Accuracy in Media

Actress Katie Holmes, who was raised a Catholic, has announced that she is excited about taking lessons in Scientology, a New Age religion started by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Her new boyfriend and future husband, box-office megastar Tom Cruise, 42, is a Scientologist and has become very vocal in the media about it. A flurry of stories has appeared about Holmes, 26, converting to Scientology.

But the Los Angeles Times noted a bit of hypocrisy in the reaction of Hollywood to this development: “Although Hollywood reacted in panic last year to Mel Gibson’s evangelical zeal tied to the release of ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ it has generally responded to Cruise’s Scientology fervor with determinedly closed-lipped tolerance.”

It’s much more than tolerance. Converting to Scientology is considered fashionable. But if Mel Gibson were dating a young lady and it was announced that she was leaving her established religion or church to convert to his brand of conservative Catholicism, you could anticipate a wave of revulsion and horror.

The difference between Scientology and Catholicism is immense. For years, Scientology fought a battle with the IRS because the government would not recognize its claim to be a religion. The IRS finally granted Scientology its desired status under President Bill Clinton, the recipient of massive donations from the Hollywood glitterati.

If you go to the group’s website, under the “What is Scientology?” category, you won’t find a reference to Scientologists believing in God. Instead, you read such things as “The aims of Scientology are a world without insanity, without criminals, without war, where the able can prosper and where Man is free to rise to greater heights.”

The RedEye, a paper which targets youth and young adults and which is owned by the Tribune Company, has declared Scientology the “it” religion. The upbeat piece, published because of the interest in the Holmes-Cruise relationship, was also carried by other Tribune papers, including Newsday. The article said that with her newfound enthusiasm over Scientology, Holmes enters a crowded circle of Hollywood A-listers. Among the positive aspects of Scientology, the article noted, “Members are encouraged to find the things in their life (or past lives) that cause pain or trouble and clear them away. Once all those bad experiences are gone, the person achieves a desired spiritual state, called ‘clear.’”  Sources were quoted as saying that the religion is “chic” and a “haven” that helps people deal with the pressures of their lives. The article did note that the religion had generated controversy in the past, but only mentioned the taking in of large sums of money.

An accompanying link “Who digs Scientology,” took readers to photos of celebrities like John Travolta and Kirstie Alley.

John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, are Scientologists, and she has been on conservative Sean Hannity’s radio show several times to argue against the use of psychiatric drugs on children. She was said to be representing a group called Some of Hannity’s followers objected, asking, “Why is Sean promoting Scientology?” The website is affiliated with the Citizens Commission on Human Rights International, a group established by the Church of Scientology.

The announcement of Holmes embracing Scientology has been the subject of many stories, which fail to note that some journalists who have examined the religion critically have been strongly attacked and sometimes sued.

Richard Behar’s May 6, 1991 Time magazine cover story “Scientology: The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power,” charged that “Scientology poses as a religion but really is a global scam?In reality the church is a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner.”

Scientology sued Time and Behar for libel. But the lawsuit was thrown out of court. Behar said he had ten attorneys and six private detectives on his trail as he wrote the story. He said private investigators began contacting his acquaintances to inquire about his “health” and whether he had had trouble with the IRS.

Robert Welkos co-authored a series of articles on Scientology for the Los Angeles Times in 1990. Shortly before it appeared, he reported that “A deliveryman arrived at my house and propped a large manila envelope against my front door. It was from a mortuary, and inside was a brochure extolling the benefits of arranging your funeral before you die.” But he found the mortuary had not sent the material.

The Times continues to examine Scientology critically. A story by Rachel Abramowitz and Chris Lee about the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes relationship noted that critics call Scientology a cult that uses mind-control techniques. The Times also noted the up-tick in Cruise promoting Scientology as well as the servile press reaction. When journalists recently set out to interview Cruise they were invited to long tours through different Scientology centers. The paper noted that “Access Hollywood” gave the actor a “hefty chunk of time to enthuse about his religion and spout off about a Scientology b?te noire, the evils of psychiatry.”

“I think it’s weird that (journalists) put up with it,” Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, told the Times. “It’s OK for him or anyone to try to evangelize if they want to. It’s a two-way street. What it demonstrates to me is how degraded the position of entertainment journalism is, that it not only succumbs to conditions like byline approval and photo approval, but also Scientology boot camp.”

Journalists do put up with it―in order to get a story about Cruise. But there are things Cruise won’t put up with. On Sunday he was squirted in the face by a fake reporter and camera crew working for a British comedy show. The squirt gun was in the form of a fake microphone. Cruise told the fake reporter, “You’re a jerk.”

The water attack was in bad taste. We need fewer fake reporters and more real ones. But perhaps it’s safer to squirt water at Cruise than scrutinize his religious evangelizing.

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