There is a fascinating religion story developing right now out in cyberspace, one in which Hollywood crashes into the Internet, while bloggers and journalists (and journalists who are bloggers) square off once again with the crack legal team from the Church of Scientology. At the center of the story is, of course, the megastar Tom Cruise who (at this point in the sentence, you can insert your most recent forwarded email containing some wild rumor about his role in the spreading and defense of his faith).
The ink is already flying. Here is the top of a Rush & Molloy gossip report in the New York Daily News:
A precious trove of Tom Cruise's sermons on Scientology could be headed to the Internet.
"It's the most unintentionally hilarious footage you've ever seen," says investigative journalist Mark Ebner, who is helping to post more than two hours of the videotaped preaching. "It's better than Tom jumping on Oprah's couch. It's better than the 'Trapped in the Closet' episode of 'South Park.' "
Among the actor's pronounce-ments, according to Ebner:
* "We [the Scientologists] are the authorities on the mind. ... We are the way to happiness."
* "Crush these guys [psychiatrists]! I've had it! Psychiatry doesn't work. No mercy! None! Go to guns!" (Ebner allows that Cruise wasn't advocating killing shrinks, but merely spouting some macho "Top Gun" talk.)
* "If you are a Scientologist, you see things the way they are, in all their glory, in all their complexity. ... It's rough and tumble. It's wild and woolly. It's a blast."
The report includes -- in this day of multi-media digital journalism -- a link to an example of these public-relations sermons by Cruise. Here it is at Gawker. The problem, of course, is that these links tend to go dead minutes or hours after they go up, as the publishers wrestle with complaints from Cruise & Co.
So try that link quick. Did it work?
This is the latest smackdown between the superstar and the media on issues linked to open coverage of his beliefs and their impact on his career. A Fox News report by Roger Friedman notes:
Cruise, who does not have a college degree, is also described in the videos by a voice-over narrator as a NASA spokesman and an expert on illiteracy. The videos became available online in advance of a new unauthorized biography that cites Cruise as "the number two" in Scientology in the world. "Number one" would be David Miscavige, the Cruise-like leader who succeeded Hubbard two decades ago.
One of the videos was up for a while at radaronline.com. Several others have come and gone on other sites. Some media outlets -- like this column -- have some of the videos but can't host them because of concern over copyright issues. Since Saturday night, the videos have been appearing and disappearing on the Internet.
So have you seen the videos?
Do you want to see the videos?
Do you think you have a right to see the videos?
Can you think of a way for journalists to cover this story -- in the multi-media digital age that we are in -- without links to the videos? How about television reporters trying to cover the story? What should they do?