Playing the man and not the ball?

Having just watched the Panorama programme on Scientology, I am speechless… Without passing judgement on anyone’s belief, that ‘fair game’ counter strategy seems both extraordinary and utterly relentless. The BBC have this segment (comments are coming in at chat room rate) from earlier in the programme. Here’s the reaction from the Scientologists’ camera. Here’s the apology. The ‘debate’ begins and here (and the satire and here). Sinister, or biter bit?

  • Pete Baker


    That scam has history.. not least facing down the US Inland Revenue.. which requires serious money/power.

    As for the BBC.. more of their version of events here

    And from John Sweeney here

    Earlier examples of the opponents of Xenu’s counter-attacks

    And deep background on the scam here.

    Hail Xenu!!

  • parcifal

    will catch up with the links tomorrow guys, but yes I watched it, and was delighted to put a face to name, recalling that Ross guy, the cult investigator, scientology had a 168 pdf on him !!

    Steve Hassan is the expert on Cults, and his best-seller is excellent.

  • Harry Flashman

    While waiting for a bus in Middle Abbey Street, Dublin, one night back in the 1980’s I got to chatting to an amiable chap about life and the cosmos, as you do. He gave me a very interesting book and I very foolishly gave him my address. Wow! For the next ten years I’d get these odd, plaintive letters, written in various different scrawly handwriting on excercise book pages, pleading with me to join the church of scientology. Weird and creepy, so I agree they’re a cult.

    However they are perfectly entitled to defend their cult if they so desire and Sweeneys’ hysterical screaming shows him to have no credibility whatsoever as a serious objective journalist and he should have been fired.

    One other thing, when it comes to weird, dangerous, cult-like religions is the BBC going to investigate another more obvious and dangerous one? You might have heard of it, starts with an “I” and ends in Slam.

    I understand it doesn’t meet the Beeb’s terms of reference of being American and right wing and therefore sort of like sinister, but nonetheless some sort of investigation as to why British born members of this particular cult seem so preoccupied with blowing themselves and fellow citizens to bits on the London transport system might be worth an investigation or two.

    I’ll bet Sweeney wouldn’t harass or scream at a Muslim outside a Mosque, but then Scientologists ain’t noted for their beheading abilities.

  • Fraggle

    Very amusing Harry, you ask :

    One other thing, when it comes to weird, dangerous, cult-like religions is the BBC going to investigate another more obvious and dangerous one? You might have heard of it, starts with an “I” and ends in Slam.

    I clicked the link Mick provided and it seems the beeb did investigate and the show was on a week earlier.

  • I understand it doesn’t meet the Beeb’s terms of reference of being American and right wing and therefore sort of like sinister

    You missed this episode, then?

  • qubol

    wow Scientologists are so feckin weird – you can’t even have fun with them (I tried to fill in some online form to get them to visit a friend, it takes over 300 questions to complete)
    The thing I thought though was the Scientologist guy was so obviously faking his anger – it was too OTT. That being the case how did John Sweeney rise to it? I guess they just wore him down. I thin an undercover follow up with Keith Allen would rock.

  • Two Nations

    A left wing cult vs a money-grabbing cult?

    Can they both lose?

    That guy Sweeney was completely useless at his job. He seemed really out of depth and floundered under the smallest of pressures.

    All I kept thinking was how good Louis Theroux is at this type of thing. Even Ruby Wax would have made a better investigative report. Sweeney just did not have the personality to pull it off.

    The Scientologists shot themselves in the foot. To still come across as badly as they did when the journo was making a complete horlicks of it, shows how truly weird the cult actually is.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I understand it doesn’t meet the Beeb’s terms of reference of being American and right wing

    Jesus Christ, Harry. You just couldn’t resist, could you ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Two Nations:

    The Scientologists shot themselves in the foot.

    They have been doing this since the day and hour they were set up. Hubbard instructed “never defend – always attack”. They will never sit back and look at the damage they may be doing themselves; they’ll just keep blindly attacking their opponents. They are a religion after all; so they can do nothing other than following Hubbard’s science fiction “scriptures”.

    I only became interested in them after hearing about their efforts to censor their texts. Someone on Slashdot posted a copy of one of their “sacred texts” in a comment box. Normally the comment would have been overlooked, but Scientology called their lawyers and forced Slashdot to remove the comment. In doing so, Slashdot provided at the same time copious links to copies of the text hosted abroad, as well as links to Scientology criticism websites, on their front page, ensuring that Scientology’s efforts to silence them in fact led to many many more people being able to read their “scriptures”.

    Scientology has an office in Belfast. It’s on Great Victoria Street at the Shaftesbury Square end, at the former Backbeat record shop. At the moment it just says “Dianetics” (this is a cover name for Scientology to recruit unsuspecting punters by fooling them into believing it is a legitimate self-help programme). I’ve not seen any activity there whenever I’ve been past.

    I like Xenu. I reckon he was a good Communist.

  • Martin

    Sorry – just to change the subject very slightly –

    “Without passing judgement on anyone’s belief…” Since when is it inadmissable to do precisely that? A ‘belief’ is a set of propositions that certain things are true, in fact. It is not only admissable, but incumbent on us, to make judgements about these things, if they’re proposed to us.

    Fraggle’s dig at Islam is small-minded, maybe: but as far as I’m concerned scientology is no odder than Islam, Christianity, etc. They’re all cults. Some of them are just better-connected, or better-armed.

  • I Wonder

    “Sweeneys’ hysterical screaming shows him to have no credibility whatsoever as a serious objective journalist and he should have been fired.”

    He makes it clear he wasn’t proud of himself but I think that he fell foul, as a rational being, of the utterly irrational. To call for his sacking shows a similar irrationality, compounded by the needlessly offenseive reference to Islam (unlike Scientology, a world religion) as a “cult.”

  • I Wonder

    A couple of them sit out at a picnic table some evenings. Haven’t seen them engage with anyone. always hurry by. 🙂

  • Two Nations
  • smcgiff

    Scientology is tomorrow’s Christianity.

    Irritating isn’t it, but you can kind of feel what it was like being a Roman citizen worshipping Mars, while a pesky little movement went around preaching “love thy neighbour”, and not in a kinky lascivious way.

    Scientology appear at disaster sites, quicker than a lawyer at a car crash. But, they’re only following the example of other religions.

    Besides, if Ethan Hawk, Jerry MaGuire & Maverick are all fans, it must be alright, mmm?

  • parcifal

    the key to understanding how a cult works is the word Recruitment.
    Its a fact that no-one joins Scientology or Al-Quaida for that matter; you get recruited; which means your hopes and fears are played and preyed on, the cult then uses brainwashing techniques to stop you questioning.
    They tell you not to read or listen to TV anymore, because that’s all “satan lies” for example;
    They control you emotionally by getting you to break off relationships with family and friends etc.
    Then there’s always a big idea to sell you, often involving the concept that in some way “You are special”, or “yYou have been chosen”.
    Its a finite set of deceptive tricks.

  • Fraggle

    Martin, read it again. I did not make a dig at Islam. Harry Flashman was making the dig.

    Oh Parsifal, “They control you emotionally by getting you to break off relationships with family and friends etc. ”

    Who was it that was supposed to have said, “leave your friends and famly and follow me”.

  • parcifal

    the Lord did indeed recruit his disciples, but didn’t teach his followers to hate their family and friends, or see them as “lost”, or “unclean”; unlike in the heart-breaking part of the documentary where Scientology encouraged its followers not to visit grandpa who was not well.

  • another_pleb

    scientology is no odder than Islam, Christianity, etc. They’re all cults.

    Martin, if you were to go to an imam, a priest, a minister or a rabbi etc. and asked them, “What’s islam/christianity/judaisim all about?” They would tell you and probably at great length. With scientology, you apparently don’t even get to hear about Xenu and all that until you have spent thousands of pounds, you don’t know what you are getting into.

    I think that that is one of the main differences between a “religion” and a “cult”.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Two Nations

    I think you’re right, as I was thinking the exact same thing myself – that this was actually Louis Theroux or maybe John Ronson territory (ie ‘gonzo’ journalism, haha). It’s fine for them, but for a hard news show like Panorama, it really didn’t cut it. It was good, watchable TV, but not great journalism.

    I feel that it didn’t really tell me anything other than that Scientology won’t take criticism lying down. The rest was all old news. You feel Sweeney only scratched the surface, and I think he could have followed the money trail a bit more, or used a different interview technique to elicit more information from believers.

    A bit like last night’s Insight on UTV; lazy journalism. Nothing new, just taking an old topic and adding a ‘human interest’ angle to push the ratings.

  • Mick Fealty

    Sharp comment Gonzo. Martin Bell has a piece up on CIF that praises it for making waves (I thought that’s what we bloggers were continually getting it in the neck for). It’s of a piece with his school of ‘journalism of attachment’ thinking.

    As I understand it, the ‘gonzo’ technique is about going deeper and longer, and coming up with penetrating journalism. Having said that, the time and the budget the Beeb give Panorama, it’s doubtful (as you say) that many could have gone much deeper.

  • Belfast Realist

    I have sympathy for John Sweeney – those scientology people are indeed a bunch of creeps and the sooner we have more investigations into what they are up to the better. It might be far-fecthed to suggest that we may have something akin to the Branch Davidians in our midst. What do the slugger bloggers think?

  • I Wonder

    Jesus didn’t accept Mastercard, though 😉

  • qubol

    Mick: “Having said that, the time and the budget the Beeb give Panorama, it’s doubtful (as you say) that many could have gone much deeper.”

    good point – a lot of the criticism I’ve heard centred on why they didn’t go deeper – look at the money, look at the criminal actions by members etc The thing is this would be another programme entirely, something that isn’t gonna work in a panorama slot. That got me thinking though – when they decided to make this did they decide to go for the ‘Scientologists and Criticism’ angle at the beginning or did they stumbled into it after the Scientologists kept dishing up so much great material?
    One good thing though is that, if anyone in the BBC (or elsewhere) has the balls there’s definitely an appetite out there for an in-depth critique of Scientology and its practices OR they could just put a Scientologist in Big Brother this year.

  • parcifal

    Sweeney got his fingers burnt, but with all the dirty tricks going on, it was a tough assignment.

    They didn’t give him much breathing space, which was their plan, to stifle and harass him.

  • Harry Flashman

    Oh I see a crowd of harmless losers who hand out leaflets at bus stops are a “dangerous cult”, but criticism of religious freakazoids who blow themselves up in pizza restaurants, rape and murder children in schools, behead farmers and schoolgirls, stone women to death, hang gays from cranes, pull women’s finger nails out because they wore nail varnish, behead apostates etc that’s “offensive references to a world religion”? It’s a funny old world innit?

    Can you imagine Sweeney’s pitch to the commissioning editors at the BBC? (Comrade Stalin can stop reading at this point he hates it when I have a dig at the Beeb – a bloke calling himself Stalin thinks the BBC are an unimpeachable neutral news source, there’s a surprise eh?).

    He’d stand up and say he wanted to conduct a no-holds barred investigation of a sinister worldwide religion, a religion which was rapidly converting many disaffected youths in Britain. He wanted to challenge their very belief system and their methods of conversion.

    You can imagine a few of the blokes at the table beginning to feel uncomfortable and trying to avoid each other’s eye.

    Sweeney goes further and says he’ll actually challenge the religion’s spokespeople on their own turf, heck he’ll even scream at them, he’s so unafraid of them.

    By now the editors are blanching visibly, one of them is sweating profusely and barely able to breath.

    Sweeney then says he’ll show these Scientologists up for what they really are.

    The air of relief across the room is startling “Eh what? The scientologists, those American nutters? Thank fu-, I mean, oh yes John go for it mate, what’s your budget, one million? Hell, double it old chum, get stuck in there, show ’em the Beeb isn’t afraid of anybody!”

    Sweeney leaves the room, “Christ” they mutter, “that was a close one, nearly thought the mad loon was going to get us all killed there. Scientologists eh? Yeah, wow that was a close one!”

  • Two Nations

    Just watched a very good internet movie about Scientology. Gives a remarkable insight as it is based around the stories of ex-members.

    The Bridge

  • Martin

    Fraggle – yup, apologies. Careless reading.

    Pleb, I take your point, but it’s a sociological one. I’m more concerned with, dare I say it, the epistemological. Just because the ‘accepted’ religious structures are better behaved (and the historical good behavious of Islam and Christianity, for example, are very much up for discussion) the entities and cosmological facts they claim to believe in are, as far as I can see, just as bonkers as anything L Ron scribbled.

    And respect for our fellow human beings doesn’t require that we suspend judgement on one another’s claims about the world.

  • Mick Fealty


    There is something in what you say. Stepping aside from the fact that in liberal democracy you expect the media to be founded on liberal principles, the problem I have with the approach taken on this occasion is that it involved using manipulative journalistic techniques to ‘out’ what clearly is a manipulative organisation.

    I just wish journalists would have the confidence to tell a straight story and allow the rest of us to make our own minds up. As I’ve said on the CIF thread journalists (and bloggers for that matter) who allow them selves to become tied by the umbilicus to a single political interest or idea, are also the ones who most often have to coast in the face of embarrassing counter revelations.

    A half hour slot, short production period and a tiny budget were the so far unspoken about constraints that helped turn this from what was potentially good journalism, into a ‘reality tv’ spectacle.

  • I Wonder

    Is there a serious argument being made here that neither the BBC nor Panorama have ever tackled militant violent Islamicists (as distinct from the persistent and unchallenged assertion that the entirety of Islam is to be identified with suicide bombers)?

    If so, it is empirically falsifiable as there have been numerous documentaries and indeed, series on this subject. These studied the militant violent Islamicist equivalent of the Scientologists, and who, like them, cut off young men from their families and girlfriends and indoctrinated so that they ended up believing they should kill themselves and in so doing destroy the lives of others. Scientology destroys lives as well.

    There is indeed “something in what was said”. It’s naked anti-Muslim prejudice.

  • Gerry Kelly

    I wonder. Forget the Muslim basher. He is not worth it.

    I watched the documentary and Scientology’s reply which is also on youtube. I also watched via youtube.

    Scientology’s bullying tactics are scary. Doing a documentary on them is like doing one on the Provos. What is particularly scary is the cops and others giving them the green light. They are not a religion but a straightforward scam. The best scams get the mugs to play along. And before piping in with “all religions blah blah”, the nearest Irish equivalent are soft focus Provos.

    If the BBC are cash strapped, they should have ocncentrated on England and not flown across the pond. The last Panorama thing I watched was on the football bungs. All smoke.

  • parcifal

    correct, al-quaida is a cult.
    Islam is a religion, people seem to forget that, purposefully.

  • Comrade Stalin

    a bloke calling himself Stalin thinks the BBC are an unimpeachable neutral news source, there’s a surprise eh?

    Would you like to provide a link to the comment where I said that ?

    I have on the other hand pointed out that almost all of your contributions invariably include a dig at the BBC. It’s not your criticism I’m observing, but your obsession with that organization. For christ’s sake, it’s not like it’s Pravda or Iskra back in the good old days.

    Mick, I actually think the Panorama programme was dead on. Sweeney obviously lost control in a bad way at the end, but that is because he fell victim to the very mind manipulation techniques he was investigating. It’s pretty much impossible to do a balanced and impartial bit of reporting on that organization – they just won’t let you.

  • Harry Flashman

    **Parcifal and I wonder**, I do not doubt that the BBC have done many critical exposes of Al-Queda, but this is not what Sweeney did here, he did not have a go at some rogue elements of the Scientologists he attacked the very essence of their religion. When I see a BBC reporter prepared to tell an Imam outside a mosque after Friday prayers in Meccah that his religion is a cult and scream abusively at him then I will accept the courage of that journalist.

    I’m not a Muslim basher, I love my Muslim wife, friends and neighbours very dearly, but I am not convinced by their religion – as I am not convinced by the Catholic church my mother belongs to but that doesn’t make me a Catholic basher – and I am not convinced by the soft soaping that Islam receives from the BBC and the Guardian (who granted precious column inches today to an out and out Islamic fascist, would they do that for the BNP?).

    **Comrade Stalin** for the second time you have misquoted what you originally alleged about me, you can’t even quote yourself correctly so don’t bother asking me for my sources.

    You originally asked me why I mention “liberals” in every post (now this is the first time I have used that word in all my many posts since long before you asked your question).

    When challenged by me as to why you ask such a fatuous question you said you asked me why I blamed liberals for everything, wrong that is not what you asked and you know it.

    Now you state incorrectly that you merely pointed out was that almost all my posts have a dig at the BBC, again not what you originally alleged. True I like to have a go at the sacred cows of the mainstream media, it’s a little bit of fun I like to indulge in but they are not remotely the subject of a majority of my posts unlike your obsessive stalking of my posts which is getting a little creepy, like our Scientology friends.

    Stalin old buddy, if you want to criticise me, please do, I’m fair game, but do try to remember the allegations you make against me otherwise you just end up looking a bit silly.

  • Ahha Koyphikoba

    a dig at the BBC

    Pot is cherno
    Kettle is schwarz

    is very funny

  • I Wonder

    As Sweeney said:” Its hard to imagine the Church of England behaving like the Scientologists.”

    I think a large part of it was frustration on his part: he persistently tried to make his point in the face of a man who was hectoring, lecturing and yeah, bullying him less than 18 inches from his face.

    He never got a chance to make his point. That frustration I can identify with. Blogging is sometimes not dissimilar. When a valid point is made, instead of being addressed, the response can often as not, be to attack the writer.

    Familiar, non? 😉

    I understand the points you make. Thanks.

  • Hail to Xenu!!!