Typically, Rupert Murdoch articulated what many are thinking but few will utter: there is ‘something creepy’ about these people
Actor Tom Cruise at the opening of a Scientology church in Madrid. Photograph: Paul Hanna/Reuters/Corbis
Tony Ortega is a very nice man who edits the Village Voice and who, for as long as I can remember, has sent an almost daily email blast about the scandals and dirty dealings that surround the Church of Scientology. Up until Katie Holmes left Tom Cruise, Tony seemed merely like a man with a slightly troubling obsession. Now, he seems like a man who has lucked into a great story.
There are many other journalists who must feel similarly vindicated. Of all the cults that have come and gone during the last half-century, Scientology is the one that has really caught the imagination of the media. It’s especially been a bugbear of the left-leaning, conspiracy-minded side of our business and the swift Holmes-Cruise settlement will surely stoke the belief of conspiracists that more intrigue is afoot.
I have sometimes thought, too, that Scientology seems particularly compelling to writers because there, but for the grace of god, might we all have gone – at least, if we were a little more enterprising. L Ron Hubbard, the Church’s founder, was a prolific novelist and self-help author before becoming a religious leader.
Then, there has been its, well, cult-like secrecy. This has been catnip to many journalists who’ve believed they might help reveal the Church’s fundamental perfidy. What’s more, Scientology’s secrecy has long been augmented by the Church’s extreme litigiousness, which seemed to say something about the size of its secrets, and to confer a sort of martyrdom on anyone who was sued in pursuit of them.
And then, there are its celebrities. Indeed, Scientology’s media savviness has been greater than many media organizations’. Early on, the Church implemented the strategy – like a perfume maker or fashion label – of courting and aligning itself with celebrities. This seems to have included in its early days (I confess to not having read any of the fevered coverage about Scientology’s brainwashing of Hollywood figures and to have taken this detail from Wikipedia, an entry that seems to have been carefully and regularly swept by the Church itself), Gloria Swanson and Dave Brubeck. (Other celebrities adherents include, without an apparent pattern, Kirstie Alley, Lisa Marie Presley, Isaac Hayes, and Chick Corea.)
Converting movie stars was, on many levels, an inspired notion. It not only conferred notice and status of sorts on the Church, but these were easy pickings. Many movie stars are not just stupid, but, in their deep insecurity, easily drawn to comic book-like philosophies.
Tom Cruise is Scientology’s all-time biggest catch, and, as Hollywood’s leading money-maker, one of the Church’s biggest benefactors. Cruise is so big that it has arguably become less the Church of Scientology and more the Church of Cruise. (Cruise’s devotion to Scientology is, in the pantheon of celebrity conversations, up there with Muhammad Ali signing on with the Nation of Islam, which, like Scientology, includes visits from space aliens in its beliefs.) While Cruise’s stature and power in Hollywood has perhaps earned the Church some begrudging tolerance, it has also brought it ever more attention.
Tony Ortega in the Village Voice argued in a dispatch after the Holmes-Cruise settlement that they might well have resolved their differences so quickly on direct orders from the Church to Cruise: hush everything up ASAP.
Likely, the Church took notice of Rupert Murdoch’s timely tweet suggesting that Scientology (which has a long history of contempt proceedings in Murdoch’s native Australia) may be not just dodgy but evil. (Of note, Cruise’s former wife, Nicole Kidman, is a Murdoch family friend.) It is one thing to have the leftwing press after you, and another to risk having Fox News demonize you.
Murdoch’s subsequent tweet might have been even more alarming for the Church: he followed up his attack on Scientology with a skeptical jab at Mormonism, if not equating the two, neatly linking them. Indeed, with a little critical interpretation, Scientology’s current bad press might have as much to do with Mitt Romney as with Tom and Kate.
Murdoch’s point certainly seemed clear (and hard to argue with): what we have here are two wakadoo religions – if that’s what we call them. Mormonism may be somewhat more established than Scientology, but is still, in Murdoch’s raised-eye analysis, “a mystery”.