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Scientology group strikes back at Time magazine

Title: Scientology group strikes back at Time magazine
Date: Wednesday, 19 June 1991
Publisher: Associated Press
Author: Rick Hampson
Main source: link (117 KiB)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Some subjects of unflattering magazine profiles are content to write a letter to the editor or cancel their subscription. The Church of Scientology, pilloried in Time as "The Cult of Greed," is fighting back with a $3 million ad campaign.

After several weeks of taking out full-page color ads in USA Today, the church has released a glossy, 28-page booklet that purports to refute Time's charges and expose its motivation for the May 6 cover story.

Titled "The Story that Time Couldn't Tell," the booklet was inserted in Friday's editions of the newspaper.

The cover shows two silhouettes behind the glass of a door marked "Editor." A man chomping on a cigar, presumably the office's occupant, is lecturing a cowering, bespectacled underling, presumably a reporter or writer.

Inside, the booklet asks how Time could print "an article filled with demonstrable falsehoods, saying not one positive thing about the church in eight pages of text?"

Scientology's answer is this: Scientology has vigorously criticized Prozac, a controversial anti-depressant drug made by Eli Lilly & Co. Lilly is a client of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, which is owned by the WPP Group. In all, WPP's divisions "control" $57 million, or 15 percent, of Time's ad revenue.

Time "sold off another fraction of its journalistic soul to satisfy its advertisers" by attacking Scientology, according to the booklet.

Time spokesman Robert Pondiscio denied the allegation.

"To claim that an advertiser had a hand in that story is just absolutely ridiculous," he said. "There's something here called separation of church and state — of editorial and advertising — and to suggest that a cover story can be bought at any price ... that is just not the way we do business."

In its story, Time said Scientology is not a religion but a "hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members." The group, Time reported, induces members to sign up for costly counseling sessions, sells them expensive books and "attracts the unwary" through a network of profit-making businesses with hidden ties to Scientology.

Its founder, the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, was "part storyteller, part flimflam man," according to Time; the church's current leader, David Miscavige, was described as "cunning, ruthless and so paranoid that he kept plastic wrap over his glass of water."

The church's advertising counterpunch began in May. One of the first ads showed a 1933 Time cover featuring Adolf Hitler and asked, "What magazine gets it wrong in 1991? ... Answer: The same one that was wrong in 1936."

The ad quoted a biographer of Time co-founder Henry Luce as saying that the magazine implied a "guarded approval" of the dictator before World War II.

Similar ads were run featuring a Time cover story on Benito Mussolini and stories about LSD from the 1950s and '60s. Other ads attacked Lilly and its drugs, including Prozac and Darvon. The church says it is strenuously opposed to drugs.

Richard Duncan, Time's executive editor, said he could not recall such a concentrated attack on the magazine.

"We chuckled when we read the ads," he added, "but we were a little concerned to have all that energy directed against us."

Scientology describes itself as "an applied religious philosophy." Time estimated its membership at 50,000; the church claims millions of adherents.

The church's booklet also disputes Time's claim that court papers show a Scientology church listed income of $503 million for 1987. In fact, the church said, the only court filing the church ever made regarding its income that year declared income of only $4 million.

Time said it stands by its report.

In disputing Time's claim that the church is essentially a moneymaking machine, the booklet says church leaders live simply: "Few even own a car. They live in apartments furnished by the church that do not exceed 315 square feet."

It quotes several mainstream religious leaders as defending Scientology as a legitimate, if misunderstood, religion.

Scientology has been the subject of unflattering profiles before. Asked why his group spent so much to rebut one article, Heber C. Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International, said, "We were deluged with demands from Scientologists to respond to this hatchet job."

"The story that upsets them points out how they deal with people they perceive to be enemies," said Time's Duncan. "This campaign was in line with that."