Paul Craig Roberts And The Decline And Fall Of The Washington Times
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June 01, 2010

At least Paul Craig Roberts' decision to drop his column, announced March 24, was his own—this time. 

In Roberts' valedictory, he described, among other things, how he and other old-school conservatives (that is, conservatives who actually advocated conserving the things that made America America, such as the rule of law, opposition to nation-building, the welfare-warfare state and, of course, who had the temerity to even mention the mortal danger posed by the tsunami of "immigration" from Third World countries) have been systematically marginalized, then excised, from the pages, not merely of the establishment press, but also from the opinion pages of ostensibly "conservative" publications—including the Washington Times

Roberts is not imagining things—at least insofar as the Washington Times was concerned. I know, because I was there—as a young (and initially, naive) editorial writer.

I had a front-row seat for what turned out to be the neoconservative takeover of this once-upon-a-time legitimately conservative newspaper. It was a creepy experience. And I still can't tell you whether it was a conscious process deliberately undertaken; or whether it just sort of happened as a result of inertia and staffing changes that brought in Beltway "conservatives", who by dint of inclination and association brought in more of their own. 

What I can tell you is the following: 

When I joined the Washington Times in 1992, Sam Francis was still on staff and the paper regularly carried Joe Sobran's columns as well as Pat Buchanan's. Paul Craig Roberts (or "PCR" as we called him, in-house) was another well-known conservative contributor. 

The WT was still very much contrarian, at least relative to the orthodox agit-prop of the Washington Post. Its editorials frequently criticized Big Government, not just leftist Big Government.

True, the Moonie ownership was easy enough for enemies to cite as a way to delegitimize everything about the paper. But the fact of the matter is that the ownership really did leave the editorial and news side alone.

And many of the people working there were honest, even courageous newspaperpeople. Among these were Commentary Editor Mary Lou Forbes, an old Washington Star reporter and editor who had a Pulitzer Prize to her credit (for coverage of the Civil Rights movement) and editorial writer R. Cort Kirkwood. Kirkwood was old school, a Reaganite/Libertarian sort of conservative, a believer in and advocate of the "old things"—the sort of things that Sam, Pat and Craig also believed in and advocated. Country, kith and kin.

But change was in the air. 

Shortly after the succession to the imperial throne of Bush the Elder, Tod Lindberg replaced Tony Snow as editorial page editor. Sam had served as an interim editor while Wes Pruden, the paper's managing editor, searched for Tony's replacement. The writers wanted Sam; Pruden wanted somebody else. That somebody was Lindberg.

Unlike Francis and Kirkwood, Lindberg, on the other hand, was a Bushie—which meant, a neocon. He did not believe in the "old things"—and it was clear, even to new/junior staffers like me, that there was tension in the office between the older Timesers and the new crowd. 

Someone—maybe Lindberg, perhaps someone higher up—was without doubt gunning for Sam, who circa '92-'93 was still both an editorial writer and a staff columnist. You could feel it in the air. People upstairs were waiting for their moment. It came when Sam wrote his infamous (to detractors) column on slavery. It was seized upon as the first of several pretexts to shove him out the door. First, Sam lost his staff columnist title—and soon thereafter, everything else. [ note: Sam Francis's column on the Southern Baptists' decision to "apologize" for slavery was All those things to apologize for, The Washington Times, June 27, 1995, not online, but you can see highlights from it here.]

In typical Beltway Conservative fashion, the WT management fell all over itself to placate the outrage of critics who are the mortal enemies of real conservatism by throwing Sam to the wolves—for daring to speak his piece and (worse) for daring to espouse authentic conservative views, which it was clear were becoming heretical. 

Of course, they didn't put it that way. What they did say was that same was "insensitive" and (no surprise) "racist".

The editorial pages began to echo the Bushie/GOP establishment line. It was becoming a "kinder, gentler" paper—unless you still believed in Reagan-ish conservatism, in which case you could feel a cold chill wafting through the building. 

The national interest was out; internationalism was in. The diversity cult was taking hold, even to the extent that grossly incompetent "African American" writers were promoted to positions for which they were embarrassingly unqualified.

I began to notice something else around this time, too. As an early morning person, I usually got to the office before anyone else. The fax machine would be overflowing with "memos" from Bill Kristol, the Obergruppenfuhrer of DC neoconservatism. These amounted to Talking Points on various issues of the day. And lo and behold, the WT's editorial positions began to echo (if not outright repeat) these Talking Points. 

I also noticed that certain writers were sacrosanct. No matter how awfully and even incoherently written their stuff was, it would always be published—often, after having been completely reconstructed by one of the tireless copy editors.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this: the old CIA hack Cord Meyer—who at the time was constantly producing turgid rants urging U.S. intervention in Kosovo on behalf of the Muslims there—and everywhere else besides. Cord's columns were often literally unreadable. But they got in, every time. Ditto the stuff produced by Ken Adelman, Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney and a slew of like-minded Beltway neocon chickenhawks and interventionists. 

Bill Buckley's columns were still used also. By this time his writing had degenerated into prolix-for-its-own-sake dreck, published chiefly because Buckley was "a name"—and supposedly, this would entrance readers, even if they couldn't make heads or tails of the columns themselves.

Sam was long gone by now. 

Joe Sobran's columns had been dumped and PCR and Buchanan were on deck for erasure.

After 9/11, the only reason the WT continued to publish Buchanan and PCR at all was the stalwart presence of Mary Lou Forbes, who ran the still-independent Commentary Pages. Her status as a sort of eminence grise and the fact that she apparently had an ironclad contract guaranteeing her independent editorial control (a condition, rumor had it, of her going to work for the Moonies) made her fairly untouchable. 

But in time even Mary Lou began to feel the pressure. 

I was in her office with others on several occasions when the subject of a PCR or Buchanan column came up. It was clear—though never made explicit—that "higher ups" didn't want to see either writer published (reportedly, then-Editor-in-Chief Wesley Pruden, whom most of us almost never saw, particularly loathed Buchanan and wanted him gone).

It was only because of Mary Lou's commendable defense of what she called "her regulars" that they eventually got slotted in. But they became less and less "regular"—and when their columns did run, they were slotted in only after much hemming and hawing and usually on the second or back pages, or on the weekend, when circulation was much lower—away from the limelight as far as was possible. 

Tod Lindberg brought in more like-minded people to form the nucleus of his staff, including Helle Bering, a Danish national, as deputy editorial page editor. 

For Helle-Bering, U.S. citizenship and the notion of an American people seemed to be incidentals, if not anachronisms. Any strong attachment to either suggested a sinister nativism that might be hiding the Worst Thing Possible—"racism". Accordingly, if you said anything negative about unrestricted immigration—or, even worse, dared to suggest that perhaps different racial and ethnic groups have diverging interests and thus, political agendas—you could expect excommunication. 

Cases in point include the continuous attacks on  Alien Nation and Peter Brimelow and the way both Joe Sobran and Pat Buchanan were painted as "anti-Semitic" and many other things besides. This in spite of the fact that such men (Sam in particular) were without question some of the best prose stylists the paper ever had—without even getting into the content of their columns, which was uniformly excellent. Such things mattered far less than toeing the Party Line.  

And so things progressed... 

By around 2000, the Kristolian Neocon Nexus now included neocon notables such as John Podhoretz, Abby Wisse (reportedly a cousin/kin to the Pods) and a fellow-traveler by the name of Joel Himelfarb, who appeared to have some connection to the Jerusalem Post, or at least, used Jerusalem Post editorials as the basis for his own. I personally witnessed conversations to this effect between Himelfarb and Helle Bering, who on one occasion told him in so many words to "rewrite" the JP's editorial. 

And he did. [ note: Readers who doubt this are invited to compare  Let's Ignore Hamas , by Caroline Glick, The Jerusalem Post, April 4, 2006 and Will Hamas Moderate? by Joel Himelfarb, The Washington Times, April 24, 2006]

By the time of the ascension of Bush the Younger, the paper was a thoroughly corrupted and immensely cynical. For all practical purposes, it had morphed into a vanity press for the "mainstream" Republican Party. That is, intellectually, for the neocons. The columns were, to borrow a phrase, as predictable as Pravda during the Brezhnev Era.

After 9/11 the war drums were beaten relentlessly. And woe betide anyone who questioned any aspect of the flowering War on Terra (as the magnificent Fred Reed, also a former Timeser, styles it). Every jot and tittle of W's agenda was lovingly approved of on the WT's editorial pages—often to a tortured and ludicrous extent.

Few authentic conservatives—writers like PCR—remained. The occasional column by Roberts was almost shockingly at odds with the new tone of the WT. It was obvious things could not go on much longer. 

The final nail in the coffin was probably the ascension to the editorial page editor's job of former Newt Gingrich PR flack Tony Blankley—a man who had never been a newspaperman in any capacity and whose chief qualification for the position seemed to be his status as a Republican Party sachem. 

I bugged out shortly thereafter—allegedly over a conflict about my writing outside the paper, though I have no doubt a contributing factor was Blankley sniffed me out as a not-neocon. Lindberg and Helle Bering, meanwhile, settled into comfortable sinecures at The Heritage Foundation.

Mary Lou Forbes held on for awhile longer, but by 2008 she was well into her 80s and not well physically. She succumbed to cancer last year. Her once-formidable Commentary section was immediately taken over by the editorial pages staff. 

If you've followed the progress of the Washington Times since then, you know The End (or a close facsimile thereof) came soon after. The disastrously brief tenure of former WSJ writer Rich Miniter as editorial page editor (he and the WT—or, rather, what's left of it—are currently embroiled in acrimonious litigation) came and went like a Spring Break debauch, followed by the wholesale firing of roughly 60 percent of The Times news staff. 

The paper is now a burnt-out husk of its former self. The print version is for all purposes shut down. An online version continues, but if it lasts beyond the lifetime of the now 90-something Rev. Sun Myung Moon I'd be very surprised. 

Of course, the Washington Times has been hit by the internet, like the rest of the dinosaurs. But being the vanity press for a defeated and discredited regime didn't help.

So I feel Paul Craig Roberts' pain. 

And I understand his despair.

If conservatives are persona non grata even at the Washington Times, where else is there to turn? 

I abandoned DC in 2004 and haven't missed it a bit. I suspect PCR's blood pressure is lower now, too. 

Eric Peters (email him), an automotive columnist and former editorial writer for The Washington Times, is the author of Automotive Atrocities. His website is here. His next book, Road Hogs, will be published this fall.

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