The Washington Times, which is financially backed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, Thursday decided not to publish a full-length negative review in Friday's paper of "Inchon," the $40-50 million Moon-affiliated war movie that opened in area theaters yesterday.
According to two Times sources, the decision not to print the review -- written by staff film critic Scott Sublett -- was made by Times publisher and editor James Whelan. He told Sublett that the newspaper faced a conflict of interest in reviewing the movie, according to a Times source.
After reading the review, The Times reportedly considered running a three-paragraph plot summary of "Inchon" that also would have explained why The Times was not reviewing the movie.
After an initial press inquiry about the decision, executive editor Smith Hempstone called a meeting of the features section staff to express outrage about the leak, according to Times staff members. The same sources said Hempstone warned that any staff members who spoke to the press about this issue could be fired.
"They're out of their minds over this now," said one Times reporter shortly after the staff meeting. "Hempstone is really angry."
One source said feature editors then considered running an Associated Press review of the movie. In the end, the only mention of "Inchon" was a one-paragraph critical synopsis of the movie in The Times' Friday magazine section. It was written by Sublett, as part of an 11-movie "Short Takes" column. It was the seventh item in the column.
Whelan did not return a reporter's phone calls Thursday or yesterday.
Hempstone said Thursday he wasn't going to answer questions as to whether the review had been killed.
"We don't discuss the internal functioning of our newspaper -- do you?" Hempstone said. When told that members of his staff were upset by the decision to kill the review, Hempstone said, "Thank you for the information," and hung up.
When the paper was launched amid much controversy last May, editors assured the staff and the public it would be independent from Unification Church influence. Hempstone and Whelan joined the paper after asking for and receiving contracts that guaranteed them editorial control over the product.
In his 2 1/2-page review, according to a Times source, Sublett criticized the acting and the plot development of "Inchon," which its producers have called the most expensive war movie ever made.
The movie, which was first screened in Washington during a controversial black-tie gala at the Kennedy Center last year, is about U.S. involvement in the Korean War.
"Inchon" was produced by One Way Productions, headed by Japanese businessman Mitsuharu Ishii, a member of the Unification Church and close associate of Moon. The Unification Church reportedly loaned One Way Productions about $30 million to complete the movie. At the end of the film, one of the first credits reads: "Rev. Sun Myung Moon: Special Advisor on Korean Matters."
When Inchon was previewed at the Kennedy Center, about 100 persons picketed the showing. Many carried signs reading "Warning: You have been duped by the Moonies."
After the world premiere in May 1981, the release of "Inchon" was delayed until now.
"I was a little surprised . . . a little upset," said one feature writer. "I can see their point. They just wanted to describe the movie rather than review it one way or another to prevent any sort of conflict of interest."
"Everyone here is stewing about this ," said another reporter who requested anonymity.
Sublett said he would not comment on the decision.
"We are an independent paper . . . how should I put this?" said Sublett. "I don't think I should say anything further."
Kirk Oberfeld, editor of the Times' feature section, Capital Life, also refused to comment.
Sublett's summary of "Inchon," which appeared on page 19 of the magazine, did not mention Moon's connection with the film. It read:
"Puerile dialogue, perfunctory acting and haphazard construction doom from the start this visually impressive would-be epic about love and dead Reds in wartime Korea. Olivier (in a performance that is the nadir of his career) joshes, minces and rolls his eyes absurdly as Doug MacArthur. The script, by Robin Moore, is pure twaddle -- a cross between "South Pacific" and "The Green Berets."