THEY SAY THE first step in any recovery program is the admission,
so here it is: I handled public relations (PR) and the media for L. Ron
Hubbard and his Scientology empire for 20 years.
It is no accident that I avoid saying "Church of Scientology" -- the trademarked corporate name. The Scientology world is much larger than merely the "Church" of Scientology (see sidebar "Secular,"). It is a labyrinth of corporate shells that, like a hall of mirrors, was designed to baffle all but the initiated. Add to that an arcane language and dedicated "PRs" trained to divert and control inquiries, and it becomes obvious why few outsiders have been able to comprehend the Scientology hydra, let alone write about it. I hope this will make it easier.
From 1969 to 1989, I worked at every echelon of the organization, from a small, new "mission" up to national and then international level, including handling media in other countries and working at Hubbard's personal literary agency. During my tenure, I handled reporters from high school papers and from The New York Times. I have appeared as a Scientology spokesman on radio talk shows and national TV news, as well as in magazines, books, and even a documentary film. I was a member of the Guardian's Office, the pseudo-naval Sea Organization, and the glitzy Author Services Inc., Hubbard's literary agency in downtown Hollywood.
When the FBI raided Church of Scientology Guardian offices in Los Angeles and D.C. in 1977, I was the national spokesman, fielding questions on that day and in the months to come.
When Hubbard's secret international headquarters at Gilman Hot Springs near Hemet, California, was exposed in 1980, I went in to convert the image of the facility overnight. I gave the Los Angeles ABC-TV affiliate a tour of "Golden Era Productions," the image it still has to this day (see "How to fool the press.")
When Hubbard died in 1986, I was called to his secret California ranch, arriving well before the authorities were called, to help design and implement the strategy to control the media, as well as to calm his followers.
For my training, I studied and had secret directives from Hubbard and others on how to handle reporters, how to deal with police and government agencies, how to create front groups, and how to discredit or destroy a person or a group with Hubbard's "fair game" doctrine.
I also trained other Scientology PRs on how to handle the media, using material from Hubbard. This included how to respond to a question without answering, how to divert the issue, how to tell "an acceptable truth," how to stall for time, how to assume various emotional states to control another, how to "attack the attacker," how to take control of a conversation, how to introvert a person and how to "get the message across" (especially in an age of sound bites), how to help Scientology attorneys write inflammatory legal papers so the PR could then safely use the abusive phrases, and how to appear to be a religion.
This, in brief, is what a journalist faces when encountering a trained and dedicated Scientology PR. The journalist wants a story. The PR wants to kill the story, or at least control it. While this is not particularly unusual, Scientology goes further than most. Scientology stands ready and able to unleash an assault on the journalist that can include private detectives and lawsuits, making it little wonder that publications have grown reluctant to write about the Hubbard empire. (See "Shudder into silence," Quill, Nov./Dec., 1991.)
Since Scientologists know how the Fourth Estate operates, it's time the journalist had a chance to learn some of the attitudes, rules, tactics, and tricks known only to Scientology.
Scientology is in a state of siege with psychiatry, the media, and anything else perceived as attacking Hubbard or the organization. It has been that way since Hubbard named them as enemies decades ago. Talk to a Scientology PR long enough, and you may begin to sense something vaguely familiar about the attitude. walk through a Scientology office, and the proliferation of photographs and busts of Hubbard may strike a familiar chord.
Just substitute "Sea Organization" for "Party" in the following passage, and the chilling parallel may be evident:
"Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist. The splitting of the intelligence which the Party requires of its members, and which is more easily achieved in an atmosphere of war, is now almost universal, but the higher up the ranks one goes, the more marked it becomes. It is precisely in the Inner Party that war hysteria and hatred of the enemy are strongest. In his capacity as an administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purpose quite other than the declared ones; but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of double-think meanwhile no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his mystical belief that the war is real, and that it is bound to end victoriously, with Oceania the undisputed master of the entire world."Robert Vaughn Young is a free-lance writer in Newport Beach, California.
There will be no lack of material from Scientology about the movement. But there are a number of works that the Scientologists will not cite. Among them are:
I also trained other Scientology PRs how to handle the media, using material from Hubbard. This included
Robert Vaughn Young,
Scientology actually has two sides: the religious and the secular. Some may prefer to pursue just the secular side. For example:
Robert Vaughn Young,
A study in misinformation
by Robert Vaughn Young
In nearly 20 years of handling the media for Scientology and Hubbard, I dealt with a lot of journalists. One of the most challenging occurred in 1980, when the Riverside Press-Enterprise broke a story by Dick Lyneis that Hubbard was secretly ensconced at a nearby deserted resort called Gilman Hot Springs.
Since the FBI raid on Scientology offices in 1977, Hubbard had been the target of an increasing number of process servers and government investigators. His location had become one of Scientology's best-kept secrets. When necessary, Hubbard could move and he did.
But the headquarters of Scientology International in Gilman Hot Springs could not move so easily. Although Hubbard claimed not to be running the Church of Scientology, in fact he did. Here was the seat of the Hubbard Holy Empire, 90 minutes east of Los Angeles. Hubbard was not eager for attorneys, the media, or the Internal Revenue Service to know this.
I was sent in to handle the situation.
As in Clearwater, Florida, Scientology had covertly bought the Gilman Hot Springs property and secretly moved in. The phone book listed it as the "Scottish Highland Quietude Club." Few driving by were interested in the few people who occasionally walked between the buildings.
By the time I arrived, Hubbard had disappeared. Most of the staff he had deserted were terrified because the security he had demanded had been blown. They knew his temper and they feared his wrath.
I toured the property and found a small film-making area and an audio tape production unit, called Golden Era, which was supposed to supply materials to the Church of Scientology. Both had been shut down by Hubbard, but I saw my solution. It was, as he called it, "an acceptable truth." I obtained L.A.'s approval for my plan.
Through that night and into the morning, the facility was converted. I had the paper covering all the windows taken off. Everything was cleaned. Equipment and desks were rearranged to hide certain tasks and to create others. Tapes, films, scripts, and costumes were dragged out and made obvious. Many international management staff were sent off the base to reduce the number of personnel.
The next day, the "Scottish Highland Quietude Club" had become Golden Era Studios. A media tour went without a hitch. The tape-production area wasn't cranking yet, but I did get people busy making costumes and booklets or doing artwork. We found a makeshift studio that "just happened" to be working when the tour came through. Asked about "international management," I said yes, they did manage distribution of films and tapes, which did go to churches worldwide. No one noticed I had avoided the question and diverted attention to the film and tape production.
The news that night was perfect. The Riverside Press-Enterprise story had been countered. Gilman was no longer considered the headquarters of Scientology. It was just a bustling film and tape facility that supplied the Church of Scientology.
When the flap died down, international management quietly moved back in. Since then Golden ERA Productions has expanded considerably. There are even guided public tours and PR glitz, including an occasional VIP or Scientology celebrity tour of the tape and film facilities. No one asks about the other function we were able to quietly reinstall after the flap was handled., or the other management organizations that were quietly added.
But they're there, just up the hill from the sound stage, not too far from the spa where the hot springs no longer flow.
Some journalists who have been involved with stories about the world of Scientology were willing to offer their advice on how to approach the subject:
Robert Welkos, Los Angeles Times: "It helps to know their PRs, so the reporter is not intimidated. On the organization, its a hydra-headed monster. I tried to not let it baffle me. I decided not to be concerned with how each piece fit into the big strategy. You'll go nuts if you try to prove this or that is the most important arm of Scientology. And be prepared [for] lot of contact and pressure."
John Richardson, Premiere Magazine: "Really do your legwork first. Research the history. And act from the start as if you are already in a lawsuit by being straight, honest and keeping good notes and records. When you get into the interview stage, there will be attempts to trip you up and challenge what you do and say as well as attempts to lay groundwork for a case against you. So watch what you say."
Curtis Krueger, St. Petersburg Times: "Know the history. It's good to read "Dianetics" to now the terminology and theory.... [I]t's a good idea to read books, biographies of Hubbard to know the controversy. It's important background. [On working with Scientology]: Expect a lot of runaround, a lot of delaying to get information. It requires a lot of patience. But if you persist, you'll get it."
Bill Horn, American Lawyer: "The best tactic is to stick with basic journalistic principles. Go back for fair comment. Take heavy notes. I'd suggest tape.... If you have to interview, keep in mind their tactic of suing so be prepared. And always research before. I did a lot of calls before contact with the church."
Bill Press, Los Angeles radio and TV commentator: "Be prepared to be harassed. They are very protective and aggressive towards anyone who is writing any story on them. I was at their property on a public sidewalk doing a stand-up, never even talked to anyone in Scientology, returned to the TV station, 15 minutes later and before I got there they were on the phone to the news director demanding to know the context and wanting equal time. They're very clever, very skilled at media harassment. I was not prepared for that kind of harassment. I never ever received anything like that from any other source. They're an untold story. They've scared a lot of news off. They're getting away with murder. I say put on your asbestos suit and charge."
- Robert Vaughn Young