What do you call a gathering of 3,000 people, a self-aggrandizing lecture by Dr. Laura Schlessinger and an hour-long sermon from the Rev. Sun Myung Moon?
The Washington Times 20th-anniversary bash.
An eclectic crowd convened at the Hilton Washington last night to celebrate the other paper in the nation's capital. The party was to honor the success of the scrappy conservative daily; instead, it was dominated by Moon's address, titled "The Life of Jesus as Seen From God's Will, and God's Warning to the Present Age, the Period of the Last Days." Even the most charitable souls might have come away thinking that the newspaper -- founded by the Unification Church leader -- is a conduit for Moon's religious message, something its editors have repeatedly denied.
"I hope that the Washington Times, UPI and other major media will accept this lofty command from Heaven and take up the task of educating humankind, taking a stance beyond religion and ideology," Moon told the audience. He delivered the address in Korean, but printed copies in English were at each seat. "Please note that I have distributed to you a booklet containing messages from leaders in the spirit world. I ask that you read this carefully."
The paper's brass were unfazed by Moon's remarks.
"The Reverend Moon is a religious leader, and he speaks in religious terms," said Managing Editor Fran Coombs. "He has always respected our editorial independence, and I have no reason to think that's going to change."
But it was not exactly the aura the Washington Times team hoped to convey. The evening was planned as a joyful slap on the back for swimming against Washington's media tide. The newspaper emerged two decades ago as an alternative to what some felt was an overly left-leaning media establishment; now it's a must-read for conservatives in town. Even many liberals have come to respect it for aggressive reporting and provocative editorials.
"If living well is the best revenge, then in our business today, surviving is cause for celebration," Editor in Chief Wesley Pruden said earlier in the day.
And so they planned a party. The guest list boasted Moon, Dr. Laura, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), former editor Arnaud de Borchgrave, former defense secretary Cap Weinberger, former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, some United States Marines and singer Randy Travis. The hotel lobby was filled with blowups of colorful Times front pages; there were Times T-shirts on sale in the lobby.
"We are here to celebrate a two-newspaper town," said syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, who is carried by the Times. "I think we ought to have more than two."
The Times turned 20 last week, which has to annoy the critics who confidently predicted it would fold in months, if not weeks, in the face of competition from The Washington Post, then as now the dominant newspaper in the nation's capital. Others assumed the Times would fail because it was launched by the wealthy and controversial religious leader. Moon has poured more than $1 billion into the enterprise despite huge losses, and shows no indication of stopping. The Times is owned by Moon's News World Communications, which recently acquired United Press International.
Pruden said that the owners have never imposed their religious beliefs on the newspaper staff.
"They have never, ever, not even once, told any of us to put anything in the paper, nor have they ever asked us to take anything out," he said. "As the editor, I have complete and total independence from the owners."
The paper began in the halcyon days of the Reagan Revolution, with the idea of recording Reagan's battle against communism. It moved on to reporting about "traditional values" issues -- religion, education, sex, culture and welfare -- and became an oft-quoted conservative voice in congressional debates. The newspaper is now a staple on Capitol Hill and think tanks, despite its relatively small circulation.
So it was time to celebrate with 3,000 friends. Many, as it turned out, were not connected to the newspaper. The Washington Times Foundation, in conjunction with the anniversary, convened two groups here: the International Leadership Conference (elected officials from the United States, Korea and Japan) and the American Leadership Conference (African American leaders and volunteers from across the country). All were invited to the dinner last night.
The program included awards to 12 local students and remarks by Burns, Davis and Dr. Laura, who lauded the paper for publishing the truth "contrary to the herd mentality" and for getting it right when the radio talk host was accused of homophobia. "From one survivor to another: Congratulations, we're still here," said Schlessinger.
Following a 20-minute video about the paper, Pruden introduced Moon. "Well, Reverend Moon, they said it couldn't be done, but we did it."
The 82-year-old Moon received a standing ovation. He smiled and teased the crowd, disclosing his secret for the paper's success: "I pray every day that God would love the Washington Times."
Moon explained his reason for launching the newspaper:
"Celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Washington Times has a particularly gratifying meaning for me. The memory is still fresh in my mind how, in May 1982, I made the final decision to publish The Washington Times in response to Heaven's direction. This took place while I was being unjustly tried in a New York federal court, in a prosecution motivated by both racial and religious bigotry." (Moon was convicted in 1982 for failing to report $162,000 in income and served 13 months in federal prison.)
Communism was sweeping the world, he said, and he wanted a way to protect America: "It was certainly not my intention to set up a newspaper company just to make money. Over the years, more than a billion dollars have been invested in the Washington Times alone, but I have never regretted this nor felt enmity towards anyone. That is because this was a way to practice true love toward Heaven and humankind."
Moon talked for more than an hour about Jesus, communism, Israel and a new Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
The evening ended with the paper's Courage in Leadership Awards, which were presented to Cesar Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States; former congressman Floyd Flake; Michael Joyce, founder of Americans for Community and Faith-Centered Enterprise; and three heroes from the Sept. 11 Pentagon attack: Virginia State Trooper Michael Middleton, and firefighters Jerry Rousillon and Steven McCoy.