Thursday, May 23, 2002

More on the Moonie Times:

At Tuesday night's celebration of the Washington Times' 20th anniversary, its founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, gripped a podium at the Washington Hilton and delivered an impassioned, hour-long evangelical sermon in Korean saying he established the newspaper "in response to heaven's direction."

During the sermon, he set the course for the Times' next 10 years: "The Washington Times is responsible to let the American people know about God." Later, he added: "The Washington Times will become the instrument in spreading the truth about God to the world."

By this point, several Times staffers had exited for the Hilton's bar, either because the party was alcohol-free or -- possibly -- because they needed a stiff drink.

Moon's sermon tossed gasoline on the long-smoldering embers that some Times staffers have spent two decades trying to extinguish: the accusation that their paper is a mouthpiece for Moon's religious movement, the Unification Church. Or, at best, a public relations outlet for conservative values and the Republican Party.

The charges were not helped by allegations of former reporters, who say stories were changed to favor conservatives; by editors who quit, claiming church tampering; or by obscurity surrounding the paper's finances. It has been years since many of those incidents, though, and five years since Moon's last mass wedding in Washington, which inevitably pulled the Times into scrutiny. For the past few years, the Times has enjoyed a relatively Moon-free zone.

Now, that has changed.

Yesterday, Times employees parsed Moon's words. According to one staffer, many were "embarrassed," some "humiliated." Others described the speech as "painful to watch." Though staffers trust their top editors to maintain editorial independence, they were worried that the paper's critics would use the religious leader's words as weapons. Moon's charge to the paper to spread his gospel did not appear in yesterday's Times account of the party.