A couple years ago, Scientology posted a puzzling want ad seeking "experienced investigative reporters" for its magazine, Freedom, which "covers human rights and social betterment issues and does investigative reporting in the public interest." What kind of stories would these reporters be investigating? We got an answer that the mission includes digging up dirt on Scientology's critics.
On Friday, Freedom reporter James Lynch sent an email to Foster Kamer, a blogger who used to work for the Village Voice, asking for information for a profile of Tony Ortega, the former editor of the Village Voice who has since focused primarily on criticizing the Church of Scientology. Lynch's first question: "Do you know any reasons for Ortega's obsessive interest in and incessant blogging about Scientology?"
We don't know Ortega's reasons, but let us try to answer that one: The rise of Scientology is an effing fascinating story, and fascinating stories are what real reporters like to write about. The Church has been working to rehabilitate its image recently, following the publication of Lawrence Wright's book Going Clear, a history of Scientology's packed with fascinating details, including, just to name a few off the top of my head, the Church's maybe-accidental involvement with a Moroccan coup, slave labor camps, and current leader David Miscavige's ritualized humiliation of its clergy. It's is not a flattering portrait.
Scientology used to scare away reporters mainly with lawsuits. In the 1970s, Scientology sued Paulette Cooper, author of The Scandal of Scientology, 19 times. In the early 1990s, it sued Time Warner for $416 million over an unflattering Time cover story. It cost the company $3.7 million in legal fees. Wright's book isn't for sale in the U.K. because it's easier to sue for libel there.
Not to diminish Ortega, but he is probably a less fascinating story than Scientology. We asked Ortega for comment; he said he took it as a compliment:
Jim Lynch is Scientology's "reporter" for its propaganda magazine, Freedom, which it has used to smear journalists like Lawrence Wright, Anderson Cooper, and John Sweeney in the past.
If Freedom really is going to write about me, I guess it's just a sign that I'm doing something right.
Here's the full email from Lynch:
I'm a reporter writing a profile of ex- Village Voice editor Tony Ortega for
Freedom Magazine which is sponsored by the Church of Scientology.
My understanding is that you used to work/blog for the Voice.
My questions are simple:
1) Do you know any reasons for Ortega's obsessive interest in and incessant
blogging about Scientology while he was at the Voice and now as an
2) Is it true that Ortega was fired by VVM due to his blogging about
Scientology to the detriment of his editorial duties? This was intimated in
various NY media reports but, to my knowledge, never confirmed.
3) In what kind of regard did VV staffers hold Ortega?
That's it....and if there is anyone else you might think it worth my while
to talk to, please let me know.
Any answers/insights regarding any or all of the above three questions will
be considered on or off the record according to your wishes.
Thanks in advance.