By: Dorothy Giobbe
Church of Scientology accuses the St. Petersburg Times,
Clearwater Police Department and defunct Clearwater Sun
of slanted treatment of the church and its members sp.
IN A SPECIAL 125,000-copy issue of the Church of Scientology’s magazine Freedom, the church’s Clearwater, Fla., branch accused the St. Petersburg Times, Clearwater Police Department and defunct Clearwater Sun of slanted treatment of the church and its members.
The publication also questioned the nonprofit and tax-exempt status of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns the Times.
The “inflammatory” coverage by the Sun and Times has “intensified the atmosphere of hate in the city and ultimately led to acts of senseless violence being directed against members of the church,” wrote Richard Haworth, Clearwater bureau chief at Freedom.
Some of the articles in Freedom said the local media have ignored contributions that Scientologists have made in the Clearwater community, such as the annual “Say No to Drugs” road race, sponsored by the Dianetics Running Team. The event raises money for a national drug education program.
“Through the years, the church has been an active participant in addressing problems facing the city and downtown,” one article said. “The Times has reported little or none of this actual news but instead has dwelled on lies and innuendo.”
Freedom also said that while church members have met with the editorial board of the Times in an attempt to improve communication, “the visit had no apparent effect on the paper’s reporting, which has continued to be critical and inaccurate.”
Violence against Clearwater-area Scientologists “can be tracked statistically,” Haworth said in an interview. “You see an article come out and in the aftermath of the article, the number of incidents go up.”
The acts of “senseless violence” include “the kind of thing where there are drive-bys and objects being thrown from cars, things like that.”
The “drive-bys” haven’t been like the bullet-flying, blood-spraying trag-edies that have occurred elsewhere, Haworth said. “It wasn’t shootings, it was paintballs, [although] that actually does get shot.”
The special Freedom issue was published, he said, because “we really got to the point where, after having tried to talk and meet and so on, it still seemed that the problem continued. We had little choice but to try and tell our own story. We haven’t put out a special issue of Freedom in Clearwater in a long time.”
The Times defended its coverage of the Scientologists and said the church must be held to the same standard of scrutiny that other large, influential organizations receive.
“The Church of Scientology is a major and growing institution here with economic and political and other consequence,” said Paul Tash, executive editor of the Times. “It deserves our attention and I think it’s part of our responsibility to keep track of what the church is doing, and we plan to continue on that course.
“We have quite a rigorous policy of accuracy in the paper and on those occasions that we unfortunately discover we have made an error, we try to correct it prominently, even placing corrections on the front page of sections where they have occurred.”
This special issue of Freedom, published by the Church of Scientology, was a paid supplement in the Tampa Tribune.