The Washington Times Pushes Extremist, Neo-Confederate Ideas
By Heidi Beirich and Bob Moser
When President George W. Bush nominated John Ashcroft for attorney general, it didn't take long for the press to unearth Ashcroft's 1999 interview in Southern Partisan magazine. Ashcroft had praised the neo-Confederate publication for "defending Southern patriots" such as Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson, and he'd pledged to follow the magazine's example.
"I've got to do more," Ashcroft said. "We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect, or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda."
Most media outlets depicted the flap over Ashcroft's pro-Dixie sentiments as a side issue, just one more reason why his nomination was controversial. But the nation's "conservative paper of record," The Washington Times, saw something different. On Jan. 16, 2001, the day Ashcroft began facing his critics in Congress, the Times devoted a chunk of its front page to an unusually long story with a provocative headline: "How the Democrats made loving Dixie a hate crime."
For a paper with a loyal readership on Capitol Hill, the story, written by Assistant National Editor Robert Stacy McCain, was nicely timed for maximum impact. But despite the headline, it did not detail a Democratic effort to outlaw Dixie-loving.
Instead, it described a growing resistance to Confederate displays and symbols as seen through the eyes of six experts, five of them arch-conservatives with well-established neo-Confederate sympathies. An NAACP representative was also quoted, deep in McCain's story, but his comments were immediately rebutted by Charles Lunsford (see Hate and Heritage), the neo-Confederate activist who coined the phrase, "heritage, not hate," and by leftist-turned-rightist David Horowitz (see Center for the Study of Popular Culture), who called the NAACP "a defamation and shakedown organization."
Casual readers of The Washington Times might well have been puzzled. Why would a major daily newspaper — one that bills itself as "America's Newspaper," no less — turn the Ashcroft controversy into a battle over loving Dixie? And why would it showcase a story so heavily slanted toward neo-Confederate opinions on race and heritage?
For devoted readers of the Times — a group that includes many of the nation's leading conservative politicians, journalists and think-tankers — McCain's story was old hat. These readers know the Times loves to stir controversy with headlines and stories so provocative that other media outlets can't resist repeating them. They know the Times is the only major American newspaper that still features a weekly Civil War page. They know the Times has become a reliable source for extremist views on race, religion, immigration and Dixie.
What they don't know is why.
Money, Media and Moonification
Founded in 1982 by the Rev. Sun Myong Moon, the right-wing cult leader from South Korea, The Washington Times quickly made a name for itself with an approach to news reporting that was unusually ideological.
While mainstream media critics scoffed at "The Moonie Times" for enthusiastically championing the Rev. Moon's staunch anti-communism and his efforts to move the Republican Party farther right, the Times made a splash in conservative circles. President Ronald Reagan said it was his favorite paper. Right away, the Times showed a knack for taking its message to the mainstream, advertising itself as the "third most quoted paper" in the U.S. by its third year.
The Times' quotability and importance to conservative leaders quickly gave it a stature that outstripped its relatively small circulation. While the crosstown rival Washington Post moves more than 800,000 papers each weekday, the Times' circulation has never climbed much higher than 100,000. By his own estimate, Moon has spent upwards of $2 billion to keep the unprofitable paper afloat.
While the Times made itself must reading for right-wingers, it was also developing a reputation for shoddy journalism. From the start, the Times' front page was studded with scandalous stories bearing catchy headlines and sensational openings that more closely echoed the style of European tabloids than that of large American newspapers.
Whether they were taking aim at Democratic politicians like Barney Frank and Bill Clinton, assailing out-of-step conservatives like Sen. John McCain, or slamming "liberal" organizations like the National Education Association and the NAACP, these eye-popping stories often rippled through the rest of the scandal-hungry media — even though some of them were later proven to be slanted, deceptive, or downright false.
"The Washington Times is like no major city daily in America in the way that it wears its political heart on its sleeve," said the nation's leading journalistic watchdog, the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), in 1995. "No major paper in America would dare be so partisan."
The folks who call the shots at the Times insist that their news is no more infected with ideology — or riddled with error — than anybody else's. The Intelligence Report made repeated attempts to talk with Washington Times Editor in Chief Wesley Pruden, Managing Editor Francis Coombs and National Editor Ken Hanner about the allegations and criticisms in this story. These requests were either ignored or, in Coombs' case, declined.
But Pruden has given his side of the story to Southern Partisan and CJR. "I don't ever want the Times to be known as a newspaper that writes the news from a conservative point of view," he told Southern Partisan. Where the conservatism creeps in, he told CJR, is in which stories the paper chooses to designate as news. The Times, Pruden said, is different simply because it reports "stories other papers are loath to cover."
One such story appeared in early July, when "Inside the Beltway" writer John McCaslin endorsed the so-called "NORFED Liberty Dollar" in his column. This "alternative currency" has been marketed aggressively to antigovernment "Patriots" as a challenge to the Federal Reserve, which is seen as responsible for a host of financial ills.
McCaslin uncritically repeated NORFED founder Bernard von Nothaus' claim that widespread use of the Liberty Dollar could eliminate the national debt "completely." The currency is supposedly fully backed by silver, but in fact is sold for almost twice the market value of the silver that it can be reimbursed for.
Even more stunning, the expert source McCaslin cites on Liberty Dollars — calling him "a Web development consultant for political and corporate clients" — is Bill White, a notorious anti-Semite who runs the neo-Nazi web site Overthrow.com. "I spend them everywhere," White gushes. In fact, they can be used almost nowhere.
A few days later, The Washington Times' knack for floating stories into the mainstream — no matter how outrageous — was demonstrated once again. ABC Radio stalwart Paul Harvey, in his unmistakable boom of a voice, aired a glowing story about the Liberty Dollars.