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Scientology Scrambling to Deal with Bad Publicity

This report from CNN today gives you an indication of how the Church of Scientology is fighting back at Larry Wright’s book, Going Clear. It’s really quite entertaining. And should be even more so when, we hear, Wright appears on Anderson Cooper 360 tonight. Let’s all tune in! (Go here if you can’t get enough of the hilariously huffy lawyer letters that Scientology has sent CNN.)

Also, we hear that a major new Scientology story is going to break tomorrow, but we can’t say anything about it yet. We’re full of secrets today.

So we’ll take this brief lull to catch up on some of the items that have reached the bunker while we’ve been dealing with so many recent emergencies.

A SPLIT DECISION We haven’t had time, for example, to follow up on a story we wrote last month that involved a court fight in Hernando County, Florida. The county denied a drug rehab facility known as Suncoast Rehabilitation Center the opportunity to expand after local residents complained. Toucan Partners LLC, the company that owned the land the facility sits on, sued the county, alleging fair housing discrimination. Toucan Partners is owned by legendary Scientologist Kurt Feshbach, who, along with two brothers, became notorious as short-sellers in the 1980s, and were also known for donating fabulous sums to the church.

The county wasn’t going to roll over, however, and in depositions preparing for trial asked witnesses what they thought about Suncoast’s connection to Scientology and its drug rehab program, called Narconon, and if they’d heard about several patient deaths that has Narconon battling lawsuits in Oklahoma and Georgia. We got interested in the case when attorneys for Toucan Partners filed motions asking that a jury not hear about Suncoast’s connection to Scientology, and not hear about the patient deaths.

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But perhaps the thing that got the most reaction from our story was the image of Feshbach which we posted, and that we will inflict on you again because of its obvious news value…

KurtKannonFeshbach

That’s a painting of Feshbach and his young pregnant wife Kannon (pronounced kuh-NON) created by Scientologist artist Dick Zimmerman, who charged $300,000 for a similar piece, of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Rich people have funny taste.

Anyway, here’s the followup: The judge in the case decided that the county’s attorneys could bring up SunCoast’s connection to Scientology at trial, but not the deaths. A trial was then held this month and Hernando County was, in fact, found to have discriminated against the drug rehab facility under the Fair Housing Act. However, the damages award was stunningly low: only $74,490 to the Narconon center and nothing for Toucan Partners. (Toucan Partners had been asking for $6.4 million.)

The upshot? We’re guessing the jury felt some sympathy for the drug rehab patients at Suncoast, but didn’t want to give a dime to a business owned by a wealthy Scientologist. But if the county was celebrating the shockingly low damages award, it probably won’t have a leg to stand on if it tries to oppose another attempt to expand the facility. It’s a mixed bag.

 
DAMAGE CONTROL DOWN UNDER We want to thank our tipsters who flooded us with the humorous news coming from Australia today. It’s really been fascinating to see how the church has tried to derail the avalanche of publicity surrounding the publication of Wright’s book, and how those attempts are generally backfiring in a big way (particularly the Atlantic magazine disaster). In Australia, local media is marveling at the timing as the church there has suddenly come out with a media kit that attempts to influence the way reporters write about Scientology.

The Australian journal Crikey had this to say

There’s no mention of Tom Cruise, the evil ruler Xenu or the Galactic Confederacy. But a media guide produced by the Church of Scientology has been sent to journalists to “address a number of misunderstandings” about the religion.

Church spokesperson Virginia Stewart denies the guide’s release is related to a new controversial book that examines the inner working of the church. “It just happened to be when we finished it,” she told Crikey.

Among the media guide’s assertions is that “Scientology has no religious belief that we are descended from aliens or have aliens living inside us.”

Well, that’s a clever dodge. Thetans and body thetans are not “aliens,” people, so try to keep that straight. The disembodied spirits that infest our bodies by the thousands and prevent us from realizing our superhuman potential have nothing in common with ET, got that?

To our Down Under colleagues, we only advise that before they take anything Virginia Stewart says at face value, they ought to read our lengthy story about her particular relationship with the truth.

 
REMEMBERING STACY MURPHY Six months after her death at Narconon’s flagship facility in Oklahoma, Stacy Murphy is being remembered this Saturday with an event to raise funds. Her father, Robert Murphy, sent us this flier, and we’re happy to post it here…

Stacy_Murphy_Fundraiser

We’re still waiting to hear about multiple investigations into the deaths of Stacy Murphy and other patients at Narconon facilities in Oklahoma and Georgia. We’ll let you know if we hear anything new.

 
UPDATE 7:45 PM We’re back after a quick appearance on national Canadian television (“Direct” on CTV at about 6:45 pm), and we’re waiting to see if Larry Wright will be appearing on the 8 pm edition of Anderson Cooper 360.

Hm. Anderson didn’t talk about Wright in the promo he just did.

Will Larry be on the 10 pm version? (I’m told the 10 pm version is just a re-run of the 8 pm show.)

Some of our commenters were talking about Larry being questioned by Anderson earlier in the day. Was it obvious that it was part of a larger segment? Maybe it got bumped to tomorrow because of the Texas shooting.

JUST GOT CONFIRMATION: The segment will air on tomorrow night’s show. It was bumped tonight for the Texas shooting.

UPDATE 8:55 PM Here’s my Canadian TV appearance. Can someone figure out how to get an embeddable version?

CanadianTV2

This is probably the closest we’ll get to Scientology being talked about on ABC. Heh. (Canada’s CTV had me talk from the ABC studio for its broadcast.)

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Posted by Tony Ortega on January 22, 2013 at 11:05

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