The newsroom looks properly chaotic: Clacking typewriters, loosened ties, rolled-up shirt sleeves, ringing phones, crumbled McDonald's bags, familiar faces from The Washington Star. The Metro editor pecks out his budget of today's stories: Two men killed in Victorian town house, Virginia senator wreaks havoc, it's pollen time again. A reporter comes in, leaps in the air and clicks his heels in celebration.
Yesterday was the first day of deadline at The Washington Times, the newspaper owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's controversial Unification Church.
"The old Washington Daily News was always hectic and crowded," says George Clifford, who'll cover Capitol Hill for The Times. "That's the way this is. Good to be home again."
The place, the old Parsons Paper Co. on New York Avenue NE near the National Arboretum, has all the jumbled joy of news junkies getting together and doing the astonishing: Starting, not folding, a paper. Washington, like other big cities, has been losing papers. The Times-Herald, the Daily News and, 10 months ago, The Washington Star. At a time when urban papers are sputtering and dying nationwide, The Times is a curiosity. As publisher and editor James Whelan says: "Launching a newspaper. It's the goddamndest thing."
The Washington Times is not just any newspaper. Commonly referred to as "the Moonie paper" since its plans were announced, it is supported by the religious movement that Moon founded in Korea 28 years ago. Preaching "The Divine Principle," Moon sees himself as the new Messiah and Korea as God's chosen country. Since the church emerged in the United States in the early 1970s, questions have been raised about its finances, its suspected ties to the Korean CIA and its alleged brainwashing of young recruits. It is now an international business empire that encompasses entertainment, fishing, food retailing, publishing and, for a time, the Diplomat National Bank here.
Robert Boettcher, the staff director of a 1978 House subcommittee investigation into Korean-American relations, says the church aims at creating a global theocracy that Moon would control.
Moon already has one newspaper in the United States, the News World in New York City. According to the House subcommittee report, it served "as a propaganda instrument of the Moon organization. A casual reader would not detect its UC Unification Church affilation on most days. On issues affecting Moon and the UC, however, the resources of the paper were mobilized along with other components of the Moon organization to attack and discredit critics and investigators." When Moon was indicted in a tax evasion case, one banner headline asked, "Why Rev. Moon, Mr. President?"
Although one-third of the 125 reporters and editors are Unification Church members, everyone connected with The Washington Times adamantly says it won't be a church mouthpiece. Both Whelan and Smith Hempstone, the executive editor, have written guarantees of editorial control in their contracts that they insisted on. Reporters are equally wary. "If it doesn't work out, and I can't be indepedent, I'll walk," says Clark Mollenhoff, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who'll cover the White House for the paper this summer.
The paper's editors say its only purpose is to provide a conservative alternative to The Post. "I don't know anyone in the New Right who hasn't felt this sense of desperation and frustration over the absense of a voice in Washington," says Whelan.
But the real Washington story at The Times is its staff members--the ones who aren't church members. Many are familiar bylines from the Star. Some were bored writing books, others joined because of pleadings from already hired colleagues whom they trusted. Many badly needed a job; for them, their decision was proof that you can't eat your principles.
Almost all had serious reservations. "You'd have to be a brick not to go though some sort of moral convulsions," says Doug Lamborne, The Times sports editor and former Washington Star copy editor. "I lost five pounds the first week. We all had these twitchy sort of feelings: 'Is what we're doing right?' "
But the names have rolled in: Jeremiah O'Leary, the former White House correspondent for The Star who became the spokesman for national security adviser William P. Clark, will cover the White House for The Times. Anne Crutcher, a former Star editorial writer, is editorial page editor at The Times. Dana Adams Schmidt, a former reporter for The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor, will cover the State Department.
By now, the justifications are well-formed. Hempstone, a former Star associate editor, has been quoted as saying, "I've worked for a lot of publishers who thought they were God." Richard Levine, a general assignment reporter who published his own newspaper in New Hampshire until he ran out of money, reasons: "We all work for sons-of-bitches. What's different?"
For Jack Mann, a sportswriter for The Star, it was money. "I hadn't had a job for 10 months," he says. (His wife, Judy, is a columnist at The Post.) "Take our salaries and cut that in half--when you've got a mortgage and kids in school. It was tough."
For Mark Kram, a former Sports Illustrated writer who was fired from the magazine five years ago, it was a chance "to breathe some fresh air." "Frankly, I've been in a dungeon for so long writing books," he says. "Nobody knows if you're alive or dead. I wanted to peek my head out and see what's going on."
For Phil Evans, an assistant managing editor and former managing editor at The Star, it was a chance to get his blood flowing. "The anticipation of being able to work at home at your typewriter and sit in your garden is very appealing," he says. "But it becomes very boring. Newspapers are inherently exciting, and so far, no one has said, 'We don't do it that way.' In the last few years, hundreds of my colleagues and friends have been thrown out of work. It's just incredibly challenging and exciting to be starting a newspaper instead of closing one."
For Betty Beale, the longtime syndicated society columnist who lost her crucial outlet in Washington when The Star folded, it was a surprise. She says she didn't know The Times had bought the column from her syndicate until she saw a prototype edition. So how does she feel about her column appearing in the paper?
"Well," she says. There is a very long pause. Finally: "I think it's fortunate that there's going to be another paper. I think it's fortunate that James Whelan has a contract to be in total control of what goes in it. And I think he's brought in a good staff."
But her feelings about being in the paper? Another long pause. "You put me on the spot," she says, finally. "It's implied in what I said, don't you think?"
Clifford, the Capitol Hill correspondent, says of the Moon connection: "It's a heavy load."
The Quest for an Editor
"If we can manipulate seven nations at least," Moon was quoted as saying in a speech reported by the House subcommitee investigators, "then we can get hold of the whole world: the United States, England, France, Germany, Soviet Russia, and maybe Korea and Japan." Moon, the 62-year-old father of 13 who is said to live on a sprawling New York estate, is now on trial for federal tax evasion. Jo Ann Harris, the prosecutor, said in her summation to the court in New York last week that Moon is guilty of "greed, arrogance and power." The jury begins its third day of deliberations this morning.
News World Communications Inc., the newspaper unit of the church empire, will fund The Times. The president of News World is Bo Hi Pak, who has a personal parking space in The Times lot and who was a central figure in the Korean influence-buying investigation here in the mid-1970s. In 1978, he said in congressional testimony that he received cash payments from the South Korean CIA, but said he was only a conduit for funds to reimburse others for anticommunist activities.
Pak recruited Whelan, and as Whelan says Pak's associates told him during one of their meetings: "If we wind up with someone we don't have trust in, we're going to have to hold the paper tightly. And if we hold the paper tightly, we won't succeed."
If the newspaper is legitimate, does that legitimize the church?
"Who the hell are you to stand in judgment?" Whelan asks during an interview in his office. "The only way you could successfully ask that question is by impuning to them some sort of evil and sinister quality. No, they're not zombies. No, they're not programmed. They're not freaks, for Chrissake."
Paul Herman, a church member sent down from the News World to help out with advertising sales, sees it this way: "I think I'm mainstream. I think The Divine Principle is the deepest truth."
Whelan, 48, was the key to attracting the veteran journalists. He is the highly respected, politically conservative editor who worked for Richard Mellon Scaife, the owner of the Sacramento Union. Whelan was first approached by associates of Pak just before last Christmas. Soon after, he met with Pak. "I liked him instantly," Whalen says. "He's a very decent guy, I have discovered. We hit it off."
For the next several weeks, Whalen says, there were "missions" sent to Sacramento to try to persuade him to take the job. "By then, I was consulting people all over the country. Should I do this? Do I dare do this?" Soon Scaife heard news of the offer and gave Whalen what Whalen characterizes as an unrelated raise and a bonus. Whalen turned Pak down once and for all, then left for a family trip down the California coast during the George Washington Birthday weekend. "I had been going through a terrible soul-searching," he says. On the first night's stop, in a hotel in Santa Maria, he had a mild heart attack.
The offer from Pak, he says now, "had everything to do with it, I think. It was a tough goddamned decision for me. I believed very strongly in the need for the paper. But I didn't want to do it."
But on the night of his heart attack, "unbeknownst to me, Col. Pak had fretted over my decision. He gathered up a couple of aides, jumped on an airplane, flew to Sacramento, holed up in a hotel and called my house every hour on the hour."
Whalen wasn't home convalescing from the hospital in Santa Maria until a few days later. Pak and his aides came to see him, and talked for almost six hours with Whalen and his wife. "And in the deep and dark of evening," Whalen recalls, "I agreed to do it." It was 2:15 a.m.
"You know what I have now?" he says. "I have what I suppose is just normal anxiety--'is it going to work?' "
Hitting the Streets
The Washington Times planned to print 100,000 copies of this morning's edition, which is being sold from bright orange sidewalk boxes, stores and newsstands inside the Beltway. The daily circulation of The Post is 761,000.
The Times bought its offices on New York Avenue for $1.6 million, and ordered a new Goss Urbanite offset press and a computerized typesetting system. It runs a reporters' shuttle bus between the paper's offices and Metro Center; it is nearly impossible to get a cab that far from downtown. The Times is accepting no advertising--most newspapers' bread and butter--for the initial months of publication, saying it needs accurate circulation figures on which to base its rates. It is paying its editorial employes well for a newspaper of its size, although apparently not as well as rumored. The reporters' pay scale starts at $250 a week and goes to around $26,000 a year; some salaries, however, are a bit higher. Whelan says he's making 12.5 percent more than what he was getting at The Sacramento Union in salary and bonuses. He gets a company Cadillac, compared with the Buick Riviera he was given at The Union.
Whelan won't say what the Unification Church will be spending on the paper this year, but John Morton, the newspaper analyst with the Lynch, Jones & Ryan brokerage firm, estimated that Times start-up costs and 1982 expenditures could run as high as $12 million.
After that, there is the prospect of losing money; when the Star folded, it was losing $20 million annually. "It would be easy to lose a couple million a year on even a small newspaper if you don't have any advertising support," says Morton. "And I suspect that's going to be the case. Rightly or not, the Unification Church is not well thought of by most of the population. It's going to be perceived as a publication of the church even if it produces, and I suspect it will, a respectable, neutral editorial product."
But Whelan says the church is committed to supporting the newspaper "forever," if need be.
"These ventures have never worked anywhere else, and there's no reason to think it'll work here," says Morton. "But that's not the point. The point is that they want to publish a newspaper, and if the pockets of the church are deep enough and full enough, they can do it for as long as they want."
No Welcome Mat
The Times, which has been publishing in-house prototypes since March, hasn't exactly had a warm welcome in Washington.
Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee said that "it's financed by the Moonies and it's run by someone who has been involved with the South Korean CIA. But let's see what kind of a paper they turn out."
The Corcoran Gallery says that its approval of The Times as a corporate sponsor--allowing the paper to hold its "inaugural" reception at the gallery tonight--has infuriated its executive committee.
The administrative assistant to House Speaker Tip O'Neill, Chris Matthews, has told staff members not to bother with Times reporters. "The Rev. Moon can buy a newspaper, but I can't buy the idea he's a newspaperman," says Matthews. "We work hard enough responding to legitimate press inquiries."
And at a party at socialite True Davis' home, a Times reporter who is a church member was asked to leave. At another party, a reporter encountered Larry King, Washington personality and author of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."
"An attractive young lady came up and tried to interview me," King says. "And I said, 'Are you a Moonie?' 'And she said, 'Yes, I am.' And I said, 'I don't talk to Moonies.' "
But Josette Sheeran, the 27-year-old editor of the newspaper's magazine and feature section who was a White House correspondent for the News World, says that "the only reaction that I got was one of curiosity." She is the daughter of a former mayor of West Orange, N.J. She was raised a Catholic and joined the church in 1975. "For me, it has an intellectual appeal," she says. "I joined the church full well knowing it is something not yet understood by society."
So far, reporters and editors say that the church members and other staffers get along well.
"The thing about them, is number one, they're not as cynical as most newspeople," says Tom Breen, the metro editor who was the former night city editor at The Star. "And number two, they're committed. It's nice to have someone who'll work 12 hours." Breen also says the staff can joke about church members' attempts to convert the others. "It's at the point now where the guy on the metro desk can look at me and say: 'Now, I've got you.' "
In the end, Times editors say the paper will best be judged by the news it prints. "The questions are all pretty much the same," says Hempstone. "They won't last long, once we're on the streets."
And in the newsroom? "So far, it's been a ball," says reporter Levine. "It really has."