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“We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads.”

ALSO, The Atlantic took down all 25 comments on its Scientology advertorial, but we nabbed them before they disappeared. We’re reproducing them for posterity below.

AND NOW, the Atlantic has apologized. See the latest update, below.

There’s been a stunned reaction on Twitter as readers express their astonishment at the paid article written by the Church of Scientology that The Atlantic agreed to post on its website today.

The Atlantic is a venerated magazine (founded in 1857!) which has been celebrated for the way it has made use of the Internet probably better than any highbrow publication, its AtlanticWire getting high marks for originality and innovation.

But taking paid puff pieces from Scientology? This innovation is resulting in a big backlash.

If you’re unfamiliar with how magazines and newspapers work, we can tell you that AtlanticWire editor Gabriel Snyder may not have known that this piece — which at first glance appears to be a normal article on the website — was coming. As “sponsored content,” the publication of this Scientology-written article would have been worked out with The Atlantic’s sales side, without editorial input. (Mother Jones co-editor Clara Jeffery points out that this advertorial showed up on the main site, not AtlanticWire. Atlantic editor in chief James Bennett is being pelted on Twitter for the ad being published at all.)

In these economic times, print publications and their websites are pretty desperate for any form of revenue. But even if this sponsored advertorial was held at arm’s length from the magazine’s editorial purview, the Atlantic still risks harming its hard-won reputation by getting into bed with such a controversial group as Scientology.

It’s also clear that comments at the story are being strictly controlled. Only a few comments which express only the vaguest criticism have been allowed through at this time (9:20 pm), and the rest are glowing shills that are obviously coming from the church. (Our old friend B.B. Broeker appears to have been too subtle for the Atlantic‘s moderators with his hilarious troll about Shelly Miscavige.)

But the public appears to be able to vote on the comments, and the mildly critical statement “I don’t think this article presents the whole story about Scientology,” is accumulating upvotes at a rapid rate.

We’ve e-mailed Snyder for a comment, but he may end up writing something on his own. In 2009, when Snyder was editing Gawker, he spoke out critically about a similar promotion at that website — a paid story about the show True Blood that looked too much like regular editorial content. Snyder was clearly not happy, and he apologized to readers.

The Scientology article at The Atlantic is its standard hokum about how it has opened numerous new “Ideal Orgs” around the world in the past year, unneeded new buildings that David Miscavige is forcing his members to pay for to give the false impression that the church is growing.

In fact, several different solid lines of evidence suggest that Scientology is rapidly shrinking — Lawrence Wright, in his book about Scientology being published this week, estimates church membership at about 25,000. Just two years ago we estimated it at 40,000.

Scientology claims the farcical number of 10 million.

The Ideal Org caper is not just a gimmick intended to give a false impression about the size of membership. As Luis Garcia — a former high-level member of the church — explained last year in regards to the Orange County “Ideal Org” project, these schemes put intense pressure on local church members to raise millions of dollars to purchase a building that is then owned by the international church. The locals are then hit up for millions more to renovate and improve the building to create an “Ideal” church. That produces a fine building that church leader David Miscavige then flies in to pose in front of along with hundreds of bussed-in church members to create the photos you see in the Atlantic story. But these buildings are replacing smaller facilities that weren’t full to begin with, and they are left as empty husks — and the locals then have to raise even more money to keep the lights on.

But the photos make for a pretty article that claims Scientology is expanding. No legitimate news organization should fall for that kind of blatant shilling.

But apparently, for The Atlantic, the price was right.

We’ll update this story if we hear from Snyder.

UPDATE at 10:30 PM: The Atlantic‘s moderators seem to have held the number of comments at 25.

But at 8:32 PM, Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg posted a brief note about Lawrence Wright’s book coming out, titling it “A Wonderful New Book About Scientology, By a Wonderful Writer.” Comments at that piece appear to be open.

That’s a clever way to give Atlantic readers an outlet. But is Snyder going to give them one of his own?

UPDATE at 11:15 PM: As Synthia Fagen just pointed out, all comments at the Atlantic article have now been erased entirely.

Can you spell “media disaster”?

UPDATE at 11:20 PM: We just asked for some thoughts from Mike Rinder, who used to run Scientology’s PR efforts. Here’s what he sent us…

It REALLY shows desperation and fear about the upcoming media nightmare surrounding Larry Wright’s book. That ad cost some cash.

Interestingly, it is ONLY trying to make Miscavige look good to his existing income base. It isn’t written for the general public (i.e., readers of Atlantic). They don’t give a damn about “Ideal Orgs” and could care less how many of them he “opened” (Funny they are now including re-“opening” old “Ideal Orgs” like Buffalo, DC, Los Gatos and San Jose). And it’s all about Miscavige. This would be like the Mormons trying to promote their religion by talking about Thomas Monson and showing pictures of LDS temples. Weird. And it would turn off anyone they were trying to convert. When they pitch new people (like ANY other religion) they pitch their beliefs and the good work they do for people and how joining their church is going to help you.

Miscavige wants to be able to show this to the suckers at his next “international event” (March 13) and pretend it’s “massive media coverage.” And for those that ask, it will be “this is what your donations to the IAS pay for.”

UPDATE 11:45 PM: Before the Atlantic could take down the comments on its Scientology advertorial, we managed to nab them. Here they are…



UPDATE at 1:25 PM on Tuesday: As Erik Wemple of the Washington Post reports, the Atlantic has now admitted that it made “mistakes,” but it doesn’t really explain what those mistakes were…

We screwed up. It shouldn’t have taken a wave of constructive criticism — but it has — to alert us that we’ve made a mistake, possibly several mistakes. We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way. It’s safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand. In the meantime, we have decided to withdraw the ad until we figure all of this out. We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge — sheepishly — that we got ahead of ourselves. We are sorry, and we’re working very hard to put things right.

We’d love to know what Scientology thinks of the Atlantic now saying publicly that its advertorial was a colossal fuckup. We may never know the real answer to that, but a comical response from church spokeswoman Karin Pouw in the meantime would be really entertaining. Let’s hope one shows up soon.

Erik got ahold of us today and we talked about this mess. We explained that we don’t begrudge Scientology the right to get its message out by purchasing ads, even in the form of advertorials. But the Atlantic had to know that the church was buying the magazine’s good name as much as anything else, and that there might be a serious reader backlash. But it only compounded the problem when it then censored those comments and turned the minor embarrassment of taking Scientology’s money into the major media meltdown it became.


Posted by Tony Ortega on January 14, 2013 at 21:30

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  • 1subgenius

    Google News for Scientology is blowing up over this.

  • Sherbet

    My dear old Dad used to say that people who disagreed with him could yell at him or even call him names, but the thing he couldn’t handle was being ridiculed. If anyone laughed at Dad, it would hurt and insult him. THIS, then, is what I say to dm, cos, tc, and the whole cultish alphabet soup: Note well that the world is, indeed, laughing at you. You are ludicrous; you are pathetic; you are a joke. You’re not worthy of the respect of having your ideas taken seriously. Listen to the loud and continuing laughter at your expense. Ridicule is a powerful insult, and you, cos, deserve every bit of the world’s derision. You just keep stepping into piles of “stuff” and insisting that you don’t, in fact, look foolish.

    • DeElizabethan

      Exactly! Well said Sherbet.

      • Sherbet

        Thanks for saying that. I do know there are real horrors hidden behind the wackiness, and I hope I never offend any exes by focusing on just that. Some of cos is definitely NO joke. You would know that better than I.

        • DeElizabethan

          Most know more horrors than me. You’ve got the right ideas because we’re able to laugh at them and they can’t even smile. They are way too serious all the time, not normal or sane.
          Gosh, if the members could only see how ridiculed the organization is around the world, they may wake up as to WHY? That’s one line I use when can, that question to get them to think.

  • I think Lawrence Wright should send The Atlantic a check for the excellent PR work in preparation for the publication of his book.

  • Mrs Libnish

    I went over and had myself some fun at the Atlantic “Lawrence Wright’s book” REAL article. It is highlarious how all the OSA comments shown above are completely “downstat”….:). HAHAHAHAHA!

  • SP ‘Onage

    Letter to the ‘Atlantic’ from RPFed Karin Pouw from within the bowels of the “Hole.”

    Dear Atlantic,

    You are bigots, hide your dogs! Our lawyers will be contacting you!

    Further, you have ignored all that is happening in the Churchof Scientology under Mr. Miscavige’s *SLAP-OUCH!* leadership. Today it is a dynamic global religion expanding across five (voice in background, “YOU SCOHB!) continents with thousands of new parishioners and dozens (SLAP!-“Crikey, Mr. Miscavige that hurt!”) of new Churches.

    I ask that this letter and the attached correspondence be placed on your website with an apology to our ecclescake (sic) leader.

    Sincerely, (“Yes, I already told them to hide their dogs.”)

    Karin Pouw

  • dbloch7986

    Well one thing we can say is that Louanne never gives up. I hadn’t seen her in a while. Maybe she messed up on a comment somewhere and spend some time in the hole?

    I would say this is a hefty blow to DM’s pocketbook, but it’s likely that the Church will be refunded for this ad since it was taken down. The simple fact that they were willing to drop this much money on a single ad shows the unadulterated desperation going on at the top levels. I just wonder, with all of the executives in the hole, who is left to blame for this and what punishment will they get? How many bodies will be hidden in the Hemet compound before the year is over?

    Miscavige is obviously insane and he is becoming unhinged. I hate to think what is happening to the people at the base right now. If he was willing to hit them back then, what is he willing to do to them now?

    It is somewhat vindicating to see the public outcry against this and the newspaper’s quick response. I am happy that the ad was taken down.

    What happened to the days of advertising Scientology books and publications? Now they advertise all of the material possessions of the church. It makes me wonder what is going on, on the other side, in the nether realm of Scientology. Are Scientologists who are still part of the church okay with this?

    I can’t help but wonder how long is this charade going to continue before the church finally collapses? I am still waiting for the Church of Scientology to move all of their staff members to LA or Clearwater and call for all Scientologists to move there in a last ditch effort to preserve the religion.

    I think that if the FBI and Homeland Security could not find evidence before, after the onslaught of negativity going on this year they will have something to go on soon. A sociopath losing his shit is never a happy circumstance for anyone.

    • DeElizabethan

      Miscavige is definitely becoming unhinged, I agree and it is so nice to watch as we just know what he must look like or going through with all this sh-t coming at him.

      I’ve often wondered what they will do with that big building now, maybe it will be their real future Fort.

      The older members should really be wondering about the ad stuff, since true, not for books, services, etc. The younger ones are just IAS brainwashed from the beginning to just stand tall. Well the higher they get the longer the fall. eh?

    • Yup, Louanne must be exhausted by now. This story is EVERYWHERE and Louanne has managed to make a comment of almost every article I’ve seen about this massive cult footbullet.

  • Poison Ivy Salon has posted a rebuttal by Scientology Celeb Erika Christensen, who does and “Oh Gosh and Golly, People Just Don’t Understand Us” routine. She also claims that people claim all sorts of silly things about her religion, like “we worship rabbits.” Yeah, Tony O has reported on that in depth. So have the many journalists and ex-Scientologists who left the cult. Miscavige is really trying to fight back in the press against the Wright book…and making the cult look SO much more like a cult!

    • Sid Snakey

      Christensen comes over as slightly, um….dumb? A bit like the Sun is a bit, um….hot?

      She was home-schooled (who on Earth would have thought it!?) and says about high school – “well I think I had the high school experience on movie sets, which are just like high-school, right?”.

      Riiiiiiiiiiight…..the classrooms, the education, the teachers, all well known for NOT BEING FOUND ON MOVIE SETS ERIKA!!!

      Her other claim about Scientology misconceptions (apart from the rabbits – WTF??) is that Scientology is regarded as a closed-group…..just let that sink in for a second….she thinks the reason for the controversy around Scientology is that people are desperate to get in but can’t work out how. Hmmmmmm.

      • John P.

        People are desperate to get in but can’t work out how.

        Wasn’t there a scene like that in Spinal Tap? Rob Reiner says, “Last time they toured America, Spinal Tap played 10,000 or 15,000 seat arenas. But now they’re playing 1,000 or 1,200 seat clubs. Does that mean that their popularity is waning?” Ian, the manager, replies, “No, no, no, not at all. They’re just being a lot more selective in choosing their audience.”

        So does Erica think cult membership is plummeting because Miscavige is more selective in choosing prospective members, only admitting la creme de la creme?

    • I suppose writing (or having your name applied to) fluff pieces beats the dating and giving favours to whales that, according to CDAN blind guesses, has been Erika’s ethics atonement to date.

      • Poison Ivy

        Oh my. I wonder what she is “atoning” for. I feel terrible for her, as it does appear she is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

  • NoMoreVisitsPlease

    I think this story is proof that David Miscavige loves us and wants us to be happy! Because I have been seriously entertained by all of this.

  • SP ‘Onage

    Geez. Is there a secret to following these comments? I can’t seem to keep up with them. There are 17 hour ago comments next to 14 minutes ago comments. *scratching head*

    • dbloch7986

      Refresh is the best method when that happens

      • SP ‘Onage

        Thank you, kindly. I’ll give it a try.

    • grundoon

      Above the first comment, click where it says “Discussion” and it shows a menu where you can choose to arrange the comments oldest first, newest first, or “best” first. Try switching it to “oldest.”

  • Doloras LaPicho
    • dbloch7986

      That is awesome. I love it.

    • You ninja’ed me. “SPONSORED: KABUL — 2012 proved to be just another in a succession of landmark years for the Taliban, as the influential Islamic fundamentalist organization continued its awe-inspiring push toward unprecedented expansion…” Oh yeah, casual readers may not catch the reference, but we know what they’re alluding to.

  • Love all the links. This community is an awesome resource!

    • DeElizabethan

      Second that. This thread, wow.

  • Jgg2012

    Tony, I just talked to Karin Pouw. Here is what she says:
    “As usual, Tony, your wog coverage misses the point. The article simply received too many comments for the website to store, and it crashed. Apparently, the Atlantic underestimated the approval our expansion has received. This is in no way a negative comment about the church. We are growing by leaps and bounds.”

  • just saw this on a twitter feed – pretty funny

    So Lance Armstrong has finally admitted what we all knew. Your move, John Travolta.

  • mook

    as some sort of damage control, Erika Christensen appeared on actress Joy Bryant’s web chat show to defend the cult. methinks she won’t be on ‘Parenthood’ for too long after this….

    • BuryTheNuts2

      Sacrificial Celebrity Lamb #1….

    • aboutandout

      sorry mook, my big fingers hit the “down” button in an attempt to hit the link….I need to create a canned statement like CoS for my big fingers….pls ignore the negative arrow…

      • If you just go back and up-arrow him it erases the down.

  • Jgg2012

    Did anyone notice how many down arrows those comments received? Maybe Scientology is fortunate that they were taken down.

    • They had upwards of 200 down votes for each glowing comment by the time they were removed.

      • Jgg2012

        Interestingly, the first ones had all pluses, but then the twitterverse kicked in. 200 negatives took under an hour; after a day, it might have been thousands.

  • SP ‘Onage

    I’d like an explanation as to why the Atlantic suppressed critical comments? In that aspect they are no different than scientology’s notorious reputation of suppressing free speech.

    I know they’re putting blame on the Ad Team, but I would look really close at the person who was actually monitoring the comments, that was some shady shit.

  • The Onion makes an inside-baseball joke:,30910/

    The “sponsored” piece for the Taliban is slyly directed at people like us, I think.

  • MO Mom

    So their nifty little idea of putting this “aditorial” in The Atlantic ends up with the internet blowing up and a distinguished magazine with several thousand eggs on their face. But on the other hand, the COS was discussed in the Wall Street Journal blog and in the National Review in an extremely unfavorable light – this debacle is being discussed in forums that rarely, if ever, mention the topic. Not what they expected and more that anyone here could ask for.

    So many here have suffered so much because of the COS – thank God I took one look and never went back. Maybe this beautifully wrapped shitbomb will bring a bigger, brighter spotlight onto their twisted ways and speed up the downfall of the little weasel.

  • Ze Moo

    The New York Times has chimed in as well. I hope no one else has reported this link.

    “But no instance of sponsored content has come under as much criticism as
    this one. Gawker called the sponsored Web page “bizarre, blatant
    propaganda for Scientology.” Others raised questions about why all the
    comments on the page were supportive of the church, indicating that
    critical comments were being deleted. A spokeswoman for The Atlantic
    said that the comments were moderated by its marketing team, not by the
    editorial team that moderates comments on normal articles.”

    From the NYT comment section:
    Stu Freeman Brooklyn, N.Y. Verified
    Did the personals section feature an ad for “short movie star seeking scientology spouse”?

    The huge ‘kerfuffle’ this has caused generated world wide anti-scieno stories. The CO$ has finally become poison. As 1subgenus said, ‘ don’t touch shit, even with gloves on’.

  • Captain Howdy

    Why does the NY Times have an over the hill film critic like Janet Maslin reviewing Wright’s book ? Why does the NY Times always seem to be half defending this ronfoolery ?

  • BillStewart2012

    BoingBoing has a nice parody as well Dread Cthulhu Leads His Cult to Milestone Year.

    • Nigel


  • Mrs Libnish

    I’ve had QUITE the busy day following Louanne and BFG around posting comments. Too bad I had a bunch of work to do today….

  • aboutandout

    First I want to thank Tony and all the commenting community for your wonderful work in exposing this sham religion.
    I am just not sure what to think? I am not sure if someone at Atlantic made an honest mistake or if
    someone at Atlantic has an association with the cult?

    I worked for a large US based company (in the top 5) we held annual conferences and normally had one or two guest speakers, usually motivational in nature. A few years ago at our conference we all gathered to listen to the guest speaker, halfway through I had a sense that this was not along the lines of our normal speakers. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I will be honest I tuned out because I lost interest.

    When we were leaving the room there were several people handing out pamphlets about the lecture and with an offer to learn more, again not normal. As I was chatting to my colleagues about how weird the lecture was and how strange it was that they were handing out these pamphlets and I looked on the back of the pamphlet and it had the words and logo for Scientology. I was stunned that this guest speaker / program got through the vetting of the company. There is no doubt in my mind someone from the company was involved in the cult and had influence to slip this one through, but they did. They infiltrated one of the largest companies in the US??

    Needless to say I had a hissy fit and went around telling everyone to look at the back of the pamphlet, but it amazed me the number of people that had no clue about the cult. I grew up in a city with an Ideal Org/church in our downtown on the main street. I was well aware of them and the constant harassment as you walked down the sidewalk. It was a cult then and it is a cult now.

    • DeElizabethan

      Thanks aboutandout. That was so interesting and amazing.

    • Don’t feel too bad, they were able to infiltrate the US Government as well….although in that instance they went to jail, including Hubbard’s wife.

  • dwayners13

    You know your organization (& it’s leader) is in serious trouble when they have to buy & write their own “positive news stories”. You can bet that Miscavige proof read (if not wrote) the article which praised him for his “unrelenting” effort that caused the “unparalleled” growth of Scientology. I would also bet that a handful of Sea. Org., members were busy posting favorable comments with the hope that it kept them off the RPF. I just wonder if the members are catching on that the only thing that’s expanding in their church is their real estate holdings. It seems Miscavige is operating on the premise, “If you build it, they will come”.

    • That’s all they’ve ever done is write praise about themselves. Who the hell else is going to praise them?? Lol!!

  • Jgg2012

    This is slightly off topic, but in 1992 Ross Perot did a 30 minute commercial featuring an interviewer asking him softball questions like “what other achievements did you have?” or “that was a difficult decision, wasn’t it?” and of course it started and ended with “paid for by Ross Perot.” I tuned into the middle of it, and for about 5 minutes I thought I was watching a real interview. I think Co$ was hoping for the same effect.

  • One free market solution to the out of control problem of religion is simply to tax churches.

  • Mrs Libnish

    Some of my friends are taking note of The Daily Beast talking about Lawrence Wrights book on Facebook and they aren’t critics of Scion. Yet. It’s a good day!!!

  • Jgg2012

    I think Davey will use this debacle to beg celebrities for more money to fight all the negative publicity.

  • John P.

    Another big-time online publication satirizes The Atlantic’s “sponsored content” fiasco. This time, it’s “TechCrunch,” a news wire covering everything in Silicon Valley and the world of High Tech that we in Global Capitalism HQ have long read and appreciated (and also been interviewed in many times). Their “sponsored content” entry extols the praises of North Korea as the next Asian technology powerhouse. It’s quite amusing on its own, but also at a deeper level for we Scientology critics, since so much of what happens in cult-land mirrors what happens in the crazy world of the Hermit Kingdom.

    Check out the story here:

  • moxonmoxoff

    Cross posting my comment here from another Bunker thread, just to keep the subject matter all together.

    Internal staff memo from The Atlantic re the electronic incident from the other day. It’s pretty vague and they cop to nothing except “making some mistakes.” I’m curious to see their new policy, however.

  • Asillem4

    Reading the article 3 years later – and wondering; why the censorship of comments? Anyone ever get an answer to that? I seriously feel that reading the negative comments would have been THE CHERRY ON THE CAKE OF MY DAY in late Dec. 2015.
    God bless you all and Merry Christmas!