Scientology smackdown!

As you can see in the video to the right, reporting on Scientology can drive a reporter to fits of rage. In the case of reporter John Sweeney, of the BBC's Panorama, the fits were caught on video and, thanks to YouTube, became a sidebar. Here you can find the program on which Sweeney was reporting. I found it very well reported and informative. I appreciate the way Sweeney addressed his outburst at a Scientologist. Throughout this ordeal, the BBC has been very forthright about what happened and why it happened. I can't say the same for the Scientologists Sweeney was reporting on, but I'm sure they have their side to tell.

Here's Sweeney:

As often in life, I snapped over something completely different and quite trivial.

Top Scientologist Tommy "Don't mention the word cult" Davis had been goading me all week, and on the seventh day I fell into his elephant trap. He shouted at me and I shouted back, louder.

If you are interested in becoming a TV journalist, it is a fine example of how not to do it. I look like an exploding tomato and shout like a jet engine and every time I see it makes me cringe.

I apologised almost immediately, Tommy carried on as if nothing had happened but meanwhile Scientology had rushed off copies of me losing it to my boss, my boss's boss and my boss's boss's boss, the Director-General of the BBC.

I lost my voice, but not my mind.

It seems that Scientology representatives spied on the BBC reporters working on the documentary, among other hostile behaviors including stalking, shouting (nothing compared to Sweeney, though) and walking away during a conversation. If any of the people I was reporting on started spying on me (or following me), my reaction would not be very positive. In fact, I might be very angry.

If you're a reporter: How would you you act if you were treated this way by a group you were trying to report on? Better yet, how would you report on Scientology?

At a certain point, Sweeney lost his ability to report objectively on Scientology, particularly when he realized he was being followed. If I were his editor, I would have done him a favor and replaced him on the story, but all things considered, aside from the "exploding tomato" outburst, Sweeney produced a fine piece of television journalism.

One of my favorite quotes from the story, after a representative of Scientology viciously berates Sweeney for failing to report on Scientology in a balanced manner, has Sweeney saying, "Somehow I can't imagine the Church of England behaving like this." Yes, somehow I can't imagine that either, and I think the way the British understate things is just swell.

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