James R. Whelan, at 79; founding Washington Times editor, publisher

James R. Whelan above the Washington Times newsroom.
United Press International/file 1983
James R. Whelan above the Washington Times newsroom.

NEW YORK — James R. 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 last Saturday at his home in Miami.

Mr. 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.’’ He was 79.

The cause was multiple organ failure, said his nephew Bill Halldin.


Mr. Whelan had had a long career as a newspaper correspondent and executive and was 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.

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The pursuit was dogged. Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

From the outset, the idea for The Washington Times was to provide a conservative alternative to The Washington Post.

Over the next two years, Mr. Whelan helped build the paper’s circulation to nearly 100,000. ­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, Mr. Whelan was fired in what the newspaper said was a dispute over his salary, but Mr. Whelan, in a press conference, attributed to his distress over the paper’s loss of editorial independence.

James Robert Whelan was born in Buffalo and attended the University of Buffalo.

He joined United Press as a local correspondent in 1952 and was sent to Buenos Aires, in 1958.

In the 1970s, he worked as a Latin American correspondent for Scripps-Howard and as the assistant managing editor of The Miami News.

Mr. Whelan was the author of several books, mostly about Latin America.