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Feb. 25 2010 - 5:51 pm | 1,541 views | 2 recommendations | 23 comments

More from investigative reporter who chose to work with ‘hostile’ Scientologists

In November, I wrote a short post highlighting that the Church of Scientology had recently placed ads with JournalismJobs.com seeking investigative journalists. It seemed weird to me that an organization known for attempting to stifle anti-Scientology rhetoric with lawsuits and disinformation would be on the lookout for “experienced investigative reporters” and I said as much.

However, realizing that a lot of writers and reporters (including myself) are having a rough time finding work, I made the flip observation that “work is work” — implying that if working for the Church of Scientology is the only gig you can get, then so be it. Who am I to judge?

My colleague Steve Weinbergprofessor of investigative journalism, author of well-researched books, and writer for seriously good publications like Miller-McCune and the IRE Journal –  commented to say the following:

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 then earlier this week, Howard Kurtz posted an article about investigative journalists working for the Church of Scientology. And guess who’s featured in the post?

Steve Weinberg, the former IRE executive, who has taught at the University of Missouri’s journalism school for a quarter-century, says he was paid $5,000 to edit the study and “tried to make sure it’s a good piece of journalism criticism, just like I’ve written a gazillion times. . . . For me it’s kind of like editing a Columbia Journalism Review piece.”

He says their agreement requires that the church publish the study in full, if it decides to make it public, but that “the contract says the church has the right to do nothing with it except put it in a drawer.” That means Scientology leaders have an out if the recently completed study isn’t to their liking.

Weinberg acknowledges that the “unusual situation” gave him pause, saying: “It certainly wouldn’t be something just any reporter would do. My role was more limited, and I can certainly use the money these days.”

I have a deep respect for Weinberg. I’m a member of the organization he helped to found so many years ago. I e-mailed him for comment: “What made you change your mind and take $5,000 from this organization to edit copy? Was it purely the (admittedly very good) money, or something else about their terms? A combination of the two? Something else?” After an exchange of a few e-mails, he said the following (I’ve chosen to quote him at length, verbatim, giving him the opportunity to explain his thinking in his own words):

The two reporters, both of whom I respect and have read for decades, asked me to serve as the editor. They paid me from a larger sum they negotiated with the Scientologists. The Kurtz account is imprecise, and he has expressed his regret to me in writing that his posting failed to note various nuances. I realize that the nuances might feel irrelevant to some folks, but they are vital to me.

He followed that with:

Here is the context: Two veteran investigative journalists — one who has won a Pulitzer Prize and many other national honors, the other who has won numerous national print and broadcast awards — replied to a Scientology advertisement about hiring freelancers for various projects. I knew nothing about the advertisement. After the two reporters agreed to examine St. Petersburg Times coverage of the church, they contacted me about serving as the project editor. I did not deal with the Scientologists, except to receive a contract and later payment in the mail. I dealt entirely with the two superb investigative reporters.

We received payment before the reporting and editing began so the Scientologists could not influence the project by withholding the entire fee or offering a kill fee. As journalists often do when being examined by other journalists (for Columbia Journalism Review or wherever), those at the St. Pete Times refused to cooperate. The “ongoing coverage” excuse is sad to read, because the coverage at the Time of the Scientologists will always be “ongoing.”

The Scientologists have the contractual right to withhold the study. If it’s published, it must be published without changing a comma, much less the substance.

Kurtz is writing and Times editor Brown is commenting without knowing what the two independent investigative reporters wrote. At this juncture, I have no idea whether the Scientologists will publish the study.

I edited the manuscript with the same devotion to factual and contextual accuracy as I would edit any piece of first-rate reporting.

Still more:

Naturally, I asked about editorial independence. They showed me the contract they had negotiated with the Scientologists, which spells out complete editorial independence.  That independence included payment in full before the reporting/writing began. That independence also included the proviso the study would be published as submitted, without any alterations (not even comma placement) or would simply become an internal document for the Scientologists.

Except for filling out standard paperwork so that I would receive my share of the overall payment, I had no contact with the Scientologists. The reporters submitted their draft to me in late January, I edited for a couple of weeks as drafts passed back and forth among Szechenyi, Carollo and me, and then I declared my editing complete. Szechenyi and Carollo then submitted the study to the appropriate Scientologist executive.

Now, I’m hoping the Scientologists will choose to publish the study soon. The Scientologist spokesman, Tommy Davis, characterized the study of the St. Petersburg Times coverage as highly negative.  (Kurtz tells me those were not the exact words of Davis, but that those two words fairly capture the gist of Davis’ characterization.) I would liek everybody interested in this situation to read the actual study reported/written by Szechenyi and Carollo, plus edited by me. Then each reader can decide on her/his own about the quality of the newspaper’s coverage and the quality of the study examining that coverage.

If you’ve made it to this point, congrats: You’ve fallen about as far into the rabbit hole of journalism ethics as I’d recommend. But you’ve made it. So what do you think? Is it ok for veteran investigative reporters to write for the Scientologists? Or is  working for an organization “so hostile to outside journalists” just not right?

We’ll really get to the bottom of this when we find out if the CoS publishes the investigation or not.

More here and here.


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  1. collapse expand

    Weinberg wants to have it every which way but upon closer examination, his nuances are distinctions without much difference. He even goes to great pains to distinguish himself from the two reporters, implying, unwittingly or perhaps not, that they’re more ethically soiled than he since they dealt directly with Scientology whereas he did not. But wait–Weinberg says:

    “I did not deal with the Scientologists, except to receive a contract and later payment in the mail”

    So he *contracted* with Scientology but did not *deal* with them. This makes sense how?

    I don’t know Weinberg in a personal capacity or as a journalism figure, in which capacity he apparently holds, or held, some gravity. But his eagerness to draw meaningless lines in the sand to separate himself from Scientology’s taint and sell out Carollo and Szechenyi in the process speaks volumes about his character.

  2. collapse expand

    Matt Stroud has provided an opportunity for me to explain why I decided to serve as editor of the study undertaken by two superb investigative reporters. Thank you, Matt, for your fairness even though you believe I have mistakenly crossed a line.

    Responding to the only comment posted before this reply–from the commenter Mr. Pitutik–what he considers meaningless nuances mean everything to me. The Scientologists did not approach me to edit the study, and if they had I would have said no. Two journalists who earned my professional respect decades ago asked me to edit the study for them. I decided to say yes after determining that Szechenyi, Carollo and I would be guaranteed complete editorial independence.

    As for the $5000: I earn much of my living as a freelance reporter and editor. I would not have edited the study for zero pay.

    The study is a first-rate examination of how a daily newspaper covered a controversial organization during the last half of 2009.

    Mr. Pilutik, does my praise of Mr. Szechenyi and Mr. Carollo sound to you like I’m selling them out?

    We all find inferences in the writing of others that the writer did not intend. You are obviously entitled to read my words as selling out two first-rate journalists. But that certainly isn’t what I thought I wrote.

    • collapse expand

      Mr. Weinberg, if you contracted with Scientology, and were paid by Scientology, how does your role differ in any way from that of Szechenyi and Carollo? Your praise of them is regardless where you went to great lengths to distinguish your role from theirs by claiming that you didn’t “deal” with Scientology while simultaneously admitting that you “contracted” with them. If the nuances matter as great a deal as you claim, where does that leave Szechenyi and Carollo? Perhaps it’d help if you clarified how Szechenyi and Carollo “dealt” with Scientology in ways you didn’t. Because it’s my understanding from your words that they were given total independence to pursue the investigation however they saw fit, in which case I don’t understand how much more they could’ve “dealt” with Scientology than you other than interview its principals, which I’d not describe as “dealing.” To my eye, it’s plainly disingenuous to describe yourself as not having “dealt” with Scientology while admitting to contracting with them–whether you negotiated the terms is of no matter.

      And perhaps you should’ve negotiated with Scientology, because while Tommy Davis is hanging the three of you out to dry by characterizing the report in terms with which you apparently disagree, your response is to issue a joint statement calling for its publication, instead of just publishing the damn thing to clear your name(s), which you might have been able to do had you had a greater understanding of who you had just contracted with, and accordingly negotiated such a term.

      Meanwhile, word has also come out that the reporters interviewed neither Mike Rinder nor Marty Rathbun (!), who were central figures in the original St. Pete Times story that prompted Scientology’s hiring you three. How can this be reconciled without the publication of the report?

      Perhaps you’d have been better off investigating who you were all about to jump into bed with, because Scientology’s behavior is nothing if not predictable, and if you’re surprised by any of this, you didn’t do your homework.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    I think its only unethical if the journalist intentionally misuses their reputation in order to mislead the public. That being said, I feel that a reputable journalist, working for an organization to write or edit a report ON that organization would lead to:
    1) A conflict of interest and
    2) public disbelief
    Even the report turn out favorable, who would believe it?
    Wouldn’t the question of whether or not this journalist has be “bought” by the organization put a blemish on that report?
    Aside from that, the way things are right now if you don’t care that your work might get buried,then by all means enjoy the money!

  4. collapse expand

    Well, you may have lost a friendhip but you did
    an excellent job investigating and reporting on this. You’ve gottengotten more information about what occured as a result.

    You even managed to get a comment from Mr. Weinberg stating that he’d like Scientology to publish the infamous report so we can all decide for ourselves. Can’t ask for more than that at this point. But did Weinberg cross the line? He does not think so.

    It’s interesting how how temptation changes how a man thinks. Scientology is the serpent that lures even the best of well intentioned people to enjoin them in their destructive game – even going so far as to make it all seem so ‘ok’ by waving some money in front of hungry mouths with bills that needs to be paid. This is a frequent occurence in the legal field, but we know that being a lawyer does not require a conscience or a high degree of moral integrity. Just ask attorney Scott Pilutik, whose comment Weinberg replied to.

    Yes, it’s easy to fall into this kind of trap. And it’s easy to understand why respectable journalists steer clear of Scientology unless they are ready to handle the unfortunate consequences so many have suffered just for reporting on them. In part, that is why journalists around the world have been taking this industry transgression so seriously. It seems as if even the most hard up didn’t apply for that job, but those 2 other men did. And they in turn lured Weinberg in with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

    In looking at the comments of Mr. Weinberg, it’s clear that he waived any allegience and took the job for the money and because highly respected journalists Szechenyi & Carollo did and if they did it, it can’t be so bad to help and get paid for doing it. This is called
    ‘agreement’,and as they say in Scientology,
    ‘reality is agreement’. Scientology worked it’s charm, opened it’s wallet and the hungry caved in.

    Now, there is a big difference between going and getting food stamps when you are broke and need to feed your family and robbing a bank because your well respected neighbor came up with the idea and included you in plans.
    Somewhere within this we find 2 who did the dirty work for the dirty money and lurged the third man in to polish off the job.

    Attention should not continue to go on to attacking the journalists themselves in so much as it should go onto the subject of Scientology and the accepting of money like that from a cult that harasses and terrorizes it’s critics, journalists included.

    Scientology probably thought by doing this that it had the added advantage of pitting a wedge between 3 hightly respected journalists and their peers. Don’t let this happen. Dissect what happened, talk it up but remember, Scientology would love to see journalists fighting amongs themselves because Scientology believes that all journalists are ’sources of trouble’ and ’suppressive persons’ working for suppressive organiations. Wiki can tell you all about the SP label Tom Cruise made so famous in that infamous Scientology video.

    As an aside, it’s too bad is that the investigation did not include the January series stories and video on “Larry Anderson, star of Scientology’s ‘Orientation’ film, wants his money back”
    By Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin, Times Staff Writers In Print: Sunday, January 24, 2010
    http://tampabay.com/news/scientology/article1067720.ece

    There is alot to be learned from this and about this cult. Journalists have first hand experience in reporting on them. One should get informed and take a survey of peers before joining their ranks as a journalist.

  5. collapse expand

    The tactic – request an independent report / investigation, then not publish it and say what you want about it – could and should have been anticipated by seasoned journalists.

    I am afraid they will pay it dearly.

  6. collapse expand

    Scientology’s goal is to clear the planet, as set forth by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Then, they are to build a “Space Org” and begin clearing the universe.

    They are already nearing completion of the Super Power building in Clearwater, FL, including astronaut training equipment, to train their Operating Thetans to even greater super powers than they already have, which is total control over matter, energy, space and time.

    As shown in Tom Cruise’s viral video, Scientologists envision an all-Scientology planet in a hundred years, with critics (SPs), being a thing of the past. Keep in mind critics would include journalists who are critical of anything their SOURCE, L. Ron Hubbard wrote, or said we all must do, or anything the organization is doing.

    Hubbard claimed the planet could be “clear” in one year, if his tech were “applied properly,” in taking over government, education, medicine, business, drug and criminal rehabilitation, human rights organizations, and other religions.

    Scientology works 100% of the time, and they have all the answers. If you don’t understand that, then you need to learn more Scientology. At the upper levels, Hubbard teaches that Christ and all other religions are “implants,” meant to deceive mankind (or Thetankind) here on Teegeeack.

    Peel back the layers of the Scientology onion. It’ll make your eyes sting.

    Hubbard knows all this from his time travels throughout the Universe, back four quadrillion years. He had problems getting his time machine, out out-of-body time travel to go into the future though. You can hear him speaking about these topics, as well as why smoking more cigarettes is a cancer preventative, on YOUTUBE. Just search for a topic, e.g., Hubbard on smoking. Or Hubbard on Venus, almost being hit by a train. Why bother with asking Tommy Davis what Scientology means, when you can hear it from the horse’s SOURCE.

    Scientology is a comprehensive, all-encompassing belief and mind control system for total world domination. Their top-secret Xenu story is revealed only after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, and involves a comic-book tale, void of discernible spiritual meaning to the non-brainwashed, which involves an evil galactic overlord named Xenu, DC-8 airplane replicas and “evil psychs” 75 million years ago, volcanoes, Body Thetans etc..it reads like VERY bad science fiction, worse than the movie, Battlefield Earth.

    Dianetics is a meandering piece of claptrap, that has been debunked and criticized by numerous doctors and scientists, including one who won the Nobel Prize. No one in the field of research of the mind, academics or science quotes Hubbard, or takes Dianetics seriously. Hubbard just ripped off Freud, adding his own twists as he went along.

    Hubbard’s main skill was as a hypnotist and con artist. Very few people fall for Scientology, but enough do that it make the organization very wealthy.

    The highest “dynamic” in Scientology is to Keep Scientology Working. Every Scientologist, once they get up “the bridge,” believes that this is the most important thing, and they will lie, cheat, steal, and destroy critics to uphold this principle. I’m sure you’ve heard of Fair Game. They say it was canceled, but really, it wasn’t.

    Every responsible journalist who is considering having ANYTHING remotely to do with Scientology, should first read the experiences of Russell Miller, Paulette Cooper, Richard Behar and others who have set out to investigate and write the truth about this cult.

    I understand that Scientology has billions of dollars, and that there is easy money to be made by accepting positions, as Jim Lynch did, to write for them and act as attack dogs for their cult. I’m sure they pay VERY well. They pay their lawyers well too.

    However, they also have been known to indenture children as young as twelve, into slave labor with their paramilitary land-based Sea Org. The majority of their workers are paid poorly, below minimum wage, and have no pensions.

    David Miscavige, Scientology’s present leader, is a high school dropout. He was not able to apply the principles of Hubbard’s trademarked STUDY TECH to finish high school. Doesn’t that say something? Likewise, Travolta and Cruise didn’t get their GED either, after dropping out to pursue acting careers.

    Scientology is like an onion. The outer layers are designed to appear charitable, all about helping and self-fulfillment. A lot of celebrities find the career networking at the Celebrity Center to be life changing. Struggling actress B, get’s a part in CRASH by Director A, partly because Director A is a Scientologist. (Although Director A is no longer one because Director A woke up.)

    Peeling away only a few layers, for non-celebrities, it is a frighteningly totalitarian system of mind control, more akin to the mafia than a religion, as Richard Behar suggested in this excellent TIME cover story. Scientology has a high suicide rate. Of course, it attracts a lot of vulnerable people, but even aside from that.

    I’ll give you an example of the simple deception, the personality test. No matter how one scores on their personality test, the result is always the same: YOU NEED SCIENTOLOGY to improve yourself. Is that scientific, or religious, or just a good scam business.

    Journalists who aren’t brave enough to investigate this cult should avoid them. The good news is that because of web, citizen journalists, Anonymous, the number of ex-members who are speaking out, Scientology is collapsing. This is the story now. Scientology is not a secret anymore.

    And no, they do not have millions of members they claim. It is up to journalists to debunk this.

    Scientology may be “above the law,” in ways right now, but they will not “be the law one day,” as Hubbard said.

  7. collapse expand

    I would ask Mr Weinberg to please comment on how accurate Scientology’s spokesman’s characterization of the report (highly negative)is?

    Doesn’t Mr. Davis’ comment in itself violate the agreement? It seems the reporters have been trapped into an untenable position since they can’t respond.

    One interesting comment (in another blog) raised the point that none of the ex-Scientology managers -the main subjects of the investigative report- were interviewed by these other journalists. That makes no sense.
    See http://markrathbun.wordpress.com/2010/02/26/miscaviges-war-on-the-media/

    • collapse expand

      First off, Weinberg has asked readers to remain patient if he doesn’t immediately respond to queries about his work with the Church of Scientology.

      “I must travel away from home because of a family matter,” he wrote to me in an e-mail yesterday. “So from [today] until early Wednesday (March 3) my access to email will be limited.”

      Also, the trio of journalists involved in this investigation has released something of an official statement regarding Davis’ comments, though it doesn’t get to your question, Elizabeth, regarding whether or not Davis’ comments violate the contract between the journalists and the Church of Scientology. The statement follows and is taken from this excellent story:

      [begin]

      During an interview with the Washington Post, Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis discussed a portion of the findings of our independent review, and, in doing so, did not accurately portray the full scope of our work. We have urged the church to release the complete report of that review.

      Because our full report has not been released, any characterization of our work is premature and purely speculative.

      We are proud of the work we did. We took great care in insuring that our work was free of all outside interference by any entity, including the Church of Scientology. We insisted on and maintained the highest ethical standards of journalism. We constantly challenged each other to ensure we were upholding those standards. To that end, we insisted on being paid in full for our work before we started our examination.

      As part of our efforts to uphold the highest ethical standards, we made the Times fully aware of our work and the conditions under which it was being conducted. We never misrepresented ourselves or who we were working for. We offered reporters and editors there several opportunities to hear in more detail about what we were doing and what we had found. We repeatedly offered them the opportunity to make their observations part of the report. We were prepared to meet with them in person in Florida on two separate occasions, but they declined.

      [end]

      Elizabeth, I did not know that the ex-Scientologists — the people at the core of the Times’ report — were not contacted. If that’s true, you’re right, it doesn’t make any sense. One would imagine that any investigation into supposed attack journalism would include an examination of the attack’s ammunition. You’ll notice that the above statement does not contain any comments about that. If you’re right, Elizabeth — and again, I have no idea if you are — the three investigative journalists are either guilty of incomplete journalism or… something else? Maybe that was in the contract as well?

      All the contract talk makes me itch. In yesterday evening’s post, I quote Weinberg as writing, “Except for filling out standard paperwork so that I would receive my share of the overall payment, I had no contact with the Scientologists.” When I first began corresponding with Weinberg about this, he wrote, “I didn’t edit the study for the Scientologists. The two reporters, both of whom I respect and have read for decades, asked me to serve as the editor. They paid me from a larger sum they negotiated with the Scientologists.”

      I responded by writing, wait: “the contract you signed was from the Scientologists, not the journalists themselves? In other words, you weren’t hired by the journalists; they hadn’t created a limited liability corporation for example and paid you out of that entity’s bank account, right? You were hired by the Church of Scientology and you were aware of it because you signed a contract with them. Correct?” My main point: Did you get paid by the Church of Scientology or not?

      He responded (as seen in yesterday evening’s post) with: “I did not deal with the Scientologists, except to receive a contract and later payment in the mail. I dealt entirely with the two superb investigative reporters.”

      Which still kinda evaded my questions, so I asked again: “The contract you signed (‘filling out standard paperwork so that I would receive my share of the overall payment’) came from the Church of Scientology, yes? The actual letterhead on that standard paperwork referred to the Church of Scientology and not some company incorporated by the journalists who approached you?”

      Finally he wrote: “Szechenyi and Carollo and I discussed a sum for my editing fee. I said okay to $5000. The journalists told the Scientologists what fee I had agreed to. The Scientologists then (I presume) cut three checks — one to me, one to Szechenyi, one to Carollo. The check arrived in the U.S. mail before I started my editing. I deposited the check in my bank account.”

      Which answered the questions to an extent, but the amount of obfuscation around “Did you get paid by the Church of Scientology or not” makes me uneasy. Really, to sort this out, not only would the Church (or someone close to the Church, like the journalists) need to release the investigation, but they would also need to release the contract Szechenyi and Carollo negotiated.

      Of course if you have any information in that regard, I can be reached at matt [dot] stroud [at] yahoo [dot] com.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  8. collapse expand

    Thanks Matt. I appreciate your thorough response.

    As Spock would say, “Fascinating!”

    This Byzantine arrangement with the contract and the somewhat removed payment sounds deliberate. I assume the purpose was to create some distance and make it easier for the PR person to say that an uninfluenced third party edited the report.

    In the end, if the check was written by the Scientologists, then he was literally paid by them. The question about the letterhead didn’t seem to get answered. The contract would make very interesting reading!

    As I mentioned earlier, one of the main whistleblowers was venting in his blog about not being contacted. He knows quite a bit as he held a very senior position. You may want to talk to him to get his take and verify whether he was contacted. He is quite willing to communicate. The link is http://markrathbun.wordpress.com/.

    By the way, another book is coming out in the near future by another one of the St Pete Times interviewees. See http://www.scobeepublishing.com/

    Thanks again.

    Elizabeth

  9. collapse expand

    I’m back online after the absence due to family matters.

    At this point, I don’t know if anybody will be reading the thread. So I’ll make it brief, and entertain follow-up questions/comments if I can think of anything enlightening to add.

    First, the self-centered part, about me as an individual journalist. I would never have replied positively to a Scientology advertisement seeking journalists to carry out projects involving the St. Petersburg Times or other institutions/individuals. Chris Szechenyi and Russell Carollo did reply. Different ways of thinking, period. I don’t blame the Scientologists for advertising, and I obviously continued to respect Szechenyi and Carollo despite their exploratory replies to the Scientologists.

    I had no reservations about serving as an editor for two excellent journalists who approached me completely independently of the Scientologists. I still have no reservations.

    I played no reporting role, no role in the actual information-gathering. Instead, I served the role of a typical newspaper/magazine editor–I read for factual accuracy, contextual accuracy and for clarity of expression.

    Now, moving the conversation away from my specific role: Of course I hoped the Scientologists would publish the study, and I continue to hope so. But I figured this would be a win-win situation. Even if the Scientologists refuse to publish, presumably those inside the organization who read the study will learn something useful about how journalism is practiced and ought to be practiced inside a mainstream newspaper newsroom.

  10. collapse expand

    Hi Steve,

    Glad to see this thread is still alive.
    I wonder if you could clarify one point that seems ambiguous.

    From what I’ve read, the ex-members interviewed by the St Pete Times were not interviewed by Szechenyi and Carollo. How then were they able to establish whether the investigative series was accurate?

    You wrote that your function was, “I served the role of a typical newspaper/magazine editor–I read for factual accuracy, contextual accuracy and for clarity of expression.” How did you establish that their report had ‘factual accuracy’?

    Elizabeth

    • collapse expand

      Responding to the inquiry from “Elizabeth” posted March 3, 2010:

      Reporters Szechenyi and Carollo defined their mission primarily as determining whether the June and November 2009 series published by the St. Petersburg Times about the Scientologists met the standards of first-rate investigative journalism. To accomplish that mission, Szechenyi and Carollo analyzed what the newspaper actually published–in other words, what the St. Petersburg Times presented to its mass readership. Put another way, the reporters whose manuscript I edited did their best to determine whether the evidence from the four ex-Scientologists presented in the newspaper rose to the level of excellence that all news organizations hope to achieve.

      I hope this answers your question adequately, Elizabeth. If not, I can put you in touch with Mr. Szechenyi and/or Mr. Carollo.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Mr. Weinberg, do you mean these standards outlines at wiki under the common element section?
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalism_ethics_and_standards

        I think the St Petersburg Times met and exceeded those listed.
        http://www.tampabay.com/specials/2009/reports/project/#story_anchor

        Just by looking at the first page, one can see that it is a very balanced and fair report.

        Miscavige had five + weeks to respond by interview and quote:
        [..] Church officials deny the accusations. Miscavige never hit a single church staffer, not once, they said.

        On May 13, the Times asked to interview Miscavige, in person or by phone, and renewed the request repeatedly the past five weeks. Church officials said Miscavige’s schedule would not permit an interview before July.

        At 5:50 p.m. Saturday, Miscavige e-mailed the Times to protest the newspaper’s decision to publish instead of waiting until he was available. His letter said he would produce information “annihilating the credibility” of the defectors. Beloved by millions of Scientologists, church spokesmen say, Miscavige has guided the church through a quarter-century of growth.

        The defectors are liars, they say, bitter apostates who have dug up tired allegations from the Internet and inflated the importance of the positions they held in Scientology’s dedicated work force known as the Sea Org. They say it was the defectors who physically abused staff members, and when Miscavige found out, he put a stop to it and demoted them.

        Now they say the defectors are trying to stage a coup, inventing allegations so they can topple Miscavige and seize control of the church.

        The defectors deny it. They say they are speaking out because Miscavige must be exposed.[..]
        http://www.tampabay.com/news/article1012148.ece

        I’d say that that is very balanced reporting. Why would they need the newspaper to cooperate if thse standards are what they are looking at?

        If they needed to speak and interview the newspaper, they would have also needed to speak to those who were reported on. Certainly Mr. Szechenyi and Mr. Carollo didn’t expect the St Petersburg Times to tell them anything more than what was written in the first place, did they?
        I see your point but it’s not clear why they would need the paper to cooperate in the first place. Please expound on this. Thank you.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  11. collapse expand

    Hi Steve,

    Thank you very much for your response.
    I’m not sure if you’re having to bite your tongue on this one, but I wish you were totally free to elaborate.
    Other than personal curiosity about the subject (having seen some of the abuses first hand), I don’t really need to pursue this further.
    I know that the reports were based on actual incidents and it goes against my moral sensibilities to see the perpetrators try to game the system. Hopefully Mr. Szechenyi and Mr. Carollo will speak directly with the ex-members.
    Thanks again.

  12. collapse expand

    Responding to Mary McConnell and to Elizabeth:
    I appreciate your thoughtful comments and questions. The best course would be for the two reporters conducting the study to speak for themselves about the purpose of the study. I didn’t conceive or design the study; rather, I served as their editor at their request after they pieced together their analysis of the St. Petersburg Times coverage.

    But I’ll do my best, one more time, to explain the intention of the study. It’s important to understand what Szechenyi and Carollo intended to do. Your questions/comments, Mary and Elizabeth, seem to derive from a mistaken notion of the study’s purpose.

    Szechenyi and Carollo were not investigating the former Scientologists who provided the new material for the June 2009 St. Petersburg Times series and for some of the November 2009 series. Nor were Szechenyi and Carollo investigating any specific Scientology leader. Rather, the two reporters were composing a study about the quality of the St. Petersburg Times journalism. Such a study would perhaps have benefitted from a thorough conversation with the St. Petersburg Times newsroom staff responsible for the June and November series. But the St. Petersburg Times reporters and editors involved in the pieces about the Scientologists chose against cooperation with Szechenyi and Carollo. As a result, Szechenyi and Carollo relied entirely on what appeared in print to complete the analysis of the coverage, rather than being able to supplement what appeared in print with the thoughts of the St. Petersburg Times staff.

    I hope this explanation is clear. I don’t know how else to explain the purpose of the study more clearly.

    • collapse expand

      So it wasn’t really a study after all. That’s pretty clear.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      Mr. Weinberg, if it was Szechenyi and Carollo’s job, as you say, to “determine whether the evidence from the Scientologists rose to the level of excellence” … and the St. Pete Times wouldn’t cooperate with the investigation, doesn’t it follow that the most sensible course of action would be to interview the people the St. Pete Times interviewed?

      After all, they could’ve discovered that the interviewees had told the SP Times an entirely different story than the one published, or omitted key facts; by assessing only the evidence which appeared in the paper without further investigation, the reporters necessarily had to presume the evidence presented by the St. Pete Times was accurate.

      In other words, how could the reporters have possibly (to paraphrase your words) ‘determined the evidence’s level of excellence’ when they failed to take the most obvious course of action (interviewed the evidence producers) in making any determination about the evidence?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  13. collapse expand

    Responding to Mary:

    Thanks for the links re Journalism ethics and standards. Very enlightening.

    Since the two reporters were “composing a study about the quality of the St. Petersburg Times journalism” you would think accuracy of the report would be a vital part of quality.

    To establish the accuracy you wouldn’t ask the reporters that wrote the pieces.
    What are they supposed to say?…
    No, you would compare what was said by the ex-members and by the Scientologists versus what was printed. That would only happen by speaking to both sides.

    Anyways, the St Pete Times did an admirable job. I hope Mr. Szechenyi and Mr. Carollo can chime in on this thread and fill us in to the degree they are allowed by their contract with the Scientologists.

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    The Prison Dilemma is a collection of links and other stuff I stumble across while writing and reporting for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University -- an organization that investigates claims of wrongful conviction in Pennsylvania's State Correctional Institutions. If you have tips, thoughts, ideas, requests -- or if you know someone with a wrongful conviction claim -- contact me here:

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