Rich Leiby took over the "Reliable Source" column in The Washington Post last week. We're lucky to have him.
Leiby was an inspired choice. He is not only a fine reporter and writer, which is what a successful column requires, but a genuinely courageous journalistic player. Any reporter who has ever written critically about Scientology will know what we mean: Scientologists brook no criticism without retaliation, some of it intelligently evil.
Editors are afraid of their gattling-like lawsuits and the white-shoe lawyers who are their running dogs or because they are afraid they'll find the family toy poodle crammed in their mailbox. Years ago, Leiby, as a young Clearwater, Fla., newspaper reporter, went up against Scientology and its movable conspiracy. Scientologists secretly chased after him, investigated his personal life, investigated his girlfriends and tried to smear and intimidate him. They did the same thing to the mayor of Clearwater, Gabe Cazares, who had criticized them for moving their headquarters into Clearwater (which they now dominate, by the way).
The other day, a former Scientologist operative named Gary Weber, who admits that more than 20 years ago he labored to destroy them, made to Leiby and to Cazares a surprising public apology. Weber apologizes on the Internet here.
Leiby told us he admired Weber for coming forward after all these years. "I accept his apology, but I regret that this group investigated the young ladies I was dating back then. The dispiriting thing is that Scientology operatives found no dirt on me when I was 22, footloose and fancy-free. Was I so boring?"
What the Scientologists did to Cazares was proved later by the FBI through documents seized in a raid on Scientology offices. Scientologists "roped" Cazares in a sting involving a half-dozen people following a scripted scenario.
In Washington for a conference, he was fed drinks in a hotel bar by Scientology agents who purposefully befriended him. One, an attractive young woman, offered to drive him to his hotel. She pulled into Rock Creek Park in the dark. Suddenly a supposedly homeless man stepped out in front of the car. The woman's car struck him and the horrified mayor, looking back, saw the man collapse and roll to the side of the road. The woman sped away, telling a distraught Cazares she was afraid to stop. Cazares caught a plane home.
The spate of anonymous phone calls to Florida news media saying the mayor was "with a woman not his wife" in a hit-and-run accident in Washington began the next day. The "homeless man," a young Scientology undercover operative, like Weber the apologizer, had been wearing a long, dirty overcoat outfitted with football pads and knee protectors beneath, the FBI later learned.
Cazares is now 83 and sharp as a tack. "Do you think some of these folks are evil, Gabe?" we asked. "Evil is too mild a word," he said.