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And Now, A Word From The Legal Department Of The New Yorker

The Scientology expose is one of my favorite journalistic genres. It combines all the low pleasures of depravity, titilation, hilarity, and pornographic glimpses into the lifestyles of the rich, famous and insane along with the good-for-you qualities of the worthy expose. The only downside, from the readers' standpoint, is that the famously litigious Church of Scientology can force its chroniclers to interrupt their narratives with lawyerly qualifications.

Lawrence Wright's fine contribution to the field in the latest New Yorker has all the obvious hallmarks of a piece that has been combed over by lawyers. You can spot every place where the New Yorker's legal team forced Wright to append a word of rebuttal from the Scientologists in order to stymie the inevitable lawsuit, most of them set off in parentheses. The staff of Jonathan Chait has taken the time to compile the lawyerly caveats in one place:

  • (Travolta, through a lawyer, called this account “pure fabrication.”)
  • (The church says that there are no fixed fees, adding, “Donations requested for ‘courses’ at Church of Scientology begin at $50 and could never possibly reach the amount suggested.”)
  • (“Thoughts have a small amount of mass,” the church contends in a statement. “These are the changes measured.”)
  • (“He’s busy,” Davis told me.)
  • (The church denies this.)
  • (Miscavige declined requests to speak to me, and Tommy Davis says that Miscavige did not attend the event.)
  • (Spielberg’s publicist says that Spielberg doesn’t recall the conversation.)
  • The church claims that such stories are false: “There is not, and never has been, any place of ‘confinement’ . . . nor is there anything in Church policy that would allow such confinement.”
  • Tommy Davis told me that a musical-chairs episode did occur. He explained that Miscavige had been away from the Gold Base for some time, and when he returned he discovered that in his absence many jobs had been reassigned. The game was meant to demonstrate that even seemingly small changes can be disruptive to an organization, underscoring an “administrative policy of the church.” The rest of the defectors’ accounts, Davis told me, was “hoo-ha”: “Chairs being ripped apart, and people being threatened that they’re going to be sent to far-flung places in the world, plane tickets being purchased, and they’re going to force their spouses, and on and on and on. I mean, it’s just nuts!”
  • The church provided me with eleven statements from Scientologists, all of whom said that Miscavige had never been violent. One of them, Yael Lustgarten, said that she was present at the meeting with Hawkins and that the attack by Miscavige never happened. She claims that Hawkins made a mess of his presentation,”He smelled of body odor, he was unshaven, his voice tone was very low, and he could hardly be heard,”and was admonished to shape up. She says that Hawkins “wasn’t hit by anyone.” The defector Amy Scobee, however, says that she witnessed the attack,the two men had fallen into her cubicle. After the altercation, she says, “I gathered all the buttons from Jeff’s shirt and the change from his pockets and gave them back to him.” The church characterizes Scobee, Rinder, Rathbun, Hawkins, De Vocht, Hines, and other defectors I spoke with as “discredited individuals,” who were demoted for incompetence or expelled for corruption; the defectors’ accounts are consistent only because they have “banded together to advance and support each other’s false stories.”
  • (Scientology denies that it obtained the information this way, and Davis produced an affidavit, signed by Scobee, in which she admits to having liaisons. Scobee denies committing adultery, and says that she did not write the affidavit; she says that she signed it in the hope of leaving the church on good terms, so that she could stay in touch with relatives.)
  • The church says that it adheres to “all child labor laws,” and that minors can’t sign up without parental consent; the freeloader tabs are an “ecclesiastical matter” and are not enforced through litigation.
  • (Davis says that King’s name never came up.)
  • (The church says that blow drills do not exist.)
  • (Davis says that Sea Org members enter R.P.F. by their own choosing and can leave at any time; the manual labor maintains church facilities and instills “pride of accomplishment.”)
  • (Cruise’s attorney says that Cruise doesn’t recall meeting Marc.)
  • (The church calls Marc Headley dishonest, claiming that he kept seven hundred dollars in profits after being authorized to sell Scientology camera equipment; Headley says that shipping costs and other expenses account for the discrepancy.)
  • (The church denies this characterization and “vigorously objects to the suggestion that Church funds inure to the private benefit of Mr. Miscavige.”)
  • (The church denies this.)
  • (The church denies Brousseau’s account.)
  • Both Cruise’s attorney and the church deny Brousseau’s account. Cruise’s attorney says that “the Church of Scientology has never expended any funds to the personal benefit of Mr. Cruise or provided him with free services.” Tommy Davis says that these projects were done by contractors, and that Brousseau acted merely as an adviser. He also says, “None of the Church staff involved were coerced in any way to assist Mr. Cruise. Church staff, and indeed Church members, hold Mr. Cruise in very high regard and are honored to assist him. Whatever small economic benefit Mr. Cruise may have received from the assistance of Church staff pales in comparison to the benefits the Church has received from Mr. Cruise’s many years of volunteer efforts for the Church.”
  • (Davis says that he does not recall meeting Shannon, has never scrubbed a Dumpster, and has never had a need to borrow money.)
  • (Rinder denies committing any violence. A sheriff’s report supports this.)