Failing to burn shoe leather on Scientology

tom cruise and scientologyBill Blakemore of ABC News dropped a blunt assessment of the Tom Cruise-Paramount situation Thursday: It's all about Scientology. (By the way, did you hear Cruise has inked a new deal already?) It's the link that everyone has been wanting to make, but no other reporter has had the guts to run with it, until now. In the scarcely reported article, Blakemore dumps the garbage can on Scientology, bringing up Time's reporting, Rolling Stone's article and the opinions and research of two smart-sounding individuals, cult expert Rick Ross and Stephen A. Kent, a sociologist at the University of Alberta.

The article starts off with some fairly run-of-the-mill Scientology stuff: the cruel emperor Xenu, intergalactic tribulations between extraterrestrials and of course, L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer who came up with Scientology. But then it gets into the attempts by Scientologists to gain acceptance around the world. Enter Tom Cruise, stage right:

"Scientology made significant inroads into Congress during the Clinton administration," says sociologist Stephen A. Kent at the University of Alberta. "Other governments including the U.K., France and Germany have not given Scientology tax exempt status," he says.

Kent says that, following contacts between Scientologist John Travolta and President Clinton, the U.S. State Department became an advocate in Germany on behalf of Scientology.

Cult expert Ross says the Germans are extremely wary of Scientology, and consider it a fascist organization.

Kent adds that active lobbying on Capitol Hill got prominent Scientologists -- including musicians Isaac Hayes and Chick Correa, as well as actor Travolta -- before congressional committees.

And during the current Bush administration? Professor Kent cites a 4:30 pm meeting listed on the official schedule of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on June 13, 2003[,] with Tom Cruise and Scientology official Kurt Weiland.

This is all very interesting stuff, but most of it we've heard before. Blakemore relies heavily on Kent and Ross in this report for anything outside the Time and Rolling Stone pieces. He makes it clear that obtaining answers from Scientology leaders was harder than getting detailed answers from a government agency involved in national security (it's hard, trust me).

So rather than simply talking to a couple of people that act as talking heads, which is what he was attempting to do in contacting Scientology's offices, why couldn't Blakemore be a bit more energetic and check out some of the claims that Kent and Ross make?

Go talk to some real Scientologists. Go to one of their booths. They'll talk to you. Watch the video they show people. Then come back to us with what you discovered. This type of reporting means leaving your telephone, email (unless you have a BlackBerry) and the comforts of the office. I know it sounds difficult, but it's what good reporting takes.

Time's Richard Behar pulled it off, as did Rolling Stone's Janet Reitman. If you are not going to put the necessary shoe leather into the reporting, at least provide your readers with links to the articles you cite.

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