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How Right-Wing Cult Leader Sun Myung Moon Bought Washington

With money, media and promotion of a conservative political agenda, a self-styled Messiah and convicted felon became a frequent guest at the White House.
 
 
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 “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.”

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.

“Moon wanted a whole series of articles going after poor Congressman Fraser, who was heading up the congressional investigations there,” Warder confided. “We would assign reporters to try and dig up all the dirt we could find on Congressman Fraser, and of course I would say to Moon, I said, ‘On one hand, we’re supposed to be doing this — but on the other hand, we’re competing with the New York Times. And so there’s matters of credibility here.’ And he would, you know, bluster and get angry at these kinds of things and say, ‘Just do what I’m ordering you to do and don’t ask so many questions.”

The Fraser Committee’s final report concluded that Moon was the “key figure” in an “international network of organizations engaged in economic and political” activities. It uncovered evidence that the Moon Organization “had systematically violated U.S. tax, immigration, banking, currency, and Foreign Agents Registration Act laws,” and detailed how the Korean CIA paid Moon to stage demonstrations at the United Nations and run a pro-South Korean propaganda effort.

Michael Hershman was the Fraser Committee’s chief investigator. He told me, “We determined that their primary interest, at least in the United States at that time, was not religious at all, but was political. It was an attempt to gain power and influence and authority.” The Fraser Committee recommended that the White House form a task force to continue to investigate Moon – but that never happened.

Perhaps 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.

De Borchgrave consistently denied taking orders from Moon — but the man who ran the editorial pages under de Borchgrave, William Cheshire, told a different story. “I protested to de Borchgrave,” Cheshire told me. “I went up to his office when I saw this happening, I told him this was unethical, improper, unprofessional, and it ought to stop. Also, it was dumb.”

Cheshire and four others resigned after de Borchgrave ordered an about-face on an editorial critical of the South Korean government. “I said, ‘Arnaud, we have a problem,’ ” Cheshire recalled. “He said, ‘What’s the problem?’ I said, ‘The problem is you’ve conferred with the owners of this newspaper, come back downstairs and demanded a reversal of editorial policy on their say so.”

Questions about control of the Washington Times persisted for years. Several journalists, including Lars Erik Nelson of the New York Daily News, called for a Justice Department investigation to determine if the paper violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. “The Justice Department doesn’t seem to want to know, and I’ve never gotten a clear answer from them as to why they don’t want to know,” Nelson said. “They’ve said, ‘Hmmm, that’s an interesting point.’ They say, ‘Hmmm, we’ll think about that.’ And they never get back to me.”

Times officials sent a statement in reply, noting, “The complete editorial independence of the Washington Times is well-known, and envied, throughout the newspaper industry.”

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.

“It’s called ‘One Incoming,’” Graham said, “And it includes a scenario that I got Tom Clancy to write for us, and I got Charlton Heston to do the voiceover. It cost a lot of money to produce it — $200,000 … and I’m sure that’s where the money came from to produce that movie.”

Moon’s media tentacles also reached into book publishing, including one called Inquisition, a purportedly independent investigation of Moon’s 1982 tax fraud prosecution, released by the right-wing publishing house Regnery-Gateway. Its author, Carlton Sherwood, was a reporter who once worked for the Washington Times. (Sherwood made headlines in 2004 when he produced the controversial video Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, which featured interviews with American POW’s in North Vietnam who complained that they had been maltreated as a direct result of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s Fulbright Hearing Testimony in 1971.

Inquisition had a curious history. An obscure publishing house called Andromeda had printed it once before. The phone number listed for Andromeda was the home phone of former Reagan National Security Council official Roger Fontaine — also an ex-reporter at the Washington Times. But when we called Fontaine’s house, his wife Judy answered and told us that the company was bankrupt and that Inquisition was published by Regnery-Gateway. Alfred Regnery is the head of Regnery-Gateway.

According to former Times editor Whelan, himself a Regnery-Gateway author, Alfred Regnery was told by Carlton Sherwood that the Moon Organization would purchase at least one hundred thousand copies of Inquisition. Alfred Regnery denied it, and although he refused an on-camera interview, Sherwood said the Unification Movement had exerted no editorial control over his book.

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.

What did all the money buy Reverend Moon? Like many others, he refused to talk to me for the film. But in a Church-sponsored film, Reverend Moon in America –one of the many media efforts he spun out in the Eighties — he had this to say:

“Now whether positively or negatively, America knows me — and it happened quickly. At least I have America’s attention. Because of that, I will be able to tell the people the truth of God, the new revelation. The worst treatment America could give me is to ignore me. Now I can preach the truth. ”

 

Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor is the author of "Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio" (AlterNet Books, 2008). O'Connor also writes the Media Is A Plural blog.
 
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