Four years later, the Times ran a piece based solely on an American Renaissance speech by Glenn Spencer, who founded the anti-immigrant hate group, American Border Patrol, and has called immigrants a “cultural cancer.” It warned that the Latino migrants flooding into California were part of a secret plot to re-conquer the American southwest and turn it into “an independent Hispanic territory.”
Similarly, under Pruden, the paper’s Culture Briefs section regularly printed excerpts from racist hard-right publications, such as VDARE and American Renaissance magazine, along with rants from Bill White, the infamous neo-Nazi. One typical Culture Briefs snippet from 2006 argued that “genetic diversity” cause by the mixing of races was “a threat to civilization.” During the Pruden era, an entire page in each week’s Saturday edition was also reserved for the Civil War, with many articles devoted to glorifying the Confederacy.

According to Mark Potok of The Southern Poverty Law Center, this kind of coverage helped push fringe ideas into the mainstream. As Potok puts it, “The Washington Times helped to legitimize a white nationalist narrative that has spread through much of the political discourse in this country.” The Times’s nativist leanings also sowed anguish in the newsroom, as did Pruden’s brash editing. Among other things, Pruden was infamous for rewriting stories to fit his ideological bent—a practice known as “Prudenizing.” (Pruden declined to be interviewed for this story.)

His and Coombs’ heavy-handed style took a toll on the paper. By the early aughts it was hemorrhaging talent, and its once-outsized influence was dwindling. Then, in late 2006, The Nation published a devastating investigation, which exposed rampant racism in the newsroom and dredged up other unsavory allegations, including sexual harassment complaints against Coombs. Around this time, the paper’s parent company, News World Communications, enlisted Nixon Peabody and launched its own probe, which reportedly bore out most of the The Nation’s findings. It also began hunting for Pruden’s replacement. Under pressure, Pruden stepped down in early 2008 —though the paper has continued to run his columns in its news pages.

If those columns are any guide, Pruden still has strong opinions about race. In 2009, for instance, Pruden penned a handful pieces arguing that President Barack Obama was incapable of understanding America’s heritage. “He is our first president without an instinctive appreciation of the culture, history, tradition, common law, and literature whence America sprang,” he wrote. “The genetic imprint writ large in his 43 predecessors is missing from the Obama DNA.” In another piece, Pruden argued that Obama had “no natural instinct or blood impulse” for what America was about because he was “sired by a Kenyan father” and “born to a mother attracted to men of the Third World.”

These musings touched off an uproar, after which David Mastio, then the Deputy Editorial Page Editor, was assigned to edit Pruden’s work. Mastio says Pruden’s drafts were often sprinkled with subtle racism and pro-Confederate language. “He was constantly re-litigating the Civil War, and attacking the historical figures on the right side of the war, Lincoln and Grant being his favorites,” Mastio explains. “He also used terms with animal implications when referring to blacks”—“sired” being a prime example. Part of Mastio’s job was to strip the offending language.

Now it is Pruden wielding the red pen.

Already, his influence is apparent in the paper’s opinion pages. Pruden is a gifted prose stylist who is more interested in bludgeoning opponents than in reasoned debate. Under his leadership, the writing in Commentary has become snappier and more colorful, but also more strident and less thoughtful. Rather than offer a mix of perspectives, it continually hammers the same issue from similar angles. Pruden’s nativist leanings have also crept back into the Times’s pages. In a column last week, he tackled the renewed immigration-reform push. Pruden is against it, of course, but his take on Republicans who support it is telling. What’s driving them, he argues, is a desire to tap the “abundance of voters drawn to welfare-state” programs—meaning, presumably, that immigrants tend to be freeloaders bent on milking the government.

Mariah Blake writes for the United States Project, CJR's politics and policy desk. She is based in Washington, DC, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, Salon, The Washington Monthly, and CJR, among other publications.