A group of (at least previously) respected journalists is taking money from the Church of Scientology to dig up dirt on other journalists who have been critical of Scientology. Howard Kurtz has the details:
After decades of digging into the Church of Scientology, reporters and editors at the St. Petersburg Times are accustomed to being denounced by its leaders.
But they find it unsettling that three veteran journalists — a Pulitzer Prize winner, a former “60 Minutes” producer, and the former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors — are taking the church’s money to examine the paper’s conduct.
The journalists are being called on to edit a “study” of the newspaper’s coverage of Scientology. And the deal is most unusual:
Steve Weinberg, the former IRE executive, who has taught at the University of Missouri’s journalism school for a quarter-century, says he was paid $5,000 to edit the study and “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.”
He says their agreement requires that the church publish the study in full, if it decides to make it public, but that “the contract says the church has the right to do nothing with it except put it in a drawer.” That means Scientology leaders have an out if the recently completed study isn’t to their liking.
Weinberg acknowledges that the “unusual situation” gave him pause, saying: “It certainly wouldn’t be something just any reporter would do. My role was more limited, and I can certainly use the money these days.”
Well I guess that makes it okay. And the others did at least insist on being paid up front:
The reporters hired for the study are Russell Carollo, who won a 1998 Pulitzer for Dayton, Ohio’s Daily News for a series on medical malpractice in the U.S. military, and Christopher Szechenyi, an Emmy-winning former television producer who has worked for the Boston Globe’s Web site.
Asked about taking on the assignment, the two chose to respond in a joint statement Sunday. “We were hesitant,” they said. “That’s why we insisted on being paid in full before we started our work, total editorial independence and having someone with the reputation of Steve Weinberg involved. Every entity has the right to receive fair treatment in the press.”
As for accepting payment from the church, they said: “We were as objective in doing this job as we were in pursuing all the other assignments we’ve done for news organizations during the past 25 years.”
Of course you were. Because you waited until the check cleared.