The Washington Times has long been a controversial mouthpiece for the far right. But few could have guessed how pervasive the moral rot seems to be at the very top of the small but politically connected institution.
In an Oct. 9 cover story for the left-wing magazine The Nation, Max Blumenthal alleged that the top two editors at the Times -- Wes Pruden and Fran Coombs -- embody a brand of conservatism "characterized by extreme racial animus and connections to nativist and neo-Confederate organizations." Based on interviews with more than a dozen sources, Blumenthal painted a picture of an editorial culture in which racism is endemic and sexual harassment is tolerated. One unnamed senior Times staffer was quoted as describing Managing Editor Fran Coombs as a "really hard-core ideological white supremacist."
Former Times editor George Archibald told Blumenthal that when he once showed Coombs a photo of his nephew's black boyfriend, Coombs "went off like a rocket" about the "niggerfication of America" and said, "If my daughter went out with a black, I would cut her throat."
Another current senior staffer remembers Coombs saying, "Women are naturally inferior to me." Yet another Times employee, also unnamed, told Blumenthal that Coombs "will literally stand there and scan websites and look for anything that's anti-Hispanic, that's immigrant-bashing, and he will order the editors to go with it."
According to the article, Coombs is reviled by many Times employees not only for his words, but also for his actions. Blumenthal reports allegations that in 2004 Coombs repeatedly sexually harassed Times marketing consultant Melissa Hopkins, including "forcibly kissing" her in the back of a taxi, according to Hopkins' lawyer. Blumenthal alleges that Coombs then orchestrated an internal cover-up.
After publication of Blumenthal's article, the Times editors in question denied the charges of racism and sexism. They also denied Blumenthal's report of a behind-the-scenes power struggle at the newspaper to remove Pruden and Coombs.
In a letter sent to the newspaper's staff, Times Editor Wes Pruden dismissed the article's content as "the speculations of addled idle minds. People who spread rumors and talk to rumormongers just have too much time on their hands and should, in their retirement, get another hobby."
Reaction to the piece by at least some Times staffers was of a different kind. Despite the numerous revelations in the article, Blumenthal wrote on his website that one said, "It didn't come close to capturing just how much of a cancer Coombs and his benefactor, Wes Pruden, have been on the Times."