What did the Church of Scientology say to the owners of a TV station to get them to remove a story criticizing Scientology? Why did they give in?
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Last week, I wrote about the media’s abject failure to tell the true story of Scientology and its relationship with Lisa Marie Presley, who lived most of her life in the notorious cult before breaking away. She died January 12 at age 54.
This week, I received an interesting email from Dodge Landesman — an anchor for KYMA, the Yuma, AZ, NBC and CBS TV station — who also covered the Scientology angle in the Presley story. He told me that he has been fired. Like me, he wrote about Presley and her role as a possible witness against Scientology in a criminal trial for rape against another celebrity, Scientologist Danny Masterson.
After the story aired, Landesman explained, Scientology contacted the reporter, as well as his bosses, who bounced it to the conglomerate that owns the station — and threatened to sue them. The company pulled the story and fired Landesman.
In place of the original article is this mysteriously vague notice:
Editor’s Note: In an exercise of editorial discretion, NPG of Yuma-El Centro Broadcasting, LLC has elected to unpublish this piece. After careful review, and given information that came to light after the piece was published, NPG of Yuma-El Centro Broadcasting, LLC has determined that it can no longer stand behind the piece because, among other things, it contained aspects of opinion by the author.
If Landesman had written something false — as proven by “information that came to light after the piece was published” — it’s odd that the editor didn’t publish a correction notice.
KYMA News Director Ernesto Romero declined to discuss the matter, saying, “Our company does not comment on personnel matters and the editorial note included in the article speaks for itself.”
Although the original report has been taken down, we can still view it here — with the tantalizing headline “Lisa Marie Presley was planning Scientology takedown before her death.”
I spoke with Landesman, whom I found honest, perhaps to a fault, as he readily admitted to several prior professional missteps, including giving a $20 bill to a homeless man in line at a food bank whom he was hoping to interview.
As the notice above makes clear, Landesman’s main crime seems to be including what some might characterize as opinions in his piece. However, anyone who has ever covered Scientology knows that what might look like opinions or accusations are largely well documented and confirmed by others. They have become background and context.
Scientology has a steady stream of defectors — insiders who eventually realized that they had been hoodwinked and had wasted large parts of their lives ruining other people’s lives — and they have provided tremendous detail on the inner workings of the secretive outfit. Three former members allege they were forced into the church as children, and had to work into adulthood for almost no pay. They are trying to bring a child trafficking suit against the head of the church, David Miscavige, but he is in hiding.
Landesman’s firing by a media corporation perfectly underlines why we need independent entities like WhoWhatWhy — and is also a textbook example of Scientology’s modus operandi.
Being aggressive (vicious might be more accurate) was one of the main recommendations pushed by the organization’s wacky founder and college dropout, L. Ron Hubbard, as part of his core self-help regimen. He basically thought that if you were aggressive all the time, all over the place, you’d be a winner. (Makes one wonder if Donald Trump copied anyone’s homework there.) Today, of course, aggressiveness is pretty much baked into so much of our culture that Scientology’s take-no-prisoners attitude may prompt yawns.
In any case, it’s interesting that Scientology on the one hand takes refuge in calling itself a religion (“Hey, don’t discriminate against us and our beliefs”), but also acts in a manner that is on the far end away from “rising above it all” — being highly litigious, hiring armed goons to investigate and intimidate former members and critics, and so on.
Its goal is simply to shift attention from its horrendous history and practices onto others, and put them on the defensive.
I asked Landesman to identify who called him from Scientology. It turns out it was Karin Pouw, the group’s longtime PR hatchet lady.
I had to laugh. Way back in the mid-’90s, Pouw was hassling me and my employers, including John F. Kennedy Jr., when he sent me to Germany to do a story on why some officials in that country were determined to ban Scientology over its behavior (it never was banned and remains active there).
Her job seems to be to call and convince news organizations to back down.
Here’s my suggestion for the media: Do not be intimidated by this outfit’s Weinstein-like tactics. Stick to your guns. If these people come calling, push back. And report every infraction to the public.
The truth is too important to let mere mortals — even those who paid Scientology hundreds of thousands of dollars to attain promised superhuman powers that somehow never quite arrived — dissuade us from doing our jobs.
For more information, here are a few sources: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (HBO); Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath (A&E); A Billion Years: My Escape from a Life in the Highest Ranks of Scientology; The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology; Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me