Known for its history of hate- and harassment activities, the Scientology cult stays on the war path
After decades of digging into the Church of Scientology, reporters and editors at the St. Petersburg Times are accustomed to being denounced by its leaders.
But they find it unsettling that three veteran journalists — a Pulitzer Prize winner, a former “60 Minutes” producer, and the former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors — are taking the church’s money to examine the paper’s conduct.
While the journalists have promised an independent review, the Times has refused to cooperate, saying their work will be used to fuel the church’s ongoing campaign against the Florida paper.
“I ultimately couldn’t take this request very seriously because it’s a study bought and paid for by the Church of Scientology,” says Executive Editor Neil Brown. “Candidly,” he adds, “I was surprised and disappointed that journalists who I understand to have an extensive background in investigative reporting would think it’s appropriate to ask me or our news organization to talk about that reporting while (a) it’s ongoing, and (b) while they’re being paid to ask these questions by the very subjects of our reporting.”
Steve Weinberg, the former IRE executive, who has taught at the University of Missouri’s journalism school for a quarter-century, says he was paid $5,000 to edit the study and “tried to make sure it’s a good piece of journalism criticism, just like I’ve written a gazillion times. . . . For me it’s kind of like editing a Columbia Journalism Review piece.”
He says their agreement requires that the church publish the study in full, if it decides to make it public, but that “the contract says the church has the right to do nothing with it except put it in a drawer.” That means Scientology leaders have an out if the recently completed study isn’t to their liking.
Weinberg acknowledges that the “unusual situation” gave him pause, saying: “It certainly wouldn’t be something just any reporter would do. My role was more limited, and I can certainly use the money these days.”
Church spokesman Tommy Davis says that he recently received the approximately 20-page study and that it will not necessarily be made public. It was commissioned, he says, because “we wanted to get an outside view” of the situation. Davis, who would not disclose how much the reporters were paid, calls the report highly critical of the Times stories on the church.
What the Scientology cult is so upset about…
The Truth Rundown – a series of special reports by the St. Petersburg Times: “Scientology leader David Miscavige is the focus of this special report from the St. Petersburg Times. Former executives of the Church of Scientology, including two of the former top lieutenants to Miscavige, have come forward to describe a culture of intimidation and violence under David Miscavige. These former Scientology leaders served for years with Miscavige.”
Scientology’s pattern of harassment
Consumer Alert: Scientology
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