In January 1992, PBS Frontline broadcast a film I directed that documented the amazing rise, fall and subsequent resurrection of Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church movement. The documentary showed how, through an adroit combination of money, media and the consistent promotion of a conservative political agenda, a self-styled Messiah and convicted felon had rapidly reinvented himself and was soon hailed at the White House.
At the time, few Americans paid much attention to Reverend Moon – and those that did had bizarre recollections of him and the “Moonies,” as his followers once called themselves: mass weddings of complete strangers, flower-peddling in the street, and repeated allegations of mind control and brainwashing.
Even back then, Moon’s movement, once labeled a cult, was more accurately described as a conglomerate. As my film stated, “From media operations in the nation’s capital… To substantial real estate holdings throughout the United States… And from large commercial fishing operations… To advanced high-tech and computer industries, a Fifth Avenue publishing house, and literally dozens of other businesses, foundations, associations, institutes, and political and cultural groups… Moon and his money have become a force to be reckoned with.”
One of the primary vehicles for Moon’s rising power and influence was the daily newspaper the Washington Times, now back in the news because of the mysterious departure of its top executives, and facing an uncertain future.
But back then the Times was the fulcrum of Moon’s mission to use money and media as a path to power. As James Whelan, once the newspaper’s editor and publisher, told me at the time, “They are spending a great, great deal in this country…. probably more on influence and the obtaining of influence, of power, than of any organization I know of in this country, and that includes the AFL-CIO, that includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that includes General Motors, that includes anybody.”
As he sought to influence America’s political agenda by pouring more than a billion dollars into media, Moon began to move among the country’s political elite: From Dwight Eisenhower…to Strom Thurmond…to Richard Nixon…to Ronald Reagan, he glad-handed and corresponded with an astonishing array of major American political figures.
Michael Warder was once one of the most important Americans in the Unification movement. Warder, who had close contact with Moon for years, told me, “Moon looked on the media as almost the nervous system for a global empire. Moon was the brain, and the media are to be, or were to be, the communications vehicle for his body politic surrounding the globe.”
Warder was responsible for managing News World, then Moon’s daily newspaper in New York City. “Moon wanted total control of the media, so there would be no independent media with journalistic integrity,” he said. “ It would be a media totally loyal to Moon.”
Moon’s troubles in America had begun in the mid-Seventies, when Minnesota Democratic Congressman Donald Fraser launched the so-called “Koreagate” investigation — in part a probe into Moon’s relationship to the Korean CIA and the buying of political influence on Capitol Hill. Using its own media, Moon’s organization struck back in an all-out effort to discredit Fraser.
erhaps the election of Ronald Reagan – hailed as the beginning of a conservative revolution – had something to do with that. In any event, Moon, a VIP guest at Reagan’s inauguration, soon became a major funder of Washington’s new conservative establishment.
Brent Bozell, now founder and president of the Media Research Center, was then one of the young Reagan Revolutionaries. “When the Moonies entered the political scene in the early Nineteen Eighties,” Bozell said, “One school of thought said…that because of their anti-communist commitment, conservatives ought to work with them.”
Moon’s most expensive political work involved the Washington Times. As former editor Whelan noted, “Washington is the most important single city in the world. If you can achieve influence, if you can achieve visibility, if you can achieve a measure of respect in Washington, then you fairly automatically are going to achieve these things in the rest of the world. There is no better agency, or entity or instrument that I know of for achieving power here or almost anywhere else — than a newspaper.”
And the Times had an immediate impact. After all, the President of the United States said it was the first paper he read in the morning. Soon its columnists found even greater exposure on television.
“If the Washington Times did not carry the conservative columnists that they carry — like a Pat Buchanan, like a Bill Rusher, like a Mona Charen,” Bozell said, “I wonder if the television community would be aware of them and would tap them to use them in television.”
But by 1984, despite his paper’s growing influence, editor James Whelan was increasingly unhappy. “When we started the paper there was never any question that it would in any fashion project the views or the agenda of Sun Myung Moon or the Unification Church — all to the contrary,” said Whelan. “We said, ‘Look, we are going to put a high wall in place. It is going to be a sturdy wall. And it will divide us from you.’”
But Whelan’s wall of editorial independence was often breached.
“Moon himself gave direct instructions to the editors,” he averred. “Who in fact calls the shots? Ultimately Moon calls the shots….”
Whelan eventually resigned, announcing at a press conference, “The Washington Timeshas become a Moonie newspaper.” Times spokesmen said the dispute was really over money. Former Newsweek editor Arnaud de Borchgrave later replaced Whelan.
Throughout the Reagan years, the paper gained respect and influence by lending editorial support – and money — to causes favored by the Administration. The contra forces battling the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, for example, received editorial support and money from the Times. Here’s how it worked:
In March 1985, Oliver North wrote a top-secret memo proposing the formation of a private foundation called the Nicaraguan Freedom Fund. Its purpose was to circumvent a Congressional ban on aid to the contras. Less than two months later, the Timesannounced the birth of the Nicaraguan Freedom Fund in a front-page editorial. Editor de Borchgrave insisted he was “surprised” at the coincidence between his paper’s initiative and North’s secret project, but the Times contributed the first $100,000 to the Fund.
Another pet project of the Reagan Administration was the Strategic Defense Initiative — SDI, or “Star Wars.” It too received support from the Times.
“Reverend Moon’s organization has been very supportive of the Strategic Defense Initiative,” former Defense and Central Intelligence official Daniel Graham told me. Graham had co-produced a pro-Star Wars video that was seen on four hundred televisions stations.
In the wake of the current turmoil and uncertainty at the Washington Times, many questions about the Unification Movement remain unanswered. But none is more pressing — or perplexing — than this: Where did all the money come from? At the time of the broadcast of the PBS Frontline film – seventeen years ago — the Moon Organization had already spent an astonishing amount in the United States:
• more than $800 million on the Washington Times;
• hundreds of millions on national periodicals;
• tens of millions on electronic media;
• at least $40 million on New York newspapers;
• more than $10 million on a New York publishing house;
• millions on World Media Association junkets and conferences;
• millions more on New Right organizations, including the American Freedom Coalition;
• well over $100 million on real estate, including the New Yorker Hotel in midtown Manhattan;
• at least $40 million on commercial fishing operations;
• and at least $75 million on related projects…
It all added up to more than a billion dollars – at a time when most of Moon’s operations in America were losing substantial sums of money money. The best example was the Washington Times itself, which was then losing as much as fifty million dollars a year.