FOX News, July 14, 2003
By Roger Friedman
The new issue of People magazine is out and contains a five-page spread endorsing a program affiliated with the Church of Scientology.
The program is Hollywood Education Literacy Project, and in the feature story superstar actor Tom Cruise credits it with curing his illiteracy.
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But what is barely mentioned is that HELP, as it is known, has been roundly criticized by mainstream educators as a propaganda tool of Scientology.
Also not mentioned is that the not-for-profit Hollywood division of HELP — which is based at Scientology’s garish Celebrity Centre — dispensed in 2001 a mere $100 in grants and contributions. HELP had total expenses, though, of $273,000 — more than half of which was for staff salaries. This is according to the group’s 2001 tax filing.
Was People magazine so desperate to get a Cruise interview that they didn’t mind shilling for a cult organization? The answer, it seems, is yes. Hidden in the story is the headline that Cruise was not able to read until age 22. The first reading material he had, he claims, was a Scientology picture book. That book led him to HELP and, consequently, Scientology. Talk about burying your lead. You’d think the news that Hollywood’s highest-paid, biggest star made it through high school and college as an illiterate would be something even People would question. But they allow Cruise to make this statement without comment, as if it were normal.
People also gives little space to the many vociferous critics of Scientology and of HELP, mentioning only briefly that they exist. This came as a surprise to Carnegie Mellon University professor David S. Touretzky. The professor, who has written an exhaustive analysis of HELP, said, “Fannie Weinstein, the reporter, called me and talked to me a lot. She went out and got all the source materials and did a lot of research. But I was cut out of the story.”
Touretzky, who appears on Scientology’s many hit lists because he’s criticized them so much, is the author of a well-known take out on HELP. His findings [available on www.studytech.org – AWH] are enough to make the hair of an average parent stand straight up, but People magazine didn’t think they were worth including. Touretzky says that HELP is a rigid learning system full of Scientology jargon, lingo and philosophy, and is designed to lead participants straight into the science fiction-worshipping, pay-through-the-nose ‘religion.’
He writes that Study Tech — the HELP manual “is no more a secular learning methodology than wine and communion wafers are a Sunday morning snack…. Indoctrinating students into Study Tech’s unconventional language and world view, with its implied acceptance of L. Ron Hubbard as authority figure, would do much to soften them up for future recruitment into Scientology itself.”
HELP, according to Touretzky, doesn’t allow a student to question any of its practices or theories. Yawning or looking bored during a HELP session is considered a high crime. This would seem to be in line with Scientology’s insistence that attention deficit disorder (ADD) does not exist and should not be treated with drugs like Ritalin. Instead, students who have trouble concentrating on HELP materials are commanded to keep going over it until it’s been drilled into their heads.
The whole matter of People caving in to what is essentially Scientology advertorial should raise some questions this morning over at AOL Time Warner. After all, it was in 1991 that People’s older-brother magazine, Time, ran a now famous cover story on the evils of L. Ron Hubbard’s cult. The story became a cause celebre as Scientology sued Time, Inc. and eventually lost. Ironically, none of HELP materials carry a byline, although all of them are copyrighted to Scientology and Hubbard. This, Touretzky points out, is even weirder considering Hubbard died in 1986. The HELP books are dated 1992.