The first item in Howard Kurtz's "Media Notes" column Monday is a chilling tale of how the Church of Scientology recently hired highly decorated investigative journalists to examine how its media nemesis, The St. Petersburg Times, has covered the church's various activities over the years.
I'm not so troubled that the church, a nonprofit with its own magazine, is interested in investigating the Times. After all, it's a free country, and everybody should be entitled to do their own opposition research if they want.
What's disturbing is that the church is trying to pass off the study as "journalism criticism" -- the label applied by Steve Weinberg, a former IRE executive whom Kurtz says was was paid $5,000 to edit the study. Weinberg told Kurtz that his contract calls for the study to be published in full, but only if the church chooses to make it public.
“(T)he contract says the church has the right to do nothing with it except put it in a drawer,” Weinberg told Kurtz.
And for now, it looks like that's where the study will stay.
Clearly, the church is more interested in its reputation than in supporting quality journalism. But the church's attack on the Times undermines journalism in several ways: It lures top journalists into compromising roles; it raises questions about their motives ("I can certainly use the money these days," Weinberg told Kurtz); it tramples any notion of transparency; it raises doubts about the professional integrity of the church's own magazine; and it clearly attempts to cast a chilling effect on the Times' future reporting on the church.
That's 0-for-5 by my count. Boo, hiss.