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The Gods of Retail: The Washington Times

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Our capital, brought to you by the Moonies.

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The Washington Times is on a mission to provide a conservative counterpoint to the Washington Post (WPO).

In general, it succeeds. But the basic question is: Who notices?

Like other newspapers, the Washington Post has been hammered by declining ad revenue and circulation, but it still sells about 673,000 copies daily, compared with about 93,775 for the capital's "other paper."

The Washington Post is well-reported, deftly written and tightly edited, making it perhaps the best general-circulation newspaper in the nation, and a close second to the Wall Street Journal (NWS) in overall quality.

The Washington Times offers smart editorials and opinion pieces, but the paper's news stories sometimes read like they were written by beginners who need to serve their apprenticeship on the Cowflop Gazette before moving to the nation's capital.

Yet Ben Bradlee, the Post's legendary editor, told Columbia Journalism Review in 2002: "I see them get some local stories that I think the Post doesn't have and should have had."

In short, the Times keeps its larger rival honest. Mission accomplished? Maybe.

The Washington Times was founded in 1982, a year after the Washington Star -- the capital's afternoon paper -- folded. The Times is bankrolled by Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, and has almost certainly never made money. It survives only with heavy subsidies, perhaps as much as $2 billion since its launch.

For many readers, the theology of The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity -- the official name of the church whose members are often derided as "Moonies" -- undercuts the credibility of the Washington Times. The sticking point: The church believes that a man born in Korea in the early twentieth century was called by Jesus to fulfill the second coming of Christ - and that man is Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

As Moon himself told his Washington Times employees: "If I were not standing here, then America ...the Washington Times, the World and I, the television center, Universal Ballet Academy, the summit organization and media organizations all over the world would not be here. Accept God and Reverend Moon. No smart American can deny that answer. "

That's a bit more than saying, "Eat your vegetables" - and much harder to swallow. As a practical matter for the newspaper, the calling translates into a conservative view of the world, including a call for low taxes, low regulation, anti-abortion politics and staunch anti-communism. Not surprising, given the totalitarian repression of Stalinist North Korea; the paper includes no explicit calls to join the church.

But the Washington Times also delivers some surprises, undercutting the popular image of the paper as a haven for right-wing coconuts. Who would have expected an appreciation of Midnight Meat Train, a slasher flick?

"What follows is unrelentingly brutal, but every drop of blood is delivered with panache," Christian Toto wrote in a review. "It's bone bruising entertainment, delivered with the right balance of intensity and character development. Leon's crumbling relationship with his girlfriend is vital to us caring about Leon's fate. If only 'Train's' final stop was worth the rest of the trip. The ending explains plenty, but it doesn't pack a horrific punch nor does it add to the film's bleak mood."

No doubt "character development" makes the gore fest a classic that somehow upholds conservative values. But shouldn't it be "bone-bruising," "our caring," and "were worth"?

Reverend Moon, call your copy desk.


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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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