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People who long for the bygone epoch when newspapers in a single municipality slugged it out story by story to obtain the fealty of readers will just have to settle for a plain old pissing match betwixt the Washington Times and the Washington Post.

Dong Moon Joo, president of the Times, recently served up a tempestuous rebuke to the Post for its two-part investigative series on the Unification Church in November. He actually took out two full pages on Nov. 28, one in the paper he runs and one in the Post—adding an estimated $30,000 to the coffers of a competitor he clearly loathes. The large-type billet was framed as an open letter to Post honcho Donald Graham and had a conspiratorial panache that brought to mind end-stage Nixon. Joo charged, “By repeatedly mixing together in a disparaging way the history of the Unification movement and the Washington Times, your intention was to discredit the integrity of the newspaper.”

So what fiendish assertion had the Post made about its putative opponent to get Joo’s rhetorical undergarments in such a bundle?

“Church members say the publication has never come close to turning a profit, but the paper has become an established voice of conservative America, winning readers in the White House and praise for its professionalism and scoops on national and local stories,” wrote Marc Fisher and Jeff Leen on Sunday, Nov. 23, in their only substantive reference to the paper in the series.

Mark that down. Since the Times was a gleam in True Father’s eye 15 years ago, the Post has never acknowledged the paper’s legitimacy in parts of the ideological spectrum it doesn’t reach. So Joo’s suggestion that the Post “resorted to underhanded tactics to further [its] own financial interests” seems oddly timed.

Joo’s decision to drape his defense of Moonism in journalistic canons imperils the legitimacy of the paper he has fought hard to build—the story was not about the Times. Part 1 of the Post series was a taxonomy of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s local business interests, highlighting the church’s “$300 million in commercial, political and cultural enterprises.” That’s a nice chunk of change, but of course, if you were looking for a pseudo-tribal media entity that owns the city, that would be the Grahams. The Post made almost that much in a single recent transaction: the sale of its stock in the StarTribune of Minneapolis.

The second part of the series was far more illuminating, suggesting through a variety of interviews with ex-church members that Moon was finally up to here with Yankee indolence and is giving up on converting America to the notion that he was dispatched here to save our iniquitous souls. According to the Post, Moon will content himself with a more generic pro-family message and ongoing business interests in the U.S.

Joo did have one legitimate beef: The Post’s decision to publish the local addresses of himself, the Rev. Moon, and former chief reactionary Bo Hi Pak. It was a nasty bit of newspapering—nothing was gained by putting home addresses in the hands of sundry nutballs. Post managing editor Bob Kaiser offered no defense when called about the decision.

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“It was a mistake,” said Kaiser. “Our policy in general is not to put people’s addresses into the paper in the absence of some obvious relevance. That was not the case in this instance.” Kaiser said that the photographer had put the information on the photographs he turned in, and the addresses were inadvertently entered as photo captions. “The system broke down. It happened on the weekend, and no senior person reviewed it. The weekends bedevil us.” (The Post frequently publishes the particulars on crooks, which might justify giving away convicted felon Moon’s local domicile, but that clause doesn’t cover Pak and Joo.)

Kaiser’s admission was news to Melissa Smigley, spokesperson for the Times. “They certainly haven’t said anything to this office,” she said. Kaiser, however, insisted there had been a dialogue. “We certainly had a chance to say that we are sorry that we made this mistake,” he said. And Joo’s insistence that the story was a volley in some kind of newspaper war hasn’t gotten a rise out of Kaiser. “It is our perception that they would like to think that they have a war with us, but if you take a look at the advertising or the circulation, I don’t think there is any war on,” he said.

Still the Kaiser Every few months, rumors float that Kaiser is ready to forsake the helm of the Post for a role as a roving Überreporter. It’s a true story, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled. “I have never hidden the fact that someday I hope to return to reporting, but that day has not come, it is entirely up to me, and it is not imminent.”

Special Issue If the editors of the Post Magazine ever decide to bag the whole journalism thing, they have a bright future in PR. The magazine’s feature last Sunday—”All MCI, All the Time”—did little to distinguish itself from the ads, brochures, and other propaganda bundled with it every weekend. The magazine has spilled comparable amounts of ink over less edifying topics—the recent special issue on the regional epistemology of the starched white shirt comes to mind—but all the single-note gee-whiz seemed bush. Couldn’t there have been at least a mention that the MCI Center is a self-cleaning economic oven, one that physically overwhelms the neighborhood while offering so many interior amenities that visitors’ feet will never have to touch downtown’s cracked sidewalks? Sure, it’s a BFD when someone invests $200 million in a city hemorrhaging business, but keep in mind that the Post was doing cheerleader cartwheels with equal vigor when Jack Kent Cooke Stadium opened. That story was the civic antipode of MCI: a D.C. franchise flung far, never to be seen again, but it was met with the same unmodulated herald of trumpets from the Post. The motivation behind all the applause was visible on the opening spread of the magazine feature, which depicted a spliced and diced panorama of the new arena with a scoreboard as its centerpiece. And whose name was on the scoreboard? Well, let’s just say that not all of the synergies between Big Media and Big Sports are behind the scenes.

This Just in From Our Suburban Bureau “Last night, downtown Washington was a place to be, not to flee.”—Post lead on the MCI Center opener.

Finally in Style Since the odious start-up issue of Capital Style, I have been reading it mostly to confirm a belief that it’s a bad idea poorly executed. And after reading editor Bill Thomas’ supercilious Christmas message—”while you’re curled up with Capital Style this holiday season, remember the less fortunate and share your magazine with a friend”—I settled in for further confirmation…

and found myself reading the damn thing. The third issue of Capital Style has lots of tangy prattle, including a nice bit about John “the Pod” Podhoretz in which he says his short-lived marriage “will only add to my mystique.” (I think he means effluence.) There’s a meaty parting of the clouds around Michael Kinsley and Slate by William Triplett, as long as you ignore some pointless peekaboo around what kind of mouse Mike likes to get his hands on. And the incredibly bitchy take on Beltway pundettes is rendered with just enough mean-spiritedness to give Style the kind of talk value a magazine needs to gain altitude. And that’s not even counting an overdue debunking of The Kennedy Center Honors, a dispatch about Middleburgians’ war on enriched philistines who are plopping themselves down like so much horse dung, and an update on the coming jihad to dump Al D’Amato, the Senate’s most infamous patron of perdition.

—David Carr

E-mail Paper Trail at dcarr@washcp.com or call (202) 332-2100.