunct News World, a Moon owned daily. She was one of the principal forces behind The Washington Times, and some staffers believe that the idea of starting the paper was hers. The Church, however attributes the paper’s founding "to a vision of our Heavenly father," meaning Moon.
Although Josette has a cool, efficient demeanor, she is also a woman of
considerable charm. According to staffers, she is the only Church member at the paper who regularly socializes with non-Church staffers and editors. Nevertheless, no one doubts her devotion to Moon and the Church.
In October 1982, the Sheeran sisters were among those married off at the famous Madison Square Garden wedding ceremony to spouses selected for them by Moon. Vicki, who runs a struggling photo agency for the Times, was matched up with a maintenance man at the paper, and Josette was married to Whitney Shiner, who recently completed a doctorate in theology at Yale.
However, former staffer Lisa McCormack said that Whitney was not the first candidate proposed by Moon. According to another ex-staffer, "Josette was able to nix the first one because she had enough clout with the Church." The couple now have two daughters and, according to close friend de Borchgrave, "it's a terrific marriage."
Some staffers believe that the wall separating editorial from the Church owners has eroded considerably under Pruden's watch. He has abandoned the practice of relying on wire service copy to cover Church or Moon news, and has published columns and editorials flattering to Moon and his businesses. Pruden has taken a defensive stand on the subject, telling a Post reporter, "No one can find a single word of Church propaganda in this paper." However, in January, the paper ran an editorial by Nicholas Eberstadt celebrating the meeting of Moon and North Korean strongman, Kim Il Sung, and chastising the South Korean government for its irritation with Moon's visit.
But there was no explanation in the column or anywhere else in the Times for the sudden fondness that Moon, the great Cold Warrior, now feels toward Kim, the world’s most despotic communist dictator. Then there are Moon's other new pals, the Red Chinese, with whom he has invested $250,000 in a Panda car factory.
"Moon was willing to do whatever was necessary to suck up to the Chinese for business and evangelical reasons," says Andrew Ferguson, a speechwriter for President Bush and a former editor of The American Spectator, where he penned a tract critical of the conservatives' alliance with the Unification Church. "[Moon’s] only credential as a conservative was being an anti-communist and now that's shot. It proves that, fundamentally, he's an opportunist." But the greatest embarrassment for Pruden came three months into his stewardship when Dawn Ceol quit.
Dawn Weyrich Ceol has the kind of fresh-faced, all-American blonde good looks featured in soap commercials. In 1988, she was hired by the Times at the age of 24 with very little experience. "After a year on Metro, they promoted me to the national desk,” she said. “It was a tremendous opportunity. I knew I was doing something that people wait fifteen years to do."
Concerned about the baggage of being the daughter of conservative think tank founder Paul Weyrich, she decided to use her married name, Ceol, as her byline. "Because I'm Paul Weyrich's daughter, there's a kind of wariness about me," she said, "especially from liberals. I have been very careful and circumspect to have balance in my stories." For nearly three years, Ceol had smooth sailing in the newsroom--personally unaffected by office or Church politics. She had not even been “Prudenized" --not until she was assigned to cover the Clarence Thomas hearings.
Ceol had her first whiff of trouble after she filed a story about Anita Hill's initial appearance at Senate hearoings. Late that night, remembers Ceol, she got a message from her line editor telling her she might want to check out her story. "I went into the computer and saw what had happened," says Ceol, "The story had been completely rewritten and had a new head and lead. Next
to the changed copy was Pruden's computer password. I had Anita
Hill's testimony in the lead. After Wes rewrote the story, you didn't see her testimony until the eighth paragraph. It was all about Clarence Thomas. "
Distressed, Ceol called her editor, Fran Coombs, at home who took a look at the revised story. "He told me, `Dawn, you're really tired. You're working really long hours and you're overreacting. I think it's a good story,'" recalls Ceol. "So I thought to myself, `Maybe he's right. I am real tired.' The next morning after a night's sleep I looked at it again and I knew I was right and I made a promise to myself that it would never happen again."
Days later, the panelists at the Senate hearings for both Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas testified. "I wrote another story and structured it like a tennis match, going back and forth between the two sides," said Ceol. "In the first edition, my copy went out untouched." The headline of the first edition was, "Thomas Accuser Lauded, Assailed." Ceol began another story while watching the hearings. "John Doggett, that wacko, was testifying," she said, referring to the bombastic Thomas witness who characterized Hill as a woman who deluded herself that men, including himself, were romantically interested in her. "My impression was that Doggett was not a credible witness," said Ceol, with a roll of her eyes.
Wes Pruden felt otherwise. "My editor, Alan Bradford, called me saying, `Wes told me that he thinks Doggett is a fantastic witness and he wants you to do a write thru for the second edition,'" remembered Ceol. "I said, `I don't think so. I don't think he deserves more than a paragraph or two.'" Because Ceol was so busy, Bradford suggested that another reporter write up the Doggett paragraphs. Ceol said fine.
Sometime after midnight, Ceol decided to check on the story in her computer. "I saw a slug that said ‘new Thomas head' and next to it was Wes' password," recalled Ceol. The headline was now "Miss Hill Painted As Fantasizer," and the first eight paragraphs were devoted to Doggett. Ceol was furious. "There were also factual errors," says Ceol, "which really upset me because I'm a stickler on facts. Because of my last name, I feel I really have to do excellent work. I read the story and I was crazed. I called up Alan Bradford and said, `if you don't get my byline off of this, I'm resigning.’" Bradford made some calls then got back to Ceol saying it was too late, the story had been plated. Ceol said she told him, "’I don't care.’ I was in the Senate press gallery with several colleagues around when I had made the call," says Ceol. "When he told me it was too late. I started screaming, `Then accept my resignation!'"
At two in the morning, she wrote and sent a two line letter of resignation through the paper's computer. The following day, she sent another resignation letter, this time calmly citing her reasons. "The story in today's final edition not only gives an unbalanced impression of yesterday's testimony," wrote Ceol, "there is not one mention that four witnesses generally corroborated Miss Hill's statements...In many ways, I believe this paper has gotten an unfair shake, but this kind of activity does not help dispel our reputation."
Ceol says she got more than fifty calls of support from her colleagues at the Times, "from the copy desk to the editors -everybody but the glass offices. People were very upset because this was happening a lot. As a result, they wanted to start a union to protect the writers from exactly this."
The resignation of Ceol was humiliating for the Times. There was no way to blame the mess on liberals. Not only was Ceol a blue blooded conservative, she was also a known admirer of Clarence Thomas, having first met and interviewed him during his Congressional hearings for the Court of Appeals.
Ceol was thrown a farewell party by her friend, Peter Baker, one of the few Times staffers to be hired away by the Post. “At the party, according to Ceol, "somebody put out some union literature, just as an afterthought." The following Sunday, Pruden took out a full page "Message From the Editor" ad in the Times declaring as "FACT" that "a Washington Post reporter hosted a union organizing party for Washington Times employees," and accusing the rival paper of setting out "to destroy us from within."
Pruden informed staffers that Ceol's charges were "a total lie," and that her father, Paul Weyrich, had advised her not to quit and had tried to change her mind. It was a charge that infuriated Ceol. "My father gave me 100% support for what I did," she said.
The Ceol affair hardly helped boost morale that was already flagging from budget cuts. Austerity had finally hit the Times. A wage freeze was announced after more than 80 staffers had been fired in the previous year. Finally recognizing that Insight was never going to be TIME and was losing subscribers like a sieve, the glossy magazine was downsized from 80 to 30 pages and made into the paper’s Sunday supplement.
To some, Insight’s very future is in doubt, with one former staffer betting that the magazine will not survive the year. The unlimited expense accounts and lavish lunches are history. Even more chilling were the whispers that the Reverend, like so many tycoons of the 80s, may have hit the financial skids.
Few of Moon's American holdings have ever been regarded as big moneymakers. News World, which publishes the Times as well as several Hispanic and Korean language papers in the U.S., and a 700 page monthly magazine called The World and I, has always required a massive subsidy. The Church's successful American businesses are believed to be fishing enterprises in Massachusetts and Alaska, extensive real estate holdings, and numerous video production companies in the D.C. area.
The bulk of Moon's wealth has always come from his businesses in Asia, principally Tong-Il Ltd., an extremely lucrative South Korean corporation that manufactures automobile parts, machinery, and military hardware. Additionally, Japanese church members are believed to have poured millions into Moon's coffers through the selling of religious relics and icons, a business which came under government scrutiny for its massive margins. It is also believed that many Moon devotees in Japan and Korea have turned over substantial assets to the Church.
One sure sign of unrest in the empire was the recall of Bo Hi Pak back to Korea to oversee Moon's businesses. Pak, once a Lt. Colonel in the Korean army, began his career in the Korean CIA, which some believe supplied money to Moon and the Church to aid his anti-communist crusade. Pak's devotion to Moon is seemingly boundless. In 1984, his daughter, Hoon Sook Pak, a ballerina with the Church-owned Washington Ballet, was married to the spirit of Moon's dead son who was killed in a car crash a month earlier.
She is now known as Julia Moon. This became somewhat problematic
four years later, when the Reverend announced that his son’s spirit had been reincarnated in the body of a visiting "black brother" from Zimbabwe. After it was clarified that the African was only the vessel of the son's spirit, it was decided that cohabitation would be unnecessary for the two.
The ever faithful Pak is said to be attending to such debacles as the loss of some $250 million in the Panda car company in China and the Church's diminished standing with the Korean government. There has even been some unusual infighting within the Church. In 1984, a high ranking Japanese Church member, Yoshitazu Soejima, broke with the Church, telling a Washington Post reporter that Moon was no longer "working for the world, but for himself." Several months after leaving the Church, while preparing an article critical of Moon, Soejima was attacked outside his home and repeatedly stabbed. He survived the assault and the article was published in a Japanese newspaper.
“Business is bad for the Moonies," suggested Andrew Ferguson. "Col. Pak made numerous financial commitments to conservative causes that he couldn't fulfill." Lars Erik Nelson of the Daily News, who has tracked Moon’s finances for years, noted that “all of Moon's businesses, here and in Korea and Japan, are losing money." Still, no matter what perils Moon may be facing, it is unlikely that he will ever sell the Times. “The Times was the top priority of the Unification Church," said Soejima. He adds that Japanese Church members, responding to the exhortation of Moon, sent a monthly $2.5 million to the U.S. specifically earmarked for the newspaper.
Whatever misgivings they have regarding the Unification Church, even some of the Times' detractors, say they would mourn the paper's demise. Notwithstanding the reservations I have," said Ferguson, "it would be a disaster, just horrendous for Washington, if it died." If nothing else, he said, the Times has kept the Post awake at the wheel.
Most liberals disagree. "I'd hate to see any newspaper go out of business,” said Crossfire’s resident lefty, Michael Kinsley, “but if I had to pick one, it would be The Washington Times." Not even the specter of the nation’s capitol being a "one paper town," leavens the negatives of the Times for some. “If the choice is between a monopoly press or intellectually dishonest journalism," said Howell Raines, The New York Times Washington Bureau chief, "I'd go with the monopoly. It's more unhealthy for journalism to be financed by churches with a political agenda.”
The Washington Times’ impact on the city's pulse generates more raucous debate. One Bush administration staffer said that "everybody in the White House, in the media and all the players in town read the Times." Kinsley concedes that it has "a certain amount of influence,” drolly adding, “plus the cachet of letting us peer into the conservative heart of darkness." Nevertheless, Charles Krauthammer, of the Post, contends that while the Times " has largely transcended its origins and is now the town's conservative voice, it is not required reading like the Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.”
"It's a must read for people who want to be well informed," counters Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the conservative columnist and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under Reagan. "At one time, it had more foreign coverage than the Post…It also has great food pages and a lot of life in its Life section and it scoops the Post from time to time. Of course, the Post scoops the Times all the time but it's still a very good newspaper."
For Ferguson and many other conservatives the ideal solution would be for the Church to sell the paper. "Their primary purpose is to get legitimacy for the Church," said Ferguson. "They should realize they're never going to get it and sell the paper to some media megalomaniac like Murdoch." A sale would certainly be a relief for many fretful conservatives. "Are we really going to depend on South Korean philanthropy to fund a newspaper?" asks an incredulous William F. Buckley.
But the Times remains the most important weapon in Moon's public relations arsenal. "He needs it to impress the Koreans, Japanese and Chinese governments that he's a serious player in the nation's capitol," Whelan points out. Without the Times, he notes, Moon would never have been able to chat up former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev in a private audience in 1990 nor have been a VIP guest at Ronald Reagan's inaugural ball.
For a pudgy Korean evangelist with a global dream in his heart, it seems that $830 million has been worth the price of admission.
About the Writer
Ann Louise Bardach won the PEN/USA Award for Best Journalism in 1995.
She is the author of CUBA CONFIDENTIAL: LOVE AND VENGEANCE IN MIAMI AND HAVANA (Random/Vintage) which was a finalist for Best Nonfiction for the PEN/USA Awards and the New York Public Librar’s Helen Bernstein Award. She is also the editor of CUBA: A TRAVELERS LITERARY COMPANION (Whereabouts Press). She has covered Cuba for the New York Times and Vanity Fair where she was a Contributing Editor for ten years. She is a Visiting Professor of International Journalism at University of California at Santa Barbara.
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