At the time of the Times' founding Washington had only one major newspaper, the Washington Post. The Post had been one of the leading critics of Moon's anti-communist political activism. Massimo Introvigne, in his book on the Unification Church, said that the Post was "the most anti-Unificationist paper in the United States."
By 2002, the Unification Church had spent about $1.7 billion in subsidies for the Times. The paper has lost money every year that it has been in business. In 2003, The New Yorker reported that a billion dollars had been spent since the paper's inception, as Moon himself had noted in a 1991 speech, "Literally nine hundred million to one billion dollars has been spent to activate and run the Washington Times. In 2002, Columbia Journalism Review suggested Moon had spent nearly $2 billion on the Times In 2008, Thomas F. Roeser of the Chicago Daily Observer mentioned competition from the Times as a factor moving the Washington Post to the right, and said that Moon had "announced he will spend as many future billions as is needed to keep the paper competitive.
The Times was founded the year after the Washington Star, the previous "second paper" of D.C., went out of business, after operating for over 100 years. A large percentage of the staff came from the recently defunct Washington Star. When the Times began, it was unusual among American broadsheets in publishing a full color front page, along with full color front pages in all its sections and color elements throughout. Although USA Today used color in the same way, it took several years for the Washington Post, New York Times and others to do the same. The Times originally published its editorials and opinion columns in a physically separate "Commentary" section, rather than at the end of its front news section as is common practice in U.S. newspapers. It ran television commercials highlighting this fact. Later, this practice was abandoned (except on Sundays, when many other newspapers, including the Post, also do it). The Washington Times also used ink that it advertised as being less likely to come off on the reader's hands than the Post's.
In addition to giving voice to stories that, as Pruden says, “others miss,” the Times plays an important role in Washington’s journalistic farm system. The paper has been a springboard for young reporters to jobs at The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, even the Post. Lorraine Woellert, who worked at the Times from 1992 to 1998, says her experience there allowed her to jump directly to her current job at Business Week. “I got a lot of opportunities very quickly. They appreciated and rewarded talent and, frankly, there was a lot of turnover.”
In 2002, the Times published a story accusing the National Educational Association (NEA), the largest teachers' union in the United States, of promoting teaching students that the policies of the United States government were partly to blame for the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. This was denied by the NEA and by other commentators.
As of 2007, home delivery of the paper in its local area is made in bright orange plastic bags, with the words, "Brighter. Bolder. The Washington Times" and a slogan that changes. Two of the slogans are "The voice and choice of discerning readers" and "You're not getting it all without us".
The Times prints op-ed and opinion articles that include liberal and Democratic party voices, as well as conservative and Republican voices. Liberal columnist Clarence Page is a regular contributor. Also featured are Libertarian opinion pieces, almost always from scholars at the DC-located Cato Institute. The liberal news magazine Mother Jones said in 2007 that the Times had become "essential reading for political news junkies."
Conservative commentator Paul Weyrich has called the Washington Times an antidote to its liberal competitor:
The Washington Post became very arrogant and they just decided that they would determine what was news and what wasn't news and they wouldn't cover a lot of things that went on. And the Washington Times has forced the Post to cover a lot of things that they wouldn't cover if the Times wasn't in existence.
The Times was President Ronald Reagan's preferred newspaper. In 1997 he said:
The American people know the truth. You, my friends at The Washington Times, have told it to them. It wasn't always the popular thing to do. But you were a loud and powerful voice. Like me, you arrived in Washington at the beginning of the most momentous decade of the century. Together, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. And—oh, yes—we won the Cold War.
Within a month the Times changed some of its style guide to conform more to mainstream media usage. The Times announced that it would no longer use words like "illegal aliens" and "homosexual," and in most cases opt for "more neutral terminology" like "illegal immigrants" and "gay," respectively. The paper also decided to stop using "Hillary" when referring to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the word "marriage" in the expression "gay marriage" will no longer appear in quotes in the newspaper. These changes in policy drew criticism from some conservatives.
On May 31, 2008, the Times announced that its Civil War section, which some commentators had said was too sympathetic to the South, would be expanded to include coverage of all America's wars and would be renamed "America at War. At the same time the Times laid off about 30 employees and also stopped printing a Saturday edition as cost saving measures. In August 2008, the Times announced it would outsource its printing operations to the publisher of The Baltimore Sun in order to avoid the expense of overhauling existing presses.