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.
Moon and Nixon
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."