Hey, everyone, the Church of Scientology went and hired a kickass journalist to be the new editor of its humorous house organ, Freedom magazine!
It’s John Sugg, a name that’s pretty well known in the part of Florida where Scientology has one of its headquarters. It’s an exciting choice, as we’ll explain.
Last night, St. Petersburg, Florida blogger Peter Schorsch noted that he’d received a copy of the “re-launched” Freedom magazine, which he said arrived this week. He provided an image of the magazine’s masthead, to show his discovery.
As Schorsch pointed out, Sugg’s name on top of that masthead is a surprise. “Sugg made quite a name for himself in these parts with his criticism of the local media, specifically the St. Petersburg Times,” Schorsch wrote.
We’re excited to hear that Freedom is getting a relaunch. For some reason, perhaps because its main correspondent went to his reward, Freedom has had a pretty lean publishing schedule. In fact, we’re pretty sure it’s only put out two issues in the last two years. There was the classic, over-the-top broadside at Paul Haggis, Lawrence Wright, and The New Yorker that provided endless laughs when it was handed out by volunteers outside the Conde Nast building in Manhattan in 2011. And then, about a year later, and with no fanfare, out slithered an issue with a lot of rehashed material about “Kingpin Rathbone” and his “militia cult.” It was an issue titled “The Posse of Lunatics” and it smeared former church executives Marty Rathbun, Mike Rinder, Jefferson Hawkins, Tom DeVocht, Amy Scobee, Steve Hall, and Marc & Claire Headley, as well as actor Jason Beghe. (Also featured on the cover were former church members Christie Collbran and director Paul Haggis, and a woman who has never been in the church, Monique Rathbun.)
If you think that cover is a bit much, this is the sort of prose that was inside…
They’re misfits and drifters to a man, but in reality the Posse is nothing more than a half-dozen or so embittered apostates. And instead of riding the range, they sashay from one reporter to the next with a saddlebag of self-corroborated stories to vindicate themselves for having been excommunicated from the Church. It all began with a pair of tabloid newspaper reporters to whom the Posse recited a litany of well-rehearsed allegations. Every one of their fabrications was subsequently exposed and disproved. Whereupon the Posse simply thunk up a passel of new stories and moved on.
Believe us when we say it only gets better as it goes along. Anyway, after we read yesterday that the magazine had been relaunched under Sugg, we asked some of our Clearwater correspondents to hunt down a copy, but had no luck. And for some reason, Freedom‘s website is still showing the old “Posse of Lunatics” issue and hasn’t been updated. What gives? Has this new magazine hit the streets or not?
Then, with a little searching, we found what appears to be John Sugg’s first byline in his new magazine. It apparently showed up a few days ago on Psychsearch.net, a website run by a man named Ken Kramer. Sugg’s piece explores a familiar theme for Scientology publications: the evil of psychiatric drugs, in this case that their deadly effect is undercounted by the government. Here’s a taste of it…
What is less known is that many psychiatric drugs also contribute to large numbers of deaths, but those fatalities are not tallied in many official reports. It took the efforts of Ken Kramer, an investigator from Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a psychiatric watchdog group established by the Church of Scientology in 1969, to spotlight the undercounting of drug-related deaths. Based on information obtained under Florida’s Public Records Law, Kramer concluded that because certain drug-related deaths are not recorded under the state’s current system, the problem was much worse than reported by the medical examiners’ study or by media reports.
Hey, no wonder Kramer posted the story on his own website! Wouldn’t you? (Kramer made an appearance earlier this year at Mike Rinder’s blog.)
Scientology has a virulent hatred for the psychiatric industry (which, for its part, pretty much ignores Scientology, a tiny organization that has no effect on the medical or mental health communities). Its front group the Citizens Commission on Human Rights lobbies against psychiatric drugs (a soft target), but also pushes the idea that psychiatrists caused the Holocaust, and it does so with gruesome exhibits at its macabre Hollywood funhouse on Sunset Boulevard, “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death Museum.”
So it looks like Sugg has settled in nicely. As for his background, Sugg has written that he started with the Palm Beach Post in 1970, and then worked for The Miami Herald, Atlanta Constitution, American Lawyer, Tampa Tribune and then moved to alternative newsweeklies in 1995, joining Weekly Planet in Tampa, which became Creative Loafing Tampa when it joined the CL group. Then, in 2001, he was moved to Atlanta to become the editor in chief of the Creative Loafing mothership. By 2008, however, he retired from the business, saying he was going to start a think tank. On the way out the door, he bemoaned the state of alt-weeklies (oh, 2008, we hope we never see the likes of you again — we can relate, John, we really can). In 2011, a business called Think Atlanta Consulting was started, and it’s still the company Sugg lists on his LinkedIn profile.
Over his career, Sugg was known for being a hard-nosed truthteller. Let’s take a look at a few of his more recent pieces.
— A 2003 piece for Creative Loafing (Atlanta) about a shoddy piece of terrorism reporting that had gotten 60 Minutes sued…
The venerable news program touts as its hallmark an abundance of diligent research…With the media flagellating itself over credibility problems following the Jayson Blair meltdown at The New York Times, the use of anonymous sources is risky territory. Readers and viewers suspect that accounts from such sources are often embellished.
— A well-written 2005 Mother Jones story on the Christian Reconstruction movement in the South that profiled a man, Gary DeMar, who urged Christians to take over American government…
DeMar told me that among Reconstructionists he is considered something of a liberal, because he’d execute gays only if they were caught indulging in sodomy. “I’m happy to just drive them back into the closet,” he said.
— A 2010 piece for Creative Loafing Tampa about self-styled terrorism expert and anti-Islam extremist Steve Emerson…
Over the years, while a Weekly Planet and Creative Loafing editor, I had a great deal of fun exposing Emerson, and the prevarications by Fechter and the federal government. I tried to put into context what the anti-Muslim crusaders were up to. I joined a rather elite cadre of journalists that had tangled with Emerson — including famed investigative reporters Seymour Hersh, Robert I. Friedman and Robert Parry, who provided me with insight into Emerson’s real agenda.
(Some of Sugg’s stories about Emerson involved a Palestinian-American professor who was being demonized by conservative media. Sugg’s investigations into the matter put him on the FBI’s radar, and resulted in the entertaining cover at the top of the page.)
— A 2012 comeback to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who had demeaned Georgia Common Cause, of which Sugg was apparently a member. It appears in the form of an open letter on the Common Cause website…
You have attacked Common Cause members since our first meeting with you last summer, and you have stiff-armed any material efforts to discuss “pay to play” and collaborate on ethics reform. While claiming “transparency,” you have caused the airport procurement to be totally opaque. Finally, in desperation as well-founded media reports focused on the appearance of favoritism in the airport procurement, you have attacked Common Cause members, including me.
Fearless, thorough, and concise, Sugg is just the kind of guy to whip any flagging publication into shape. But Freedom?
This is going to be fun to watch.
Supreme Court Watch
Today, the U.S. Supreme court will be sifting through more than 850 petitions for its next session. We’re told that only about 15 to 20 will be chosen, but the Church of Scientology is hoping that its petition is one of the lucky few. It’s asking the court to intervene in the lawsuit filed by Laura DeCrescenzo, who is suing the church over her treatment as a Sea Org member, including, she alleges, being forced to have an abortion at only 17. A California superior court judge ordered Scientology to fork over 18,000 pages of evidence that was collected during Laura’s auditing and interrogations. After multiple appeals, the church finally did turn over the documents in the four-year legal battle. But Scientology is asking the Supreme Court to declare California’s law governing priest-penitent privilege unconstitutional so it can prevent Laura from using the documents. Although records were kept of what Laura said in sessions (unlike Catholic confessionals, which are verbal and only to one priest), the church shared that material with some 259 “ministers.” And although it’s the penitent — Laura — who has waived the privilege and wants the documents, Scientology says it’s suffering discrimination because its method of writing down what people confess to and then sharing it with many church officials differs from Catholic confession. (Critics note that the church is complaining about its religious rights being violated when it’s really just trying to keep hidden records of the awful things it does to employees, particularly young women.)
We’re told that it might be a full week before the court publishes a list of the petitions that it’s decided to consider. But if there’s a way we can get the news earlier, we’ll get it to you.
Posted by Tony Ortega on September 30, 2013 at 07:00
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