James Whelan, the founding editor and publisher of The Washington Times, the newspaper established in 1982 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his South Korea-based Unification Church, died Saturday at his home in Miami.
He was 79. The cause was multiple organ failure, his nephew, Bill Halldin, said.
Whelan was ousted from the newspaper after just two years, saying it had become what its detractors had always said it was, “a Moonie newspaper."
Whelan had had a long career as a newspaper correspondent and executive and was the vice president and editor of The Sacramento Union when he was recruited to run The Washington Times by Bo Hi Pak, the president of News World Communications, the media arm of the Unification Church.
The pursuit was dogged. Whelan turned the job down more than once, at least in part because he thought the church, with its cultish reputation, would insist on editorial control. But Pak said it would not.
About half the staff Whelan eventually put together in 1982 was composed of church members, but it also included many veteran journalists, a number of whom had worked for The Washington Star, which had ceased publication the previous year.
Over the next two years, Whelan helped build the paper's circulation to nearly 100,000, and although that was a fraction of The Post's, The Times commanded attention, not least because it was read daily by President Ronald Reagan, who often quoted it.
Then, in July 1984, Whelan was fired in what the newspaper said was a dispute over his salary but Whelan, in a news conference, attributed to his distress over the paper's loss of editorial independence.
The Times replaced him with the executive editor, Smith Hempstone, who was not a church member. Hempstone said Whelan's accusations were baseless, as did other high-ranking editors, infuriating Whelan further.