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How to read a tabloid magazine story about the Church of Scientology: A primer

Star2015Four years ago, we set out on this adventure to report about Scientology every day. And one of the results of that experiment is the amazing community that has built up around the Bunker. We set out to create a place where Scientology could be discussed, but without the wild rumors and mistaken myths that clog up so many other places. We wanted the facts, and we wanted them first.

But even with that facts-first approach we’ve cultivated here, it’s understandable that there was some excitement yesterday when Star magazine put out a new issue with the headline “Tom Leaving Scientology!” on its cover. While some counseled caution, others were ready to have a parade for Tom Cruise getting out of the church.

But does Star actually have any facts to back up its cover headline? Let’s take a closer look. First, let’s review how tabloid publications tend to put together their stories on Scientology. They start with a tiny germ of an idea — a quote from someone, often someone they don’t really want to check out very carefully or it would spoil the fun — and then ask that person to speculate about what it is they’ve heard. We’ve been on the other end of these conversations. We’ve had some small incremental piece of information, and the tabloid hacks on the other end of the line try to get us to say that what we’ve heard is actually indicative of something much bigger or even completely different. We don’t play that game. But others are happy to go along.

Let’s see what happened in this case.

As many publications have noticed, Tom Cruise has not exactly been a hands-on father to his daughter Suri, 9, his only biological issue. (He has two older children by adoption, Isabella, 22, and Connor, 20.) This has given rise to much speculation. We regularly field calls from reporters who ask us if Tom stays away from Suri because she’s been “declared” a “suppressive person,” in Scientology parlance. It’s not a bad question. But we don’t think that’s the case. After consulting with Mike Rinder, the former top international spokesman for Scientology and someone who knew David Miscavige as well as anyone, he agrees with us that Miscavige declaring Suri an SP is a remote possibility. More likely, Rinder points out, is that every time Tom is around Miscavige, the Scientology leader badmouths Katie Holmes and reinforces Tom’s reluctance to see his former wife and their child.

For whatever reason, Tom has not seen much of his daughter as she’s gone through some pretty crucial childhood years. Meanwhile, Tom has continued to give us reasons to believe that he’s still fully committed to Miscavige and the church, as we reported just a few months ago. (Also, it may be helpful to understand Tom’s deep commitment to David Miscavige and Scientology. If you haven’t already, you really should check out our two-part series about John Brousseau and his observations of Tom and Dave.)


Now, the new development: Cruise actually got together with his kid. If that’s true, well, good for him. Star then says it talked to an “insider.” (Uh-oh, this is tabloid parlance for someone who might actually be close to Tom, or could be a public relations person. Or someone who saw a Tom Cruise movie once. You just never know.)

The insider claims that Tom was devastated to realize how much of his daughter’s life he was missing out on. “When she speaks to him on the phone, it’s becoming more and more like she’s talking to a stranger.” Well, that’s heartbreaking, if it’s true, and we would hope that Tom would be affected and do something about it. Like, you know, visit her more often.

And here’s the thing. The “insider” clearly has no idea whether or not Tom is actually going to sever ties with Scientology, and Star itself hedges its bets, saying that Tom “may soon part ways with the cultlike religion.”

Cue the sad trombone: wah wah waaaaaaaah.

But now that you know you’ve been had, it’s too late — you’ve paid your money based on the salacious cover headline, and only now do you realize that Star magazine doesn’t have the slightest idea whether Tom Cruise is actually leaving Scientology. In fact, Star magazine doesn’t have the slightest idea what Scientology is. All they know is that it’s a word that sells copies, and they love teasing readers with the idea that Tom is on his way out. They count on you not remembering, for example, that they said the exact same thing three years ago….


So, to sum up. Given Star magazine’s clueless track record on this, and the lack of any new details to back up its headline, we’re going to say the likelihood of its being right about this is pretty low.

In fact, evidence we’ve seen from another tabloid reporter who actually does his homework, Chris White, tells us that Isabella Cruise, for example, is showing more attachment to her father and to Scientology than ever, and we’d say that the actual situation is the opposite to what Star is saying. Tom and his kids are circling the wagons after the release of Going Clear, and if anything, their ties to David Miscavige and Scientology are stronger than ever.

But “Tom Still a Clam!” doesn’t sell supermarket magazines, and we’ll assume that Star and others will continue to tell us that Tom is breaking away to try to win back Katie. It’s a romantic notion anyway.


We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.

Our upcoming appearances (and check out the interactive map to our ongoing tour)…

July 12: Washington DC, Center for Inquiry (with Paulette Cooper)

July 14: Hartford, MARK TWAIN HOUSE (with Tom Tomorrow)

July 17: Denver, The Secular Hub, 7 pm (with Chris Shelton)

July 20: Dallas, Times Ten Cellar, 7 pm (with Robert Wilonsky)

July 22: Houston, Fox and Hound, 11470 Westheimer Road, sponsored by Humanists of Houston

July 24: San Antonio, Folc Restaurant, 6 pm

July 25: Austin

July 29: Paris (with Jonny Jacobsen)

August 4: London, Conway Hall, (with John Sweeney)

August 24: Boston, Boston Skeptics in the Pub, 7 pm (with Gregg Housh)

Sept 15: Arizona State University

Sept 23: Cleveland

Sept 24: Minneapolis

Sept 27: Portland

Sept 28: Seattle

Sept 30: Vancouver, BC


Posted by Tony Ortega on July 2, 2015 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB 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 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


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