Belief Beat

Scientology has suddenly made lots of news lately — without the usual focus on Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and the religion’s other celebrity adherents. Last month, newsrooms were buzzing about the church hiring three investigative reporters, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, to critique the St. Petersburg Times’ coverage of the Florida-based church. A few days ago, the Sunday New York Times ran a front-page story reporting on ex-Scientologists who accuse church leaders of abusing the staff psychologically, physically and financially.

As a GetReligion blogger points out, coverage of Scientology isn’t necessarily balanced, focusing more on the faith’s science fiction roots (aliens are involved) than any positive contributions its members have made. But as a religion reporter, I can vouch for the fact that this church just doesn’t provide the kind of access that journalists routinely get from other faiths. (Undercover reporting has its place – check out this NYT piece from November for a peek inside the church’s Manhattan center – but it’s not a great way to cultivate a beat.) Basically, Scientology hits all three categories that make religions wary of the press: it’s tiny, it’s young, and it’s secretive. This recent surge in stories may simply reflect that the group has now been around long enough to have defectors, and to become more media-savvy.

What do you think?

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