WASHINGTON — James R. Whelan, who served as the first editor of The Washington Times and left in a public dispute with its Unification Church owners, has died.
Whelan, 79, died Saturday at his home in Miami of multiple organ failure, his nephew Bill Halldin said Thursday.
Whelan was recruited in 1982 to join the newly created paper, which was billed as a conservative counterweight to The Washington Post.
The paper was initially viewed with skepticism because it was started by a media company owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's South Korea-based Unification Church. But Whelan, who was hired as its editor and publisher, said the five-day-a-week publication would be "a serious newspaper, to be run by the highest professional standards."
"I really believe that our nation is at peril because we don't have an alternative voice in the nation's capital," Whelan told The Washington Post for an article soon after the paper published its first prototype edition.
Whelan said he had been promised in writing "complete control of the editorial product" and had "the highest confidence" in the integrity of his bosses.
"Nobody is going to order me what to print, and I'd walk away if they did," he said.
A little more than two years later he was fired. In a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Whelan charged that the paper was no longer editorially independent of the church and had become a "Moonie newspaper."
Whelan's successors in leading the paper, however, said he was fired because a dispute over his contract.
Three years later, in 1987, the newspaper's editorial page editor and four staff members also resigned citing concerns about the paper's editorial independence.
Before being recruited to join The Washington Times, Whelan was the editor of the Sacramento Union and had been a correspondent in Latin America.
A memorial service will be held in New York in January.
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