Scientology Gets Fact Checked, Huffington Post Gets Overrated, Tea Party Gets a Magazine

Yesterday, we praised Lawrence Wright's cover story in The New Yorker, a 24,195-word mega-exposé about Hollywood writer/producer/director Paul Haggis' defection from the corrupt and crazy Church of Scientology after 35 years. Today, NPR's Fresh Air has a behind-the-scenes look at the magazine's journalistic process, including just how many fact checkers were required and how many queries the Church was given to make sure the notoriously litigious group could be reported on accurately. Meanwhile, The Huffington Post, newly in the money, is way more reader-friendly than the New York Times, over-argues one media writer. Paywall politics, the Tea Party's new magazine and more, inside Press Clips, our daily media round-up. (Tips about media goings on? Talk here.)

A Veritable Thetan Army: On with Fresh Air's Terry Gross, Wright explains that the New Yorker used five fact checkers for the extensive article, who totaled 971 double-checked queries for the Church of Scientology:

In September 2010, Wright, his editor, the New Yorker fact-checking team and the magazine's editor-in-chief, David Remnick, met for eight hours with the spokesperson for the Church of Scientology, Tommy Davis, along with Davis' wife and four lawyers representing the church, to discuss the facts in the piece.

Wright, as we noted yesterday, contends that Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, who claims to have healed himself through the religion he invented, was never actually hurt at all:

"I had found evidence that Hubbard was never actually injured during the war. ... And so we pressed [Tommy Davis] for evidence that there had been such injuries and [Hubbard] had been the war hero that he described," says Wright. "Eventually, Davis sent us what is called a notice of separation -- essentially discharge papers from World War II -- along with some photographs of all of these medals that [Hubbard] had won. ... At the same time, we finally gained access to Hubbard's entire World War II records [through a request to the military archives] and there was no evidence that he had ever been wounded in battle or distinguished himself in any way during the war. We also found another notice of separation which was strikingly different than the one that the church had provided."

Wright's discussion of the tireless research and verification measures taken by the magazine provides valuable insight on an often overlooked part of the journalistic process, but reveals how it can add up to a blockbuster. His full discussion with NPR will be available online around 5:00 p.m. ET.

In Defense of HuffPo: After some harsh appraisals of AOL's acquisition of The Huffington Post, Felix Salmon at Reuters uses the occasion of a minor breaking news story to praise HufPo's interactivity, while arguing "why the NYT paywall is a bad idea."

When news came through last night that Keith Olbermann would be joining Current TV, the Times blog that broke the story enjoyed only a fraction of the sharing and discussion that HuffPo had when copying the same information. "Now, the NYT post is up to 93 comments, but the HuffPo post is still miles ahead: 2,088 comments, 1,392 likes on Facebook, 340 Facebook shares, 89 tweets, and 52 emails," Salmon writes.

the NYT page is like walking into a library, while the HuffPo page is like walking through Times Square. The HuffPo page is full of links to interesting stories elsewhere on the site -- about Egypt, or the kid in the Superbowl Darth Vader ad, or the stories my Facebook friends are reading. And there are lot of links to media stories, too; each one has a photo attached.

The NYT page, by contrast, feels like it's at a site-map dead end. It's part of the Media Decoder blog, and almost every NYT story linked to on the page is also part of that blog. There are almost no photos; there is almost no color.

Because of this, Salmon says that the Times' plan to charge for use of their website is "doomed to fail." He's probably right, but this is a purposefully vague conclusion because Salmon chooses not to acknowledge that without the reporting by the Times, the HuffPo article -- a summary of the Times blog -- could not exist. Therefore, the Reuters headline "Why the NYT will lose to HuffPo" is misleading, and it's probably intentional. It's the kind of bold pronouncement that does well online, but it lacks a certain nuance -- once that Salmon certainly knows to exist -- preferring instead to make a splash. In fact, it's very HuffPo of him, though it lacks ALL CAPS. But it might just be one reason the New York Times, which prefers to hold back and play it straight, will probably always stick around, flashiest website or not.

The Glenn Beck Chronicle: On a lighter note (the lightest note?), Wonkette points out that the Tea Party is launching their very own publication, The Tea Party Review, coming this month. The press release includes paragraphs like this:

The "Tea Party Review's team of writers, artists, and editors reflect the diversity of the movement, including individuals from all over the country incorporating a wide variety of backgrounds. The magazine includes people who've never contributed before to a national magazine, along with people who have written for major publications like the Chicago Defender and The New York Times."

And they say there are no jobs in journalism.

[jcoscarelli@villagevoice.com / @joecoscarelli]


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