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Pete Combs, 1959-2019: A reporter who believed in the power of digging for the truth

We have interacted with many journalists around the world doing our work here at the Underground Bunker covering Scientology stories. Journalists who have come to get their questions answered, and others who have generously helped us with tips or documents, or just story suggestions. Scientology is an arcane and difficult subject to cover, and in the small fraternity of reporters who dive into it, we’ve enjoyed many professional exchanges with exceptional people.

Among them, but truly one of a kind, there was Pete Combs. A superb radio reporter of the old school, Pete worked for WSB in Atlanta, and we ran into him covering the death of a patient at Scientology’s drug rehab clinic in an Atlanta suburb.

Patrick Desmond had died of a heroin overdose in 2008 at the Narconon clinic where he was supposed to be drying out for an alcohol addiction. And the more that Pete and reporters at the local newspaper and a television station looked into Desmond’s death, the worse Scientology and its rehab looked.

It was a rare situation for us. Our readers know that in many circumstances, the Bunker is reporting stories in places like Los Angeles where the local media largely pays no attention. But in this case, the death of a man at a sketchy rehab, there was full and coordinated coverage from Atlanta’s print, radio, and television outlets.


And to our great benefit Pete turned out to be a generous and helpful reporter who enjoyed corresponding with us about the situation and making sure we had the latest documents being released by local officials.

“You and I should coordinate on the hearing,” Pete messaged us at one point in 2014, when we were frenetically emailing and messaging each other about the story, which had evolved from a wrongful death lawsuit into a class action. Pete lobbied us to come down to cover a court hearing, offering to put us up in his large house. He had just become a grandfather, and was offering to buy us a beer.

It’s one of our biggest disappointments that we never got to take Pete up on that offer.

After covering that story, which included a raid on the Narconon facility by state investigators, in 2015 Pete and his lovely wife Karen pulled up stakes and spent three years in the Seattle area, where Pete worked for KOMO. And then, last year, they returned to Georgia and Pete went back to work for WSB.

In September, Pete learned that the source of his constant back pain wasn’t related to his recent neck surgery, but in fact was caused by a large tumor in his lung. He bravely fought the cancer and was supported by an entire community that had valued his great work.

He died today. He was 60 years old.

After Scientology was forced to close its Georgia drug rehab clinic, the crusading Desmond family attorney who had done so much to expose its deceit and wrongdoing, Jeff Harris, paid tribute to Pete for his relentless coverage, calling him “a true journalist in a world filled with Sean Hannity-like blowhards.”

Pete not only cared about stories like the death of Patrick Desmond, he cared deeply about the work that journalists do generally, and the public’s perception of it. An old-fashioned reporter who worked hard to get stories right, he was alarmed by the rise of “fake news,” and the public’s willingness to spread rumors and conspiracies while denigrating the “mainstream press.”

We think the best memorial we could leave for Pete would be his own words about the work that he loved…

I know some of you have your doubts about the news media, about our motives, our methods and above all, our integrity. I’ve often attempted to explain that with few exceptions (fewer of them intentional), the “mainstream” media plays it absolutely straight. We don’t make up “fake news.” We don’t consciously slant our coverage one way or another. For remarkably little pay, we go out day after day to the sometimes hazardous places where news is happening and do our best to paint an accurate picture of what we see and hear.

It is not glamorous. It is often dangerous. In my career, I’ve been beaten twice, found myself at the wrong end of a gun once, suffered the debilitating effects of pepper spray and concussion grenades and had my life and the lives of my family threatened by members of the KKK. These are minor encounters compared to what a lot of my colleagues have endured. And for some, those encounters have been fatal. Do you think for a moment that they died in an effort to lie to you or fake you out?

And yet, we’re guilty of promulgating “fake news.” The president calls us the “very dishonest media.”

I want to take a moment to remind us all of the vital role my profession plays in our nation’s system of government.

If you accept the concept of the three estates mentioned above, then I ask you to accept the concept of journalism as the fourth estate. It was considered as such by our founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson said, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”


Jefferson also said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

I kinda like that Jefferson fellow.

Yet, the respect of and need for good reporting seems to have diminished lately. Make no mistake. This is war. And it was declared the moment the FCC dropped the Fairness Doctrine, allowing propagandists like Rush Limbaugh to supplant real news with their own version of truth.

“I’m a member of the media. I’m America’s Anchorman.” — Rush Limbaugh

No, he’s really not. Neither is Sean Hannity, who claims to be your only viable news source. Neither is John Stewart. Neither is Bill Maher. Neither are the analysts on CNN, MSNBC nor Fox News. Neither are the editorial writers at the New York Times, the Washington Post nor the Washington Times.

News is news… the simple rendering of fact into print, television or radio.

I appreciate your time in reading this and with that in mind, I just want to make one more point about objectivity.

My work and the work of all journalists is subject to interpretation. What we put to print or on air is not perfect, not by any stretch. Realizing that we are all the products of our lives to this point and that we all view events through a lens that is crafted out of our experiences, no one — NO ONE — can truly be said to be objective in our thoughts. Objectivity is like perfection in that sense: long-sought and seldom achieved. But if I portray all sides of a story, give players equal time, remove all judgment and remain open to criticism, then I AM a journalist.

And I’m damned proud of it.


Source Code

“If you went into this technical society and you could just make better screwdrivers than anybody else, why, if you had any acumen at all, you eventually would make some kind of a minor success of the situation. But we’re not talking now about screwdrivers. We’re talking about the stuff of which life is made: life itself. And any time you get a technology of that character going forward, and you have a grasp of that technology, you cannot help but win. You don’t even have to try to win. People will come ahead and present you with large sections of Earth. That is all. I mean, it can’t help it. For instance, right now I’ve told them occasionally, from time to time, they’d never get into space without us. I’ve told them that from time to time. Well, what do you know? Cape Canaveral just sent for a Scientologist. They won’t get into space without us.” — L. Ron Hubbard, December 12, 1961


Overheard in the FreeZone

“My understanding is that Ron expected Class VIIIs to be the ones to export the Tech to the next planet and the next planet and so on. Otherwise, if LRH is the only exporter around, you’re looking at a universe which will never be cleared until the last sun is just an ember. Now consider the practical aspects of exporting Scientology to another planet. How much time are you really going to spend explaining who the Founder was? Consider that you could be dealing with a population of doll bodies, lizard bodies, insect bodies, no bodies, meat bodies, etc. It’s doubtful you’re going to walk around with 8x10s of Ron in your meter case to pass out. I would never take credit for developing Scientology; I would always say it was developed by this guy who lived on the third planet on your left. But I sincerely doubt I would dwell for any length of time on the personal details of Ron. Someone asks, how many times he was married or how many kids he had… who cares? What brand of coffee did he like the most? Honestly, folks, I have no idea. In the broad scheme of things, Ron and who he was won’t matter much. But the Tech will.”


Random Howdy

“I remember one time I was talking to vaLLarrr and she let slip that the universe was 76 trillion years old. The next day she tried to make out she had been talking about the multiverse theory, but when I pressed her on it she admitted that wasn’t what she originally meant — she was honest in a weird way. That was a big win for me to get her to engage in verbal tech because normally she was super slick about avoiding that.”


Scientology’s celebrities, ‘Ideal Orgs,’ and more!

[Jenna Elfman, Giovanni Ribisi, and Greta Van Susteren]

We’ve been building landing pages about David Miscavige’s favorite playthings, including celebrities and ‘Ideal Orgs,’ and we’re hoping you’ll join in and help us gather as much information as we can about them. Head on over and help us with links and photos and comments.

Scientology’s celebrities, from A to Z! Find your favorite Hubbardite celeb at this index page — or suggest someone to add to the list!

Scientology’s ‘Ideal Orgs,’ from one end of the planet to the other! Help us build up pages about each these worldwide locations!

Scientology’s sneaky front groups, spreading the good news about L. Ron Hubbard while pretending to benefit society!

Scientology Lit: Books reviewed or excerpted in our weekly series. How many have you read?



[ONE year ago] Tiponi Grey, 1968-2018, a woman who told off Scientology for its lack of compassion
[TWO years ago] For the first time: The FBI file of Gabe Cazares, the Clearwater mayor targeted by Scientology
[THREE years ago] Scientology and ‘aliens’: What did L. Ron Hubbard actually say about space invaders?
[FOUR years ago] More leaked video: Watch Scientology welcome 2007, a year David Miscavige would regret
[FIVE years ago] Jon Atack packs a lot into a new short book — ‘Scientology: The Cult of Greed’
[SIX years ago] Judge Whittemore grants Luis Garcia discovery of Scientology’s murky trusts in fraud lawsuit
[SEVEN years ago] Only 2,418 Scientologists in England and Wales, Vastly Outnumbered by Jedi Knights
[EIGHT years ago] Scientology Leader David Miscavige Digs Israel; BONUS: Black People are Cool!


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,656 days.
Valerie Haney has not seen her mother Lynne in 1,785 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 2,289 days
Sylvia Wagner DeWall has not seen her brother Randy in 1,809 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 829 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 720 days.
Christie Collbran has not seen her mother Liz King in 4,027 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,895 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,669 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 3,443 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,789 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 11,355 days.
Melissa Paris has not seen her father Jean-Francois in 7,274 days.
Valeska Paris has not seen her brother Raphael in 3,442 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 3,023 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 3,284 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 2,322 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 2,035 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,561 days.
Charley Updegrove has not seen his son Toby in 1,087 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,650 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,790 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 3,110 days.
Roger Weller has not seen his daughter Alyssa in 7,966 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 3,085 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 1,440 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,743 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,849 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 2,251 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 2,123 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,706 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 2,201 days.
Mary Jane Barry has not seen her daughter Samantha in 2,455 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,564 days.


Posted by Tony Ortega on December 12, 2019 at 18:10

E-mail tips to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We also post 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 new book with Paulette Cooper, Battlefield Scientology: Exposing L. Ron Hubbard’s dangerous ‘religion’ is now on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Our book about Paulette, 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 can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2018 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Underground Bunker (2012-2018), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Other links: BLOGGING DIANETICS: Reading Scientology’s founding text cover to cover | 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 | Shelly Miscavige, 14 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 | 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

Watch our short videos that explain Scientology’s controversies in three minutes or less…

Check your whale level at our dedicated page for status updates, or join us at the Underground Bunker’s Facebook discussion group for more frivolity.

Our non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news | Battling Babe-Hounds: Ross Jeffries v. R. Don Steele


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