Scientology Strikes Back at The New Yorker

The New York Times/August 31, 2011

The Church of Scientology is certainly no shrinking violet when it comes to defending itself.

Known for its aggressive litigiousness and scorched-earth public relations approach, the church’s latest target is The New Yorker, which in February published a 25,000-word article that painted Scientology as corrupt and cultish.

In response, the church has produced a 51-page glossy magazine and an accompanying three-part DVD that try to discredit The New Yorker, its writers, editors, fact-checkers and sources.

“The New Yorker: What a Load of Balderdash,” reads the cover headline on the publication, Freedom, which is registered as a copyright of the church and bills itself as offering “investigative reporting in the public interest.”

On Wednesday, people were distributing the magazine outside the Times Square headquarters of The New Yorker’s corporate parent, Condé Nast.

The issue is essentially a parody of The New Yorker. It copies the famous illustration of Eustace Tilley, a top-hatted man peering through a monocle that was on the cover of the first issue in 1925. But the church has made him look more like a hobo, with ratty clothes and flies buzzing around him.

The church also copies the magazine’s signature font — but alters it just enough to avoid running into any legal trouble.

Much of the magazine’s criticisms of The New Yorker article are directed at the author, Lawrence Wright. The church refers to the article’s primary subject, a former Scientologist named Paul Haggis, who won two Academy Awards for the movie “Crash,” as “the hypocrite of Hollywood” and a “nobody” whose career has peaked.

It is especially scornful of other former church members cited in the piece, who are pictured in the church publication in a series of unflattering photos. “The New Yorker — if you wonder why they don’t use photographs, here’s your answer,” a headline says. (The New Yorker does, in fact, use photographs.)

The church mocks The New Yorker as no better than a supermarket tabloid, with a fake New Yorker cover headlined “Remnick Denies Alien Baby Claim,” a dig at the magazine’s editor, David Remnick.

But not all of it is light-hearted. The church singles out editors, fact-checkers and other New Yorker staff members who worked on the article by name and prints their photos. The church also uses what appears to be a surveillance photograph taken of Mr. Wright while he was conducting an interview at an outdoor cafe in Texas.

A New Yorker spokeswoman said the magazine had absolute confidence in its article and stood by it.

Church officials did not respond to messages left at their California and Florida offices on Wednesday.

When asked about the publication, one of the women distributing it in front of the Condé Nast building on 42nd Street seemed unsure of its contents.

“I think it’s supposed to be The New Yorker,” the middle-aged woman said, pointing to the cover illustration. When asked whether Freedom was published by the Church of Scientology, she claimed not to know. When it was pointed out to her that she was standing outside The New Yorker’s offices, she said, “Oh, that must be why we’re here.”

So far the church has not sued Condé Nast, a tack it has taken with many others who have crossed it. Time magazine was faced with a $416 million lawsuit after it ran an article titled “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power.”

Prior to taking legal action, the church took out a series of ads in USA Today disparaging the magazine.

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