On April 7, film director and screenwriter Paul Haggis received an email asking for a Time magazine interview. Haggis tells us the request seemed reasonable. The writer, Mark Webber, said he was talking to a number of directors for an article about the “golden age of film.” Webber also mentioned Crash, the Oscar-winning Haggis film that is coming up on its 10th year anniversary since it was released in theaters on May 6, 2005.
Haggis forwarded Webber’s email to his staff, asking them to set up a time for a phone interview. But once they got a look at it, they thought the request seemed a little off. They decided to do a little checking before scheduling the call for Haggis.
One of the director’s representatives noticed that “Mark Webber” not only didn’t appear to have any Time clips, he didn’t seem to have any national arts bylines of any kind. A message was sent to Time arts editor Sam Lansky, who said that he didn’t know anyone named Mark Webber, and he hadn’t assigned an interview of Haggis.
The Haggis team then took apart Webber’s email, digging into its hidden data, and soon were able to figure out where it had been sent from.
They found that the email had begun its journey from a computer located in Los Angeles at 5165 Fountain Avenue in a structure known as the Anthony Building — a building that the Church of Scientology owns. The church uses the Anthony for “berthing,” the housing of its Sea Org workers, who have signed billion-year contracts and have promised to do virtually anything asked of them, lifetime after lifetime. And “Webber’s” Yahoo email account had been created just a few days earlier, on April 1.
After his staff gave him that information, Haggis then let us know that it appeared he’d been the target of a Scientology spying operation.
Haggis emailed Webber and asked for a phone number and got no reply. We sent a request for comment to Karin Pouw, the international spokeswoman for the church, but she hasn’t responded. We also emailed “Webber,” asking to talk to him about his interview request. Again, nothing.
We asked Haggis what he thought about the clumsy effort to get him into a conversation. And he sent us this…
Since “Mark Webber,” who identified himself as a reporter for Time magazine and quickly disappeared after my representatives asked which editor at Time assigned him to this story, we can now only make an informed guess as to why Scientology would want to “interview” me under this false pretext.
Was it bait and switch? Get me to agree to the interview about my work and then ask if it could be in person? This often happens in our business — a phone interview turns into an in-person interview as it is more convenient. I agreed to be interviewed by Dan Rather recently; his producer arranged for a location a few blocks from me; I walked there and was interviewed. But in that case, Dan Rather was really Dan Rather.
Haggis told us that Scientologists he knows have all been lured to an office under false pretenses at one point or another and then locked in a small room and interrogated or “sec checked.” Scientology policy dictates that if the person being questioned decides he or she has had enough and wants to leave, the “ethics officer” is to stop them physically — and if they can’t, Haggis tells us, they are to call “HCO bring order!” and that will quickly bring enough help to stop the unhappy soul from making it out of the building. Haggis continued…
The last time this happened to me was when I was told (only after I arrived) that I had offended Tom Cruise by telling a joke to Steven Spielberg — and it was Greg Wilhere, second in charge of the church, who had me in that small room, with his back to the door, and wouldn’t let me leave until I wrote a suitably contrite letter to Tom. And Tommy Davis and staff were outside waiting. After that incident I never again agreed to an interview — unless they came to me, which they did in 2009. Nine senior executives showed up to try and persuade me to tear up my letter of resignation and leave quietly, or face the consequences.
So given that background, what could they gain by “interviewing me” under this pretense?
Several years ago I was contacted by Scientology’s Freedom magazine. They were enraged by the New Yorker article and demanded that I agree to be interviewed by them. I asked them to send me their questions; they did. While some of the questions were quite ludicrous, I answered them all — and said I would gladly return it to them. I only had one condition, they had to publish the interview unedited. They would not agree to that, so it ended there.
I stipulated this because Scientology is infamous for taking and using quotes out of context — as you have no doubt seen in all the of the various attack pieces they have produced on everyone involved with Going Clear. They even do this with photographs, wildly doctoring them to change the intent or circumstances. By way of example, they constantly use a photo of me in an orange prison jump suit, and refer to me as the “hypocrite of Hollywood.”
They fail to mention that this is extracted from a photograph taken by Amnesty International, in which actors Mark Ruffalo, Martin Sheen, and I were asked to don the suits in order to protest endless incarceration without due process of law at Guantanamo. Mark and Martin mysteriously disappeared from the photo — I’m sure an unintended oversight by Mr. Miscavige — and the impression given is that, at one time or another, I was a long-time guest of the federal prison system.
So is that what this was? An attempt to press me for some “quote” that they could twist to fit the needs of their prestigious magazine? Or just general fishing. I don’t honestly know what they thought they could gain. But try they did.
Mike Rinder, the former Scientology spokesman who was also featured in Going Clear, ran the Office of Special Affairs, Scientology’s intelligence wing, and has a deep understanding of its tactics. We asked him what might be the purpose of having an OSA operative pretend to be a reporter.
“It’s an effort to get information,” he says. “Information about what he may be working on, who he may be working with, anything Scientology-related.”
Rinder says Scientology for years had a reporter at Vanity Fair who fed the church information for pay, but then former church official Mark “Marty” Rathbun outed that arrangement at his blog in 2011.
“They apparently have no resources in the media now to do this,” Rinder says.
UPDATE: Some readers are asking about the joke Haggis refers to — it’s spelled out in Lawrence Wright’s book, Going Clear…
While he was still editing Crash, Haggis began writing another movie for Eastwood, Flags of Our Fathers. They went to visit the producer of that project, Steven Spielberg, on the set of War of the Worlds, which he was shooting with Tom Cruise. Spielberg had called Haggis to talk over an idea for another script. Haggis had met Cruise on a couple of occasions, once at a fund-raiser and again at the Celebrity Centre. As the most popular and sought-after leading man in Hollywood, Cruise was given perks that few other stars could match. He had asked Tommy Davis, now his full-time Scientology handler, to set up a tent on the set of War of the Worlds in order to distribute church materials to the crew and provide Scientology assists. The precedent alarmed many in Hollywood, and Spielberg was widely criticized for letting it happen. “It’s really remarkable to me,” Spielberg observed, as he and Haggis walked to his trailer. “I’ve met all these Scientologists, and they seem like the nicest people.”
“Yeah, we keep all the evil ones in the closet, “Haggis replied. A couple of days later, Tommy Davis called Haggis at home and told him someone from senior management needed to see him urgently…”It was a joke,” Haggis protested.
Last night, our commenters live-blogged the new Dangerous Persuasions episode at the ID Network to take on Scientology. Previously, the crime-centric series had dramatized the experiences of Nancy Many as she narrated her tale. Last night, it was former church executive Mark “Marty” Rathbun describing his harrowing adventures in the Sea Organization, his imprisonment in “The Hole,” and his ultimate escape. With help from Claire Headley, the two of them told a gripping tale that should educate a lot of people about the scary hardships of Sea Org life.
Yes, your proprietor had some criticisms of the show, which skipped over some material we think is rather important, but that doesn’t change the fact that the episode was actually very well done. And our gripes are nothing like what Scientology itself posted at its Freedom magazine website this morning. We’ll spare you the trouble of going over there and post here what the magazine said about the program….
Gasbag Marty Rathbun is now showing he’s a wannabe Starsky or Hutch for the cheesy tabloid show Dangerous Persuasions on Investigation Discovery, home to programs like Trapped In a Coffin. Spinning a new series of bizarre tales, this blowhard’s latest collection of antics invented for the cameras no doubt were inspired by a 1970s-era cop show. With bad acting, tacky music and really bad writing, producers Raw TV, whose credits include “Sex, Lies and Zumba,” uses laughable dramatizations of Rathbun playing out his machismo fantasies, assisted by serial liar Claire Headley. It’s just more self-important myths from someone desperate to convince anyone who will listen that he’s really a tough guy with a lot of swagger instead of the pathological liar who for six years has continually made up tales about his days with the Church that ended in humiliating disgrace pushing a broom in a Church-owned carpentry mill more than a decade ago. As it turns out, the only thing “dangerous” about Dangerous Persuasions is the risk of being bored to death by Rathbun’s incoherent blather.
Yowch! Now that’s just nasty.
Posted by Tony Ortega on April 16, 2015 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield