UPDATE: PLEASE SEE THE NOTE WE’VE ADDED TO THE END OF THE POST
In 2011, we told you about Jamie DeWolf and his amazing monologue about his great-grandfather, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and we predicted that he would continue to gain fame for his views. Now, during this worst week ever for the church, Jamie continues to fulfill that prophecy in a big way.
At the local ABC affiliate in Los Angeles, KABC Channel 7, producer Lisa Bartley got another very fine show past that station’s uptight brass, and we’re especially impressed by some of the images she gathered for Jamie’s interview. But that wasn’t all the attention Jamie received this week.
It’s great to see Bartley get another show on the air. Previously, she really knocked it out of the park with an emotional program about Stefan and Tanja Castle, whose story we first ran into in Janet Reitman’s book Inside Scientology. Their story of disconnection and reunion really packs a wallop.
Bartley has an incredible archive of footage — we’ve run into her while reporting our own stories, and she’s always on top of the latest thing — but she has a hard time getting things to air, even though she does her homework and the stories she does have multiple layers of confirmation.
Despite that pushback, Lisa has managed to get a few stories out. But what’s the excuse for her national network?
At the national level, ABC has been a disaster when it comes to Scientology stories. Dan Harris did a fine piece on Debbie Cook last February (well, we did poke a little fun at it at the time), but since then, the Disney-owned network has been unable to keep up with NBC’s Rock Center and all the rest of the media covering Scientology’s major plunge into crisis.
After news of the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes divorce broke on June 29, ABC’s 20/20 quickly mobilized, and put together hours and hours of interviews with people like the Headleys and Jenna Miscavige Hill for what they planned to be a full hour on the crises gripping Scientology. Just a few days later, the show got spiked when a settlement in the divorce was announced.
Then, after Maureen Orth’s story about Tom Cruise in Vanity Fair came out in October and she went on all the networks to defend it against church calumnies, 20/20 again went into action, and interviewed her for a segment. As we pointed out at the time, the interview was listed on our cable system the day it was to be aired. But sometime during that day, the interview got spiked.
Finally, this past Thursday morning, on Good Morning America Dan Harris got to air a few seconds of the footage from last summer’s 20/20 interview with Jenna Miscavige Hill when he did a story about Larry Wright’s book being published. But by the next day, we noticed that the clip was gone from ABC’s website. (If you scroll down the page, however, you can still find the transcript of Dan’s segment. We sent an e-mail to an ABC producer asking about the clip being pulled, but haven’t heard back.)
Come on, ABC. Your audience is fascinated by this stuff, and people like Dan Harris and Lisa Bartley are working hard to bring you information that is verified and unlibelous, even if it is outrageous. Show us some backbone, already.
UPDATE: We just talked to Mark Oppenheimer, who assures us that he has no relationship of any kind with Scientology official John Carmichael. In yesterday’s post, one of our commenters suggested that Carmichael and Oppenheimer were college classmates or had some other close relationship which put into question Oppenheimer’s coverage of Scientology. (Oppenheimer is the leading religion columnist at the New York Times.) Carmichael is in his 60s and Oppenheimer is only 38, and we doubted that this was true. Today, Oppenheimer called us to confirm that he had talked to Carmichael for a story some five years ago, but otherwise he was nothing but a story source. We hope this note will help end the rumor that they had some other connection. Although we had some criticisms of Oppenheimer’s recent New Republic story, we have much respect for the work he does.
PS: Oppenheimer also was very gracious about our criticisms (always the sign of a real pro), and he explained that he still feels, from a social science perspective, that what’s missing is the kind of immersive embedding that a scholar or reporter could do by hanging out for a year or so with average, non-high-ranking Scientologists to really soak up their experience. We can see how that would be valuable, but we still think it’s important for someone with that aim to have the backing of a major organization rather than a college newspaper or a zine. We may disagree on some points, but it was a very fruitful discussion.
Posted by Tony Ortega on January 19, 2013 at 10:45