After nearly a year of churning out the paper in the newsroom equivalent of a trapped mine, the Washington Times has finally been officially rescued by the eccentric 90-year-old that founded it, Unification Church leader Rev. Sung Myung Moon.
This development follows about three or four years in which the newspaper became an unwilling pawn in an epic and esoteric family feud that pitted a few old timers of the Church and the Times against Rev. Moon’s eldest living soon Preston Moon, a Harvard MBA who had attempted to dramatically overhaul the conservative newspaper in 2007 and 2008, only to find its $40 million a year Church subsidy abruptly cut off in mid-2009. Since then, Preston Moon has been funding the newspaper’s much-curtailed operations—about 70% of the newsroom staff was laid off last November, and the circulation has plummeted as most newsstands and news boxes have been cut off—with his own resources while trying to iron out a deal with some old timers to cede control of the paper in exchange for the assumption of its debt.
“Great timing, right?” an editorial staffer joked to Das Krapital on his way to a staff meeting to discuss what the new-old ownership will mean for the paper.
Almost everyone expects the “new” ownership, a Delaware limited liability corporation led by former Times president Douglas Joo and former Times publisher Tom McDevitt, both longtime Church members, to restore the subsidies the Times relied upon pre-2009 to keep the lights on and the printing presses in operation. Other than that, it will probably take some time before the paper’s new editorial strategy is apparent. It is unclear whether the newspaper’s current executive editor Sam Dealey will remain at the Times, although he is said to have the support of some key old-time Times types.
Founded in 1982 to fight communism by counteracting what it saw as pervasive liberal bias in the media, the Times has never made money and until Preston Moon began hiring consultants to examine its operations around 2006, it didn’t seem to be under much pressure to change. The newspaper has lost an estimated $3 billion in its 28-year lifetime, although I can’t tell you the initial source of that estimate. In a federal lawsuit filed last year, former Times editorial page editor Richard Miniter claimed the newspaper relied upon a $40 million annual subsidy from the Unification Church; another former editor says the sum has fluctuated between $20 million and $70 million for most of the past two decades.
The Unification Church owns and controls thousands of businesses, nonprofits and front organizations across the world, many of which rake in a steady stream of profits, although the details of its operations are incredibly opaque even to most church members and a complete mystery to most Times employees. Before 2006, when the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers published investigations into the near-monopoly of Church-controlled businesses on the trade of sushi-grade tuna in much of the United States, “we pretty much thought we were getting our money from flower sales in Japan,” a former Times editor told Das Krapital the other day.