The Words of the Hyun Jin Moon

Can The Washington Times Survive?

George Archibald
December 21, 2006

The Washington Times gets picked up every day on C-SPAN, and by other major news organizations when it scores a big hit.

But for a paper that only has a daily circulation of just 90,000 with inflated numbers, can that marvelous respectability continue?

The paper for years has been a beacon for both conservative and liberal readers for its own take on the news of the day and the direction of our culture.

Conservatives love it, liberals may hate it, but as President Bill Clinton told me personally when I was still a reporter for The Times, "I read you every day to see what you're saying about me." That was respect from a man who hated The Washington Times, but he said he felt he had to read The Washington Times every day to find out what the other side was thinking and doing.

But can that conservative-liberal, love-hate scenario that once made the low-circulation Washington Times work as a pacesetting newspaper continue?

Can The Washington Times survive and continue to be a beacon of the conservative view of America, its politics and culture, that all can look to with respect for a complete daily report from its own perspective?

I doubt it, because of a festering internal civil war within the company, featuring ideological and abusive micro-management by senior TWT editors, backed by the founder's top corporate manager at The Washington Times Corp., that has driven out the newspaper's best people over the past five years, and continues to drive people out.

The latest brain-drain victim in late December 2006, just before Christmas, was Washington Times Corp. Vice President Jonathan Slevin, executive assistant to company CEO Douglas M. Joo. Slevin told inquiring news organizations that he left voluntarily -- but I'm told confidentially by several of Slevin's close co-workers that he felt forced to leave after months of extremely intolerant abuse and rejection of him by Joo.

Slevin, according to people who know him best, just gave up and refused to continue accepting a paycheck from a company for whom he had worked for a quarter century because its current CEO, Joo, was a tyrannical maniac who listened to nobody except a coterie of arse-kissers who weren't helping better the perpetually money-losing situation of the company.

I have known Jonathan Slevin for more than a quarter century, but he understandably did not want to talk to me about this situation for a publicly posted piece.

Let me just say as a person who has dealt with Slevin over many years in different situations, some of them quite complex, involving difficult personalities and circumstances, that Jonathan Slevin is one of the finest, nicest, most erudite, capable, calm, kind, sensitive, and fair individuals I have ever dealt with, ever. He always gave his all to his employer and the job at hand.

For Jonathan Slevin to leave his post at The Washington Times executive offices abruptly, without a thank-you normally accorded to any longtime employee right down to the switchboard -- albeit nicely saying he was leaving to finish a book -- tells all who know Jonathan that something was terribly wrong in the way he departed or was forced out. Everybody who knows Jonathan Slevin knows what I am saying is correct. This man is a saintly man, and I know in my heart that he has been wronged. So herein lies the greater story.

As the first reporter hired at The Washington Times outside the founding group, and a 21-year veteran who received four Pulitzer Prize nominations from the newspaper for investigative reporting, I found from talking to people at all levels of the company after I left in September 2005 that the newspaper now has just a small cadre of reliable, experienced reporting talent. There has been a huge exodus of capable reporters and editors on all desks and at all levels over the past several years. Why?

The Washington Times can no longer claim to be the premiere conservative pacesetting newspaper in the Nation's Capital, which it was in the 1980s and 1990s, because it is no longer breaking big exclusives and blockbuster stories that overcome its puny circulation, despite its claimed access to powers in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill.

The Wall Street Journal, which has both excellent editorial and news pages and a seasoned feisty staff in Washington that dwarfs the news and opinion product of The Washington Times every day. So does National Review magazine online, the weekly Human Events tabloid, rigidly ideologically conservative but factually dependable for breaking out important domestic and foreign news stories for readers across the country, and liberal media outlets The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times.

Broadcast competition such as Fox News on the conservative side, CNN on the liberal side, and BBC, NPR, and PBS on the middle-left of the ideological spectrum also are constantly beating the socks off The Washington Times, both on the news side and in their editorial opinion offerings. Why?

Because The Washington Times no longer has a feisty newsroom. Its editorial page section is turgid and boring, and no one is picking up their stuff. The newspaper has become irrelevant.

The Washington Times' small but feisty Commentary section run by veteran editor and Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Lou Forbes continues to be the best newspaper opinion section in the country for its variety of opinion, writers who are on top of national and world stories, and originality in presenting best current views of all sorts, mainly libertarian.

But The Washington Times Commentary section is an oasis in a desert of mediocrity.

The Washington Times editorial page and op-ed page run by Tony Blankley, former press secretary to Newt Gingrich when he was House speaker, is lame beyond belief. Its regular contributors are boring and unimaginative, so why read them?

According to my daily conversations and emails with friends and former colleagues at The Washington Times, the newsroom at 3600 New York Avenue, N.E., in Washington, D.C. is in a morale slump that is so low that, as a recently retired 21-year veteran of the newspaper's national news staff and author of the newspaper's 20-year corporate anniversary coffee-table book in 2002, I cannot think of a worse period in the TWT newsroom's history since the paper's founding in May 1982 in terms of low reporter and editor morale and low productivity when it comes to really important breaking news scoops.

There are still some terrific reporters at The Times, despite the departure of some of its best talent over the past decade:

Joyce Price is a steady national reporter who continues to produce good, complete stories on a continuing basis despite fragile health,

Bill Gertz continues as perhaps the country's best national security reporter, along with Rowan Scarborough, terrific Pentagon reporter.

Charles Hurt and Amy Fagan are younger very reliable and prolific Capitol Hill reporters.

But national editor Ken Hanner is just a glorified administrative secretary who does the daily news tout. He edits no stories and couldn't write his way out of a paper bag. His news judgment is on a par with a first-year college journalism student.

On the paper's metro desk, Arlo Wagner, the TWT dean of reporters who's been there from Day One, continues to prove that experience and energy count. But former metro editor Carleton Bryant -- bumped up to assistant managing editor to succeed departed AME Ken McIntyre, who recently fled after many years to join the Heritage Foundation -- is another glorified desk-jockey with little reporting expertise or news judgment.

Bryant, recently moved up the editorial ladder, succeeded McIntyre only because over the years he's been a good arse-kisser of Wesley Pruden Jr., TWT editor-in-chief, and Francis B. Coombs Jr., TWT managing editor.

There's also an unfolding scandal involving a chief photo department editor who apparently has an eye for young women photographers and, according to filed complaints, made sexual overtures to photographers as they applied and sought employment at The Washington Times. Complaints were lodged and went nowhere, upper management knew, some photo department employees left in disgust because nothing was done.

This is a bubble about to burst.

The rest of the newsroom, except foreign editor David Jones (a liberal from Canada), the fairest and best editor at The Times in the view of many, is full of anemic old reporters who no longer break exclusives and inexperienced, young new hires who couldn't find their way to a copy of the federal budget.

Scoops are almost a non-item at The Washington Times these days, throughout 2006 in particular except the recent couple of great front-page stories by national religion writer Julia Duin about the exodus of conservative Episcopal parishes from the national U.S. Episcopal church because of the ordination of practicing homosexual Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and the New Age mumbo-jumbo being spouted by the church's first woman national bishop, the Right Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. (Conflict note: I am a lifelong Anglican and was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in 1957.)

The TWT business side has been a disaster for years, moribund advertising, circulation well under 100,000 daily constantly less than the first day of publication almost 25 years ago and a yearly money-loser despite more than $3-billion of cash infused by founder Sun Myung Moon, the controversial Korean religious evangelist and leader of the worldwide Unification Church, who also controls a huge global fishing production, mining, and manufacturing business empire.

So what is the main cause of the dramatic decline of the influence and respect for The Washington Times? Mainly its top management: Washington Times Corp. CEO Dong Moon Joo (who anglicized his first name to Douglas) and the paper's two top editors -- Wesley Pruden, scheduled to retire in five months, and Fran Coombs managing editor, who Pruden publicly announced in a TV interview would succeed him. (Don't hold your breath on that. I am told the owners don't want Coombs, so he should start circulating his resumé.)

Pruden is an unreconstructed Confederate from Little Rock, Arkansas, who still believes the South and slavery were right and President Abraham Lincoln was wrong in going against the Confederate rebellion to emancipate the slaves and save the union.

Pruden's father was a Baptist minister and chaplain for the White Citizens Council in Arkansas' worst KKK days of lynching and anti-black hatred -- not that the sins of the father are the sins of the son. But Pruden Jr. was there as a student when Central High School in Little Rock was forcibly integrated by order of the federal court and U.S. Marshals, and he is not recorded then or anywhere since as cheering that outcome.

Pruden is not a religious man or regular church member himself, has been unmarried all his life except a brief period in his young adulthood, and he hates feminists and homosexuals.

He left The Dow Jones National Observer under a cloud of accusations of manufactured quotes in stories before he came to The Washington Times as a political reporter shortly after its founding, as recently reported in a large investigative story in The Nation magazine by reporter Max Blumenthal.

Along with Coombs, who is the daily hands-on editor at the newsroom at 3600 New York Avenue, N.E., until night editors take over around 6 p.m., Pruden micro-manages the paper's news and opinion content mainly from home via computer. Pruden comes to 4 p.m. editor news conferences, slipping in and out reclusively, but few reporters in the newsroom know him or have even met him personally.

Coombs has run the paper since Pruden became editor-in-chief and elevated him to managing editor following Coomb's quick rise from national editor, when he was my boss and supervised some of our big investigative hits in the 1980s and 1990s that brought me four Pulitzer Prize nominations with Coombs' blessing. (Another conflict note, as Coombs always gave me positive yearly evaluation reports.)

However, as reported factually by The Nation's cover piece in its October 9 edition, Coombs is a raging racist who despises blacks, Jews, and Hispanic immigrants, and looks down on women (unless they are white and have nice tits and well-shaped body).

From 18 years experience working with this man as a close editor, I can say categorically that Coombs is a micro-manager, has a very bad temper, abuses employees, and looks down on women (except if he sees one he says has "nice tits" or "nice body," or"nice ass" or who he would like to have sex with, which he often voiced in my persence, including about a particular higher female editor who was his superior.)

Coombs very often voiced dislike for blacks, Jews, Hispanics, privately in his office with me alone, sometimes in the newsroom around the national desk, and always when he got drunk at parties at his home where he drank liquor and smoked marijuana.

At one party at his home after he had consumed copious amounts of liquor and smoked marijuana, Coombs passed out on the outside deck of his home and had to be physically carried to bed by those remaining at the party and his wife, Marian.

Pruden has supported Coombs' management style, his prejudices, and abuse of employees that has led to the brain-drain of reporters and editors over the past decade and current newsroom morale decline that, according to my frequent discussions with reporters, editors, and production personnel at The Times I would describe as bottom-of-the-barrel.

There is a corporate struggle under way between Washington Times Corp. CEO Dong Moon {Douglas) Joo, who is the Reverend Moon's Korean translator in many venues and has been his go-fer for many years, and the reverend's youngest son, Preston Moon, an MBA graduate of Harvard, who has been anointed by his father as corporate successor.

[Preston Moon is Hyun Jin Moon -- he is not Rev. Moon's youngest son.]

Many sources tell me that Preston Moon wants to move The Times into profitability as quickly as possible, after decades of red ink, and boost the paper's sagging advertising, circulation, and editorial staff in order to move the paper back into possible profitability, prestige, and a pacesetting position again.

But the cabal of Dong Moon Joo, Wesley Pruden, and Fran Coombs have apparently blocked Preston Moon to this point, according to my sources, and it is questionable whether the younger Moon has the cajonés to finish what he started several months ago as he asserted his executive role as CEO of News World Communications, The Times parent company.

Preston Moon started the ball rolling in early 2006 to oust Joo as CEO of The Washington Times Corp., force Pruden's retirement no later that the 25th anniversary of The Washington Times on May 17, 2007, and hire a successor to Pruden as TWT editor-in-chief other than Fran Coombs.

There is a News World Communications selection committee in place, appointed by Preston Moon, that includes Arnaud deBorchgrave, former editor-in-chief of The Washington Times, currently editor-at-large for TWT and United Press International, Wesley Pruden, and others.

The most recent indication of Preston Moon's possible weakness was the recent forcible exit of Jonathan Slevin as Joo's executive assistant at The Times.

Slevin was chief aide to The Times' actual founding executive, Bo Hi Pak and first chief editor James Whelan. Slevin, whose younger brother, Peter Slevin, is a reporter for The Washington Post, is a veteran journalist who left The Times for awhile and returned in Sptember 2005 to become Joo's top assistant after Joo's former assistant, Tom McDevitt, another veteran Moon devotee, left.

But things went awry when Pruden and Coombs mounted an internal campaign to sabotage the company's successful restart of its Insight Magazine as an online news and opinion website.

Pruden and Coombs convinced Joo that the Insight launch was a mistake that would hurt The Washington Times newspaper, while Slevin and Robert Morton, another Moon loyalist who has run the highly successful Washington Times weekly edition for many years and was Insight's publisher, resisted the anti-Insight Joo-Pruden-Coombs assault.

The internal civil war resulted in Morton's resignation as publisher of Insight last summer and Slevin's exit last week as Joo's executive assistant and as a vice president of The Washington Times, listed on the masthead,

There was no public announcement or going-away party. Slevin's name was just abruptly removed from the masthead, although he told me personally by email that he left voluntarily because he wanted to finish a novel he's been writing for some time and may return to The Washington Times after the book is finished.

But people at the paper know what's really going on. They say, accurately, that Joo has a horrible tyrannical temper, woefully abuses employees, and everyone (except Pruden and Coombs, who are similarly maniacal) who work closely with Joo are afraid of him, and many, especially on the business side of the paper, actually express hatred of Joo.

Pruden and Coombs have coopted Joo and the Koreans by telling them, and convincing them, that they have President George W. Bush and his administration in their pocket.

Joo and the Koreans like that purported respectability at the White House, have fallen for the Pruden-Coombs line (which is a lie), and Preston Moon has been coopted by the Pruden-Coombs strategy to stave off his efforts to assert control of the newspaper and maintain their own control of the newspaper despite ownership efforts to chart a different direction.

It is an unfolding story that bears watching. One wonders why all the so-called media watchdogs in the media are not following this story and have not reported it fully to the American public. Why are they asleep at the switch? There was the lengthy Nation magazine investigative piece in October 2006, and the web site Fishbowldc.com has published a number of takes on the unfolding saga, but the media-watchers in the big news organizations continue to turn a blind eye and sit on their hands as one of the biggest media stories continues right under their noses.

The Washington Times was a feisty, dynamic, pacesetting newspaper in the 1980s and 1990s. It is going down the tubes under the current regime. Maybe the dominant liberal media elite want that to happen and the mainstream media are giving the Joo-Pruden-Coombs cabal a pass regarding the reported racism and other employee discrimination reported by The Nation in its October 9 cover story. (www.thenation.com/doc/20061009/washington_times)

For myself, having spent 21 enjoyable and very challenging years as a top reporter for The Washington Times, I love the paper's people who made it a great newspaper over the years many of whom have left, such as White House reporter Bill Sammon who recently quit to go to The Washington Examiner and remains a frequent voice on Fox TV News Channel.

I hate to see TWT go down the tubes. So in that sense, I consider myself biased in favor of The Times' success and against the people who it appears are bringing it down. So I'm not against The Times far from it.

I am sad that, over the years, many highly compensated executives on both the editorial and business side of The Washington Times have taken advantage of huge compensation packages they were given, but did not do their best to move the product and the company forward. Starting with Jim Whelan, the first editor-in-chief, and the slew of advertising and circulation chiefs who failed to build the paper but took huge amounts of money.

And on the editorial side, a few selfish, maniacal, highly-compensated leaders of the paper have been allowed to rape it and practically destroy it, by using it as their own ideological play-pen while driving out good talent and micro-managing good editors and reporters to the point they could not provide their best creative product, despite the billions poured into the company by the founder, who's a little crazy himself but aren't we all?

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