From his new perch, Jackson quickly began altering the Times’s political coverage. According to The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, at one point he demanded that the paper run a story about the Benghazi affair on page A1 every day. Times insiders say he also marched into the Commentary department and began handing out assignments and floating ideas for restructuring the section—including getting rid of unsigned editorials altogether. Decker, who up until this point reported directly to the president of the company, let it be known that he had no intention of answering to Jackson, after which the paper announced that Decker had tendered his resignation, though recently departed Commentary editors insist he did no such thing.
After Decker’s departure, three of his six editorial staffers stepped down without notice, including his then-deputy Anneke Green, who penned a scathing resignation letter. “The Washington Times today is the most unprofessional and dishonest organization I have ever encountered,” she wrote. “I can’t continue to spend the lion’s share of my professional time fighting unethical practices being pushed by top leaders in the company.”
As it turns out, the turmoil in Commentary presaged a larger shakeup. On Jan. 4, the paper reportedly handed pink slips to roughly 20 of its 90 newsroom employees. Among the casualties was Robert Morton, a respected Times veteran who ran the National Weekly Edition—the paper’s lone profitable arm, according to insiders. Morton had also pressed executives to rein in Solomon’s growing clout. Three days later, Solomon was named chief digital officer. By this time, the paper was regularly running stories from the Solomon-run Washington Guardian, which stoked fears that more jobs would be cut and replaced with outsourced content. It was also at this point that Pruden—whose column is syndicated by a related Solomon-run company—was brought on to oversee the restructuring of the editorial pages.
Wesley Pruden hails from Arkansas, where his father, a Baptist minister, led the charge against the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School, a key battle in the often-violent struggle over desegregation. While Pruden is less strident, he has made no secret of his affection for the Confederacy or his disdain for the Civil Rights movement. He once called Jesse Helms his political hero. Pruden’s closest advisor, Francis B. Coombs, who was national editor until being tapped as Pruden’s deputy in 2002, held even more extreme racial views. According to an internal Times investigation—which was conducted by the law firm Nixon Peabody and quoted in the book, Journalism is War, by the paper’s longtime investigative reporter, George Archibald—Coombs told subordinates that blacks were born with IQs 15 to 20 points lower than whites. The probe also found that Coombs was a vocal supporter of abortion because “it disproportionately impacts blacks and minorities” and “helps to keep the black and minority population down.” (In an interview with CJR, Coombs, who is now the managing editor of Rasmussen Reports , dismissed these allegations as “absurd.”)
These biases seeped into the paper’s news pages. Between 1998 and 2004, the Times covered each of the biennial American Renaissance conferences, hosted by the white supremacist New Century Foundation. What’s more, the paper’s coverage of these events—which are hotbeds for holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis, and eugenicists—was stunningly one sided. One 1998 story, called “Whites Ponder Future of Their Race,” was patched together largely from presentations by firebrand researchers who defended discredited theories on the genetic gap between races and argued that human beings are genetically programmed to prefer their own ethnicity. There was also a quote from a woman named Susan Huck, who was cast as an ordinary conference goer, though she worked as an editor of a white supremacist paramilitary newsletter that was read by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. After claiming she was “not really that much into race,” Huck noted that she feared for her nieces and nephews growing up in the “hell” of multi-racial America. “They can’t even hold their heads up in their own civilization,” she complained. Other than mentioning that KKK leader David Duke was in attendance, the story didn’t offer the faintest hint that these ideas might be controversial.