The Washington Times has just published a wide-ranging obituary of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church and the Washington Times.
The opus spans six Web pages, detailing Moon’s early years refusing and then, ultimately, answering the call of Jesus Christ; his prolific career founding industrial enterprises and nonprofits of all sorts; his central religious conviction that God “has been grieving for His lost children since the Fall of Man”; an Oval Office meeting between Moon and Richard M. Nixon; the marriage of 2,075 couples in Madison Square Garden in 1982; his federal conviction for tax evasion; and many other compelling tales about this captain of industry, religion and pop culture.
It says considerably less about the fate of the newspaper that published it. The Washington Times, it notes, took in $1 billion in subsidies over its first decade and was a favorite read for President Ronald Reagan. And it carries this fact as well:
The Washington Times is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Missing from the account are the enduring financial difficulties of the paper. Reports from the early 2000s suggested that the Washington Times lifetime subsidy from Moon’s worldwide business holdings was approaching the $2 billion mark. And according to a departed Washington Times executive, annual subsidies of late have clocked in at around $30 million.
Another bit of Moon biography that doesn’t get its due in the official Washington Times obit is the nasty and embarrassing 2010 intra-family dispute over funding of the paper. Without diving too deeply into Moonology, feuding branches of the family bickered over the ownership and subsidies to the paper, and a faction including Moon intimate Douglas Joo reacquired the newspaper. The deal restored subsidies to the paper, which had been cut off for about a year.
Perspectives on whether the money will flow don’t line up. A former Times official punditizes: “As long as the old man was alive, they’d keep subsidizing it, but the impression was that once the old man died, they’d find a way to unwind this thing.”
Larry Zilliox, an opposition research expert and observer of the Unification Church, professes greater sunnyism about the prospects of continued funding. “I think they’re in position to maintain the subsidies,” says Zilliox, noting that those left in charge of the Unification movement “know the value” of the Washington Times.
Though the Unification movement is certainly a unique and noteworthy development in the realm of religion, and the Washington Times has carved out a journalistic universe all its own, there’s nothing novel about these questions. As the amount of subsidies makes clear, the Washington Times served for three decades as a vanity publication of the Rev. Moon. And when the funders of vanity publications die or simply move on, the zeal of the heirs for propping up their babies may wane. Just look at the summer’s headlines regarding Newsweek.
Perhaps if Moon and his deputies had realized what they’d stumbled upon back when they founded the Washington Times in 1982, we wouldn’t be obsessing about these subsidies. Nineteen eighty-two was six years before Rush Limbaugh would take his conservative talk radio show to a national listenership, making ungodly amounts of money. It was also 14 years before Fox News launched its brand of conservative -leaning television; it is said to be on track for $1 billion in profits this year. And long before the Internet presented another opportunity to cash in on the plume of national interest in conservative politics.
The Washington Times watched all of those luxury liners pass by, thanks to the spirit in which Moon had launched it. “They ran it as more an extension of the movement than as an enterprise,” says Zilliox.