Media

6 Desperate Ways the Church of Scientology Is Trying to Stop 'Going Clear'

Alex Gibney's damning HBO documentary has set off a war with the famously aggressive church.

The Church of Scientology has a well-publicized history of going after its critics with everything it has, including its tons and tons of dollars, which reportedly total about $3 billion. So it’s not all that surprising that, as Alex Gibney’s much talked-about Scientology documentary “Going Clear” – which numerous reports claim uncovers some fairly batshit revelations – heads to HBO on March 29, the Church has undertaken a full-scale, multimedia counterattack. Here are six ways Scientology, gloves off, is going after Gibney and everyone involved in "Going Clear."

1. Buying A Super Bowl Ad. After the film was lauded by critics from numerous outlets after its Sundance Film Festival premiere in January, the Church ran an ad before America’s biggest television event. The commercial, titled “The Age of Answers,” looked like any generic ad for a new rising technology, except that the hot, new gadgetry shown is an e-meter. “Imagine an age in which the predictability of science and the wisdom of religion combine,” says a voiceover in the deep, disembodied voice of someone who knows more than you. A few seconds later, the words “spiritual technology” appear on the screen, which in a literal flash blend to become the word “scientology.”

The Super Bowl ad, which appeared in markets around the country, likely cost the Church millions by even the most conservative estimates. Not that it matters when you have billions, but it's a mark of commitment, nonetheless.

2. Sending a Five-Page Letter to the Hollywood Reporter Calling Every Ex-Scientologist in the Film a Liar. Earlier this month, the Hollywood Reporter requested to screen the documentary with high-ranking Church officials. Instead, Church spokesperson Karin Pouw suggested the magazine send a list of questions relating to allegations, which she in turn would “be happy” to answer. But in lieu of answers to the 20 individual questions asked, Pouw responded with a five-page letter, which you kind of have to read to marvel at the astounding over-the-top attacks.  In it, she essentially offers individualized takedowns of each participant, and attempts to discredit them in numerous personal ways. Pouw writes:  

In two hours this film racks up more falsehoods, errors, embellished tales and blatant omissions than were committed by Rolling Stone, Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly combined. By our calculation, the film on average includes at least one major error every two minutes.

Rather than provide a response to each of these questions, which are part of Gibney’s propaganda, I am going to take up the sources of these allegations so you understand their motivations to spread hatred, religious bigotry and lies. We are not trying to discredit these people. It is simply that Mr. Gibney is miscrediting them.

The inclusion of any one of these liars is enough to irrevocably taint the film as biased propaganda.

But the letter contains more than just blurbs essentially accusing each participant of lying, it includes links to several videos. Which brings us to our next point.

3. Producing a Series of Mini-Documentaries to Defame Everyone Associated with the Film and the Book Upon Which It’s Based. The Church apparently decided to enter the realm of documentary filmmaking in its own defense, producing several films that individually attack those who appear in or were part of the creation of "Going Clear." Titles include “Sara Goldberg: The Homewrecker,” “Marc Headley: The Soulless Sellout,” “Marty Rathbun: A Violent Psychopath,” “Mike Rinder: The Wife Beater,” and more. Each is filled with the hallmarks of fear-mongering filmmaking: haunting orchestral musical scores; greyscale images of the accused; that tabloid-news “swoosh” noise between segments; etc. (Again, the full list of films is in the letter.) Check out “Spanky Taylor: The Drama Queen,” below:

4. Purchasing Google Ads to Redirect and Confuse People Looking for Information About the Film. As the Daily Beast recently noted, a Google search for “Going Clear” brings many hits, but it’s the top hit that’s most curious. Marked “Going Clear Documentary—HBO's Going Clear‎,” it leads to the URL www.freedommag.org/HBO. Freedom Magazine is published by the Church of Scientology, and says its dedicated mission is "Investigative Reporting in the Public Interest." Granted, most Internet users know the first return on any search is likely to be a paid ad, but there are likely many who don’t know. When those seekers click on the link, they’ll find themselves on a page titled “Exterminating” [Director Alex] Gibney’s Propaganda,” which features a video takedown of Gibney that immediately starts playing. 

5. Starting a Twitter Account Under the Guise of Merely Being a Media Watchdog. The Church has launched a Twitter account under the name Free Media Ethics, which describes itself as “taking a resolute stand against the broadcasting and publishing of false information.” While that lofty goal may be its true ambition, all it really seems to do is tweet mean stuff about “Going Clear.” That includes name-calling people involved in the film, criticizing the documentary’s musical score and tweeting taunts about how the movie failed to fill a room.

6. Taking Out a Full-Page Ad in the New York TimesOn January 16, the Church took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to denounce the movie. Its method? Comparing it to the now widely discredited Rolling Stone University of Virginia rape expose. The ad’s headline reads, “Is Alex Gibney’s Upcoming HBO ‘Documentary’ a Rolling Stone/UVA Redux?” When trying to minimize press for your issue, hitching your wagon to another story still making headlines might not be the best way to go. 

 

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Election 2018
Environment
Food
Media
World