WASHINGTON, May 17 (UPI) -- A long-forgotten disaster struck Washington 21 years ago. With the demise of The Washington Star, the world's most important capital was reduced to a single newspaper -- the liberal Washington Post.
Every other capital city in the democratic world enjoyed multiple media voices that spanned the entire political spectrum. Competitive, uncensored media are essential for democracy to function. Yet Washington was about to become a city with no choice.
The Washington Star was owned by Time Inc. and was awash in red ink when they decided to pull the plug. Wealthy Americans were solicited all over the country to save the right-of-center newspaper. But no one was willing to step up to the plate. That is when Rev. Sun Myung Moon concluded that the lack of a robust second newspaper in Washington would jeopardize President Reagan's efforts to roll back the Soviet empire and roll up communism.
Anti-anti-communism had become fashionable in the dominant liberal media culture, a trend Moon felt would jeopardize not only U.S. security, but the security of his own country where 37,000 U.S. soldiers stood guard against the possibility of another invasion of South Korea by a still aggressive North Korea.
As Editor in Chief Wesley Pruden wrote Friday, "Though the founding vision was that of a religious figure, a man of another country and another culture, The Times was to be wholly secular, to hold to no sectarian cause, to champion no denomination above any other, but never to mock faith and belief, to proselytize only for the principles that liberate men from the tyranny of closed minds."
Moon pledged total editorial independence. It was never violated in the 20 years of the newspaper's existence. The scrappy newspaper fought valiantly to carve a niche in the political debate. By the time this reporter was asked to take over as editor in chief in 1985, The Washington Times had become a "must" read on Capitol Hill and throughout the Reagan administration.
The Times rapidly became a great newspaper by anyone's definition because of its dedicated and talented staff that thought nothing of 14-hour days to report the news hard, first, and above all, accurately -- and provide an alternative conservative viewpoint on its editorial and commentary pages. We knew we had made it when Charles Peters, the respected editor of the liberal Washington Monthly said that The Times had been beating the Washington Post "consistently on some important stories." The National Journal placed The Washington Times among the most influential institutions in the nation's capital.
The Times repeatedly hit what the Post missed. In the first 16 months of this editor's tenure, the Associated Press cited Washington Times' exclusives more than 120 times. The late Katharine Graham, chairman of The Washington Post company, told me at a state dinner, "I have to tell you, the paper is looking good -- in fact, too good." Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., complained at the time that we had "added immeasurably to his burdens." Asked how this had been achieved, he said, "I have to read you every day." We topped the 100,000-circulation mark in March 1986.
The Post's short-lived monopoly had been broken. Under Wesley Pruden's editorial leadership since mid-1991, The Times has continued to soar, accumulating prizes for outstanding achievements every year. Hard-hitting investigative journalism by The Times on a succession of congressional scandals in the late-1980s and early-1990s led to the downfall of several powerful political figures, such as former House Speaker Jim Wright and former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski.
Intelligence beat reporter Bill Gertz is the most respected -- and feared -- national security reporter in Washington. His front-page exclusives have embarrassed and angered four administrations.
The Washington Times went head to toe with the New York Times and The Washington Post with a fraction of its rivals' budget and personnel. At the end of the Cold War and the Gulf War, I decided to resign and hand the reins to Pruden. In my judgment, a new phase in world history required new leadership -- and new directions. The war of ideas continued unabated -- but with a shift in focus to the defense of fundamental American values. No one was better prepared to lead The Times than Pruden. Every day, The Times gives its readers another reason why it can't be ignored, and shows the Post that there is another side to most stories.
(Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for United Press International and for The Washington Times. UPI and the Times are owned by News World Communications Inc., a media company founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.)