Washington Times, RIP

The paper’s demise will place a new importance on the conservative blogosphere.

A certain mystique has always surrounded the Washington Times, partly because of its conservative orientation, partly because of its connection to the Unification Church. Its creation in 1982, shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected president, served as another sign that the liberal era of dominance that lasted, more or less, from the Roosevelt era to Reagan, was over, particularly in Washington, DC. To a degree that might seem astonishing today, Washington was a one-horse town. The Washington Post and Georgetown salons ruled the roost, while a rump faction of conservatives groused about the perfidies of the liberal elite.

It was thus with something of a pang that I read what amounted to a memorial minute by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post for the Washington Times. Like many other print publications, the Times, it seems, has fallen behind the times. It's downsizing. 40 percent of the staff is being axed. And it will move to giving the paper away for free, probably hoping that a mixture of advertising and further subventions will keep it afloat even as the members of the Moon family squabble with each other.

That's a shame. I mourn the passing of the old Washington Times.

Not because I thought it was a great paper. It wasn't. But it had an old-fashioned, independent, gritty feel to it. It wasn't trying for greatness. It was the scrapper, pushing for the story that the big guns like the New York Times or Washington Post had overlooked. Sometimes it got them-Peter Baker, now the White House correspondent for the New York Times, got his start there and broke so many stories that the Washington Post had no choice but to hire him. Bill Gertz nailed a lot of national-security scoops. It also served as a base for a number of writers who went on to bigger things, such as Tod Lindberg, John Podhoretz and Tony Snow.

Not because I agreed with its politics. It was because I often disagreed with them. With the Times, you knew where you stood. No wishy-washy, namby-pamby, Rodney King-style "if only everyone could get along" editorials. That wasn't the Times' bag. It sought out confrontation. Sometimes it went over the top, as when its editorial page predicted that Democratic control of all three branches of government might make America a new dictatorship on the lines of Sudan or North Korea.

But its op-ed page was never less than intriguing, laying out the conservative line with gusto. It provided a kind of tip-sheet to what the Right was thinking on issues ranging from missile defense to Russia to China. Almost invariably, the columnists, such as Frank Gaffney, staked out the hardest of hard lines. Less predictably, Arnaud de Borchgrave, legendary editor of the Times and author of the novel The Spike, would question America's Israel policy and the power of the neocons in recent years. All well-worth reading. And read I did. Not every day. But with keen interest.

I have the feeling that the new Washington Times isn't going to be quite the same. Sure, it will be on the web, handed out at Metro stops and so forth. But judging by the performance of the Washington Examiner, a conservative competitor owned by Philip Anschutz, even the modest standards aspired to by the Times are going by the boards. Instead, the true action is going to be on the web sites run by the swelling ranks of innovative conservative entrepreneurs such as David Frum and Tucker Carlson, who are trying to mimic the success of left-wing blogs leading up to the Obama presidency. At the very least, the wounding of the Times shows that conservatives are no more immune from the forces of economic creative destruction they like to extol than liberals. The success of the new conservative sites will help determine whether a fresh spasm of creativity emerges on the Right or whether the decline of the Times is part of a greater twilight saga.


Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.