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Church of Scientology hires investigative journalists to examine St. Pete Times coverage



Times-logo The Church of Scientology has hired three well-credentialed investigative journalists to produce a study of the St. Petersburg Times' coverage of the institution, creating an unusual situation where the subject of detailed news reports is funding an analysis of the reporting.

The Washington Post's media critic Howard Kurtz has an interesting piece on the subject, noting that "a Pulitzer Prize winner, a former 60 Minutes producer, and the former executive director of (the journalism trade group) Investigative Reporters and Editors" were hired to assemble a study of the paper's coverage.

According to Kurtz, former IRE executive and University of Missouri journalism instructor Steve Weinberg said he was paid $5,000 to edit the study, noting he "tried to make sure it's a good piece of journalism criticism, just like I've written a gazillion times." But the St. Petersburg Times declined to participate in the process, noting that the Church is funding the study and is the subject of their investigative journalism.

(The study's reporters were 1998 Pulitzer Prize winner Russell Carollo and Emmy-winning former TV producer Christopher Szechenyi, according to Kurtz)

Weinberg seemed to have a different view on the notion of working as an investigative journalist for Scientology in November 2009, when commenting on a post at the True/Slant site about the Church hiring experienced reporters to look at those who report on their organization.

Back then, Weinberg commented: "Because I’m so deeply identified within the journalism world as an investigative journalist, I often receive requests for advice. Recently, an experienced investigative journalist who has found it difficult to conduct his work because of the economic downturn asked me if he should apply for the Scientologists’ opening. I told him no, even though I like to see superb investigative reporting no matter who is funding it. More than any other existing organization that comes to mind, the Scientologists have been so hostile to outside journalists that I cannot see crossing the line to accept employment there. But I told my acquaintance that I’m speaking only for myself."

Here's more from Weinberg, commenting on the same article: (Hustler publisher) Larry Flynt might be sleazy in many ways. But, as far as I know, he’s not an avowed, active enemy of investigative reporting when it’s aimed at him. So working as an investigative journalist for Flynt might be less objectionable than working for the Scientologists. On the other hand, if I learn that Flynt has sued and/or otherwise threatened the well being of journalists who look into his operations, then he deserves to be categorized with the Scientologists."

Columbia Journalism Review also took exception to Weinberg comparing work editing the Scientology coverage study to his work on a stories for their magazine -- saying that the dynamic changes when the entity funding the project has a track record of pressuring journalists who attempt to investigate them.

MiscavigeSPT To see the St. Petersburg Times' package of reports about the church, including allegations leader David Miscavige hit and choked top executives, new details about the controversial death of church member Lisa McPherson and the stories of several people who have left the church, click here to read The Truth Rundown series. 

The church has also criticized the newspaper's reporting for a long while, using its own Freedom magazine to feature reports taking issue with the Times' Scientology stories and the company's past business and journalism practices.

Freedom also asks readers to submit information on "unethical or deceptive reporting, corruption, biased journalism or unfair targeting of groups or individuals."

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 3:05pm]


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