Scientology's "tortured" logic

Boston Phoenix/April 3, 1998
By Dan Kennedy

Even in the context of the Church of Scientology's unintentionally humorous attack-pamphlet on the Boston Herald, titled Merchants of Sensationalism: How a Newspaper Sold Its Journalistic Soul, the photo of church critic Gerald Armstrong stands out. Beneath a line that reads "another Herald 'source',", a naked, blissed-out-looking man holds a globe against his lap. The caption reads: "Gerald Armstrong -- former Scientology clerk, former paid agent of a renegade government intelligence service, and, frankly, a certifiable nut. He actually proposed that Saddam Hussein accept him as a willing hostage for the release of prisoners, significantly adding: 'I will be available for torture.'"

There's just a slight problem: Armstrong may be a bit peculiar,but he was not a Herald source. In fact, Herald reporter Joseph Mallia's massive five-day March series, "Scientology Unmasked," mentions Armstrong only once -- a sidebar notes briefly that he won a lawsuit against the church in 1984. "We did not use that man in any way, shape, or form as a primary source on anything in that series," says Andrew Gully, the Herald's managing editor for news.

Armstrong is believed to be living in Canada. His friend and former employer, San Francisco-area lawyer Ford Greene, portrays Armstrong as a credible critic of Scientology who's been worn down by years of legal battles. "I know Gerry pretty well, and he can be somewhat strange," says Greene, who confirms that the photo is authentic. "He's no psycho-nut, but he does have some ideas about how to behave in the world that are naive and kind of Pollyanna-ish. But he's not irrational, he's just a little wacky."

The attack on Armstrong is hardly the only questionable element of the Scientology pamphlet. For instance:

  • Boston-area anti-cult activist Steven Hassan, whom Mallia quoted several times, is denounced as a "hired faith-breaker who has conducted brutal, violent, and coercive efforts, called 'deprogrammings,' to force people away from their chosen faiths." But Hassan, a former Moonie, has long asserted that he stopped doing involuntary deprogrammings in the 1970s after concluding that they were morally unjustifiable.
  • It is asserted that the Herald got no bounce from its stories because "their fellow media apparently smelled a rat -- and the series failed to generate interest." Yet the series was the subject of largely favorable programs on WGBH-TV's Greater Boston and WBZ Radio's David Brudnoy Show, and got a positive mention in the Phoenix as well ("Don't Quote Me," News, March 13).
  • Among the "prominent and influential members of the community" cited as being offended by the Herald series is attorney Earle Cooley. Yet the pamphlet fails to mention that Cooley, chairman of the board at Boston University, is one of the lead lawyers for the Church of Scientology, and has on past occasions told journalists that he's also a church member ("BU's Scientology Connection," News, April 19, 1996).

The Reverend Heber Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International, defends the attack on Armstrong by saying the Herald relied on Armstrong's "misinformation and disinformation" about Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, even if the paper didn't actually interview Armstrong.

Jentzsch says the church published about 150,000 copies of the pamphlet, which has been distributed around Greater Boston, in subway stations, and other places where people are likely to encounter the Herald. And even though the Herald recently reported that the church is investigating Mallia (Jentzsch told the Phoenix in an earlier interview that he wanted to learn "whose payroll" Mallia was on), Jentzsch offers a conciliatory Hubbard quote to explain what's guiding the anti-Herald campaign: "Ideas and not battles mark the forward progress of mankind."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.