This week, Leah Remini hit the Church of Scientology with one of the biggest weapons in her arsenal: Forced abortions.
For those of you who read this website regularly, you already knew that from about 1982 to 2010, Scientology somehow considered it acceptable to motivate young women in its “Sea Org” to work around the clock for pennies an hour by forcibly sending them down to the nearest free clinic for an abortion if they happened to get pregnant. (It only stopped because the Tampa Bay Times exposed the practice that year with a terrific short film. Now, women who get pregnant in the Sea Org merely get kicked out.)
If you’ve seen Claire Headley talk about this subject before, you knew that she was going to deliver a serious shock to the system for viewers Tuesday night, and she did not disappoint. So what could David Miscavige possibly do to counter what was sure to be a wave of stunned press reactions describing Scientology’s barely believable reliance on forced abortion to keep its workers childless?
Well, what else could Miscavige do but turn, once again, to Harvey Levin?
We’ve pointed out numerous times that when David Miscavige wants a story published that serves his purposes, more often than not it shows up at TMZ. And it always sticks out like a sore thumb because unless Miscavige is feeding him, Harvey shows no interest in Scientology stories whatsoever*.
Take Leah’s series, for example. Media organizations from the Washington Post to Rolling Stone to the Hollywood Reporter have been following every new twist in the A&E series as a major revelation. But at TMZ? Not a single word. Nothing. Nada.
Until yesterday. And then, suddenly, TMZ had a Scientology story! And would you believe it, Scientology was getting a raw deal!
You’ve probably seen the story by now. TMZ had obtained (wink, wink) a letter by Scientology attorney Gary Soter complaining that A&E was being hypocritical by canceling a show, originally titled Generation KKK, when Leah Remini’s show was guilty of the same ethical lapses.
After Remini’s show premiered on November 29 as the most-watched A&E series debut in two years, and to mostly glowing reviews, the network began airing promos for an upcoming docu-series about life in today’s Ku Klux Klan. Those ads were met with a huge backlash on social media as the promos gave the impression that a bunch of white supremacists were about to be shown in a somewhat positive light. A&E reacted by changing the title to Escaping the KKK to indicate that the show was not a positive portrayal, but then, just a day later, the network cancelled the show altogether.
A&E’s excuse was that it had learned that some KKK participants had been paid for their appearances, against the explicit instructions of the network. Well, maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t. The point is, A&E dumped a show that was clearly a miscalculation of public sentiment.
So what does that have to do with Remini’s show? Nothing, really. But Soter, in his letter, strains mightily in order to make the claim that Leah’s series is guilty of the same offense that cancelled KKK. Specifically, that Remini and former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder were being paid for appearing in the series, just like those unnamed KKK scumbags.
And in case you missed that parallel, TMZ did its best to hammer it home…
Anyway, other news organizations jumped on the story because TMZ’s scoop sounded significant, but they generally dismissed Soter’s argument as an example of false equivalence. “We’re talking about payments made to hate group members versus payment to Leah, the [executive producer] of the show,” an industry insider told Variety’s Elizabeth Wagmeister, who did more than just repeat Scientology’s “outrage” and took the time to explain that Soter’s comparison was like comparing “apples and oranges.”
In other words, because TMZ had covered the story, other outlets felt obliged to follow, but Miscavige’s gambit fizzled, while reports of Claire Headley and her forced abortion carried the day.
Still, we were disappointed that our fellow scribes had not done a little further Googling about Gary Soter, A&E, and Leah’s show.
Not a single outlet mentioned, for example, that just a few weeks earlier, we reported that Soter had sent a very different kind of complaint to the producers of Scientology and the Aftermath.
On December 5 we published Soter’s earlier letter, and it’s pretty disturbing. In the series premiere, Leah Remini interviewed Amy Scobee, who explains on camera that as a Scientology staffer at 14, she had been raped by a co-worker, an older man, and part of the incident had happened on the premises of the local Scientology mission. The church kept the incident not only from the police but also from Amy’s parents, and the attacker was never punished.
Soter, however, tried to derail Leah’s program by claiming that Amy had not been 14 but was in fact 16, which was the age of consent in Washington State at the time. And, that Amy had been the “sexual aggressor” during the encounter. He also claimed that the staff at the mission hadn’t done more because they never learned the details of what had happened to Amy.
Amy, however, gave us enough detail to demonstrate that the incident could not have occurred after she had turned 16, and that her memory was quite strong about when it did occur — during the summer when she was 14. As for her superiors being aware of what happened, Amy pointed out that she was forced to write a report that detailed the rape, and then she had been forced to show it to every worker in the mission — and get their signatures on it. (And that’s standard Scientology procedure.)
Now, call us old-fashioned, but we have this nagging feeling that before you promote a story about a letter written by a Scientology attorney pretending that he speaks from a position of moral authority in order to condemn unethical behavior by A&E, wouldn’t it perhaps be helpful to know that just a few weeks earlier, that same attorney was threatening A&E by claiming that a 14-year-old was the “sexual aggressor” in a statutory rape?
Are we the only ones who think this kind of big-picture contextualizing might be sort of important to reporting on anything the Church of Scientology tries to sell the public, especially through a friendly outlet like Harvey Levin’s TMZ?
[*The one exception to this trend — TMZ’s reporting last year on Ron Miscavige being stalked by private investigators hired by his own son, David Miscavige — was a story based on stunning court documents that were dropped in the lap of the Los Angeles Times and TMZ by Lisa Marie Presley, via her attorney. The documents were so juicy, even TMZ and the LA Times, another outlet that has shown little interest in reporting on Scientology, couldn’t ignore them.]
Our Scientology year-in-review: September
We’re continuing our look back at the year of 2016 here in the Underground Bunker, and today we’re looking at the stories we published in September
The month began with another strange twist in the Marty Rathbun saga. After months of keeping us guessing about why his wife Monique had dropped her lawsuit against the Church of Scientology earlier in the year, Rathbun suddenly went on the attack again at his website. But this time, the target of his ire wasn’t Scientology leader David Miscavige, but David’s father, Ron Miscavige. In an unusually polished piece that was designed to undercut the most basic assertions in Ron’s memoir, Ruthless, Rathbun put himself in the surprising position of defending David Miscavige. Rathbun said David was being unfairly characterized by his father as unhinged, when actually it was David who had kept his father out of trouble repeatedly. If you were familiar with how Rathbun’s blog had teed off on David Miscavige between 2009 and 2014, it was hard to reconcile with what Rathbun was writing now, particularly the way Rathbun went for the jugular at the end of the essay, trying to undercut the very premise of Ron’s book (that David was personally involved in supervising the private investigators who were caught following Ron). In other words, Rathbun’s piece was pretty obviously an attempt to sabotage the credibility of Ron’s memoir. And, what the hell was Marty thinking?
The next day, thankfully, we had something lighter and more comical. We can never get enough of Scientology’s testimonials videos that feature dozens of Scientologists talking gibberish about how stoked they are to be forking over tons of money to be drilled endlessly on L. Ron Hubbard’s midcentury brain farts.
September also marked the opening of David Miscavige’s latest white elephant, a massive new facility in Australia that is the new “Ideal Advanced Org” for that part of the world. Thankfully for us, our man Down Under Bryan Seymour was on the scene to cut Miscavige’s wild claims down to size.
And then, on September 6, just five days after he had taken aim at Ron Miscavige’s book, Marty Rathbun posted another suspiciously polished essay at his blog, this time an attempted evisceration of Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie, which was due to open in Australian theaters in just a couple of days. Rathbun, who plays the most important role in the movie after Theroux himself, said the movie’s filmmakers had deceived him about the purpose of the project. And once again Rathbun was defending David Miscavige, this time making the rather stunning claim that his statements in the movie about Miscavige’s terrible temper were misplaced. He now realized that his statements about Miscavige in the film were really just a matter of projection — it was Rathbun himself that Marty had been channeling during shooting, not Miscavige. However, Steven Mango, who was also in those late scenes in the movie, denied Marty’s claim that Rathbun had not really written or directed the scene depicting Miscavige’s rages in “The Hole,” and he said that Marty was now practicing a pretty blatant form of revisionism. And once again, as with Ron’s book, Rathbun’s screed seemed calculated to deal as much damage as possible in an act of sabotage. Again, what gives?
We didn’t have too much time to dwell on it, because the next day we had one of the year’s big surprises. An anonymous drone pilot had chosen to let us premiere his incredible footage of various secretive Scientology sites that not only showed the organization’s private properties in stunning 4K detail, but also for free use by documentarians or anyone else who wanted to download the footage. We posted the flyovers of Scientology’s various places every Wednesday, and they included a close look at the CST Twin Peaks compound where we believe Shelly Miscavige has been held out of sight since 2005, and a look at the ranch where L. Ron Hubbard had spent his last three years in seclusion.
This was also the month when we learned that Jason Lee had dared to say something public about quitting Scientology. We had heard for some time that the actor’s move to Texas was in part an attempt to distance himself from the church. And now we wondered what his defection might mean for the extended Ribisi clan that had brought Jason into the fold.
On September 19, Steve Cannane’s highly anticipated book about Scientology in Australia hit bookshelves, and we posted a short interview with him. Make sure and pick up a copy of his Fair Game if you haven’t already.
And we finished the month strong with a piece about how Tom Cruise and the church are planning to retake Ireland after Scientology has shrunk down to nearly nothing there. We asked our inside source at Scientology’s Hollywood Celebrity Centre to handicap which of the celebrities might be most likely to defect. A story we did about a couple of Hungarian quacks selling Scientology in England as an autism cure exploded to become one of our most-read pieces of all time. And finally, we ended September with a great passage from Steve Cannane’s book, about the late-night conversation L. Ron Hubbard had with a filmmaker in 1968, when he admitted that Scientology was all a con that worked so well, Hubbard was now a prisoner of it. You really have to read this anecdote if you haven’t already. It’s really something.
A LOOK BACK AT SEPTEMBER 2015: We marked a full decade since Shelly Miscavige first vanished. Alex Gibney’s documentary Going Clear took home three Emmy awards. And we broke the news that Jim Carrey’s girlfriend, Cat White, was a Scientologist on the SRD when she killed herself.
A LOOK BACK AT SEPTEMBER 2013: Scientology’s private dancer, live-blogging at the Monique Rathbun temporary restraining order hearing, and day two’s live-blog which set a then-record number of comments for a single blog post at the Bunker (3,442).
Chris Shelton on ‘Scientology’
Talking ‘Scientology and the Aftermath’ with Lori & Julia
E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.
Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. 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
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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