Every Friday, we excerpt some of the most insightful, articulate, interesting, and entertaining comments we’ve received that week. Think we’ve missed something? Well… comment!
The Scientology Study
On Monday, CJR executive editor Mike Hoyt wrote a post for The Kicker in response to a Howard Kurtz column about the Church of Scientology commissioning several veteran journalists to probe the work of theSt. Petersburg Times, which has published numerous investigative pieces on the church. The study’s editor was Steve Weinberg, a longtime CJR contributor who told Kurtz he “tried to make sure it’s a good piece of journalism criticism, just like I’ve written a gazillion times…. For me it’s kind of like editing a Columbia Journalism Review piece.” Hoyt concluded: “That’s not a transaction we’d take part in, and we’re sorry Steve invoked our name.”
Although Weinberg states that he has an agreement that the COS will not release any of the report, unless they release it unedited, [church spokesman] Tommy Davis has already announced its purported contents— i.e. allegedly very negative of the St. Petersburg Times reporting. So the question is, what is Weinberg’s response in light of Tommy Davis’ release of the alleged gist of the report? Is he now going to release the whole report, is he suing the COS for breach of contract, or is he full of it?
— Timmy Magnavox
Excellent comment by Timmy Magnavox.
Steve Weinberg here, the journalist approached by the two investigative reporters (not by the Scientologists) to edit the study of St. Petersburg Times coverage.
If the Scientology spokesman really told Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post that the study is “highly critical” of the newspaper, I believe he now has an obligation to release the study in full, as specified in the contract. That way, anybody interested can read a high-quality work of media evaluation, and can decide whether it’s highly critical. I have not dealt with that Scientology spokesman or anybody else at the organization, except to complete paperwork. But I am hoping the two reporters will do everything they can to ensure that the Scientologists place the study in the public domain.
— Steve Weinberg
CJR makes some invaluable points and distinctions. One fact that I haven’t seen reported anywhere is that one of the “reporters” involved has spent most of the past decade as the Director of Investigations for a law firm – not for a media entity.
This is Richard Behar here – an investigative journalist and the author of two lengthy exposes on Scientology in Forbes and Time magazines (1986; 1991). Time, Inc. and I were sued by the church for libel – and spent a decade in extremely time-consuming and costly litigation until the US Supreme Court refused to hear the church’s appeals.
The St. Petersburg Times should be applauded for being the only major, independent and professional media entity in America today that is willing to put resources into ongoing coverage of the church. Whatever the results of this strange, secret study that Steve Weinberg and the two writers have crafted, it’s not investigative journalism as I have ever learned it and understood it. I urge Steve, who I have respected immensely throughout my career, to rethink his actions here. And I’m optimistic that if he thinks long and hard about this, he may even conclude that he should return the money to the church — or donate it to a worthy charity.
And then let’s all get on with all the investigative journalism that so desperately needs to be done in the country — now more than ever.
— Richard Behar
As editor of The Boston Globe, let me clarify the extent of Christopher Szechenyi’s involvement with Boston.com. He does not currently work at The Boston Globe or Boston.com. His time at Boston.com was sharply limited, did not represent a significant portion of his working life, and ended many years ago. Szechenyi was employed at Boston.com from March 13, 2000 until January 9, 2001. Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post seems to have made more of his very brief association with Boston.com than it deserved.
— Marty Baron
Christopher Szechenyi, Steve Weinberg and Russell Carollo wrote and edited a work for hire with the contractual terms specifying the report would be released in full or shelved and never released.
However, since Tommy Davis has violated that contract, the three must respond forcefully and rapidly to this grievous affront to their good names and reputations. Tommy Davis, it seems, has done material harm to their good names and reputations. Will they allow that?