News & Politics

Scientology Gets Polite Slap on the Wrist from New York Times


Laurie Goodstein’s lengthy and well-written article on Scientology in today’s New York Times, backed up with a slideshow and a nifty multimedia timeline, provides a solid overview of what the St. Petersburg Times and others have been writing about L. Ron Hubbard’s wacky cabal for many, many years.

The big news, of course, is that it’s the New York Times weighing in.

That’s good news for Anonymous, for longtime critics like Mark Bunker and Andreas Heldal-Lund, and for others who work tirelessly to get the word out about Scientology’s nefarious nature.

But mostly, it’s the St. Pete Times that wins here. With only a few weeks until the 2009 Pulitzers are announced, it’s hard not to see the timing of Goodstein’s piece as anything but accidental: the New York Times has just sent a clear endorsement of a Pulitzer for last year’s blockbuster series by the St. Pete Times.

Here’s hoping the Pulitzer committee is listening.

As for Goodstein’s piece itself, we give it high marks in several areas:

— Laurie Goodstein may be the only journalist in history not to cause Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis to go into conniption fits and bury himself with hysterical and nonsensical outbursts. (Or, she just left that part out.)

— She gets great access to the Clearwater, Florida facilities to give a hint of all the elaborate, over-the-top, and incredibly expensive construction that Hubbard’s minions are obsessed with, even as all objective data show that the church is actually shrinking.

— She does an especially good job laying out the basics not only of Scientology but also of the organization’s long history and many battles.

As someone who has been writing about Hubbard’s nonsense for fifteen years, I’m especially grateful to Goodstein and the Times for taking on a subject I didn’t want to be bothered with: the mistreatment of Sea Org members.

This has been a drumbeat with church critics over the last couple of years — ABC News took it on in a mostly forgettable Nightline piece — and I’ve resisted writing about it for exactly the way it comes off in Goodstein’s piece.

Critics implore journalists to write about poor Sea Org members, who work long hours for almost no pay, are eternally stressed out and underfed, and who are discouraged from having children and encouraged to get abortions.

When my Scientology sources ask me why I don’t seem interested in writing about that part of the Hubbard universe, I try to explain how easy it is for a church supporter to fend off that kind of criticism — which is exactly what happened in Goodstein’s piece.

Life in the Sea Org is brutal? Well listen, moron, you signed a BILLION-YEAR CONTRACT to worship and work for a 1930s pulp science fiction hack who invented a religion that believes space aliens have taken up residence in your body — what the hell were you thinking?

Too easily, church members wave off this kind of criticism — Davis points out, correctly, that other religions have hard-core inner groups that require immense sacrifice. And another member Goodstein quotes says that this kind of criticism comes off like what someone would say when asked about an ex-spouse. Exactly.

So, I’m happy that Goodstein handled that, because in the future when I’m asked to write about it, I can just point to her piece and say the Times has already written about the harsh life of the Sea Org.

Which means, the rest of us can get back to the real issues at hand, which the Times piece only hinted at, unfortunately:

— The incredible snow job on the U.S. government that resulted in Scientology getting back its tax-exempt status in 1993.

— The outrageous use of celebrities to sell what is essentially a criminal enterprise built entirely to steal vast amounts of money from the gullible — again, with your government helping to make it happen.

— And the slow, inexorable decline of a con-job religion based on the idea that you can get more than $100,000 from a sucker before finally telling him that he believes in a galactic overlord who placed space alien souls on Earth that cling to all of us and implanted the idea of Jesus, who never really existed.

The journey up that bridge continues…

Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of the Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several different publications. Among his other stories about L. Ron Hubbard’s organization…

The Larry Wollersheim Saga — Scientology Finally Pays For Its Fraud
The Tory Bezazian (Christman) Story — How the Internet Saved A Scientologist From Herself
The Jason Beghe Defection — A Scientology Celebrity Goes Rogue
The Paul Haggis Ultimatum — The ‘Crash’ Director Tells Scientology to Shove It
The Marc Headley Escape — ‘Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle’

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