Hey, Scientology Celebrity, Here's Your Media Training Checksheet!
Our readers send us the most wonderful things. By e-mail and snail mail, our far-flung correspondents put in our hands Scientology's tasteless fundraising mailers (which we use in our recurring Sunday Funnies posts), they send us over-the-top glossy Scientology magazines, and of course they send us links and videos of Scientologists doing the darndest things.
Cruise, off the rails
And then, recently, in the mail, one of our readers sent us some pure gold.
It is a five-page document, and it may be the most precious, hopeful, earnest, presumptious, and ultimately dictatorial artifact I have seen come out of the church in some time.
It is a checksheet, and it is designed to instruct a new celebrity recruit in the arcane ways of L. Ron Hubbard, and how to take Hubbard's greatness to the outside world by learning how to speak to the press about such monumental things.
Five pages. About 50 individual steps. Involving the writing of essays, summarizing of books, using specific words in sentences. And the steps must be done, the document says, in sequence. No exceptions.
One of the steps has the celebrity solving a PR problem by modeling it in clay.
Hey, Tom? Tom Cruise? Um, did you learn how to talk to reporters by first modeling it in clay?
Before I get into specifics about the document, I want to thank the person who mailed it to me, who I am not going to name. (However, if you do want credit it for it here, please e-mail me to let me know. You know who you are.)
The checksheet on its own is a hoot, and provides an enjoyable window into Scientology, particularly of its era. But trying to learn about its provenance and its legacy took me on a bit of a goose chase that in itself was revealing and fun. After I give a more detailed description of the document, I'll relate what I learned from talking with various former Scientology executives who worked with celebrities over several decades.
But first, here's the top portion of the first page, to give you a sense of it:
As you can see, the document is dated June 24, 1977. That was a frightfully significant year for Scientology. Hubbard had finally stopped sailing around the Mediterranean with his mini-Navy and had invaded Clearwater, Florida two years before. Exactly two weeks after this document is dated, the FBI raided Scientology's offices in Washington DC and Los Angeles in what became the church's worst publicity debacle in its history -- discovery of Operation Snow White, its years long infiltration of US government offices. Eleven Scientology executives -- including Hubbard's wife, Mary Sue -- would ultimately go to prison for their part in the conspiracy.
In the calm before that storm, however, this checksheet is concerned with making sure Scientology's new celebrities get proper "hatting" -- that is, training. (In Scientologese, a "hat" is a particular role or job one does, and to be properly trained for that job, one needs "hatting," usually with a checksheet like this, which is often called a "hat pack.")
I've transcribed parts of the rest, leaving out the boring bits (this is Scientology, after all).
In the next portion, there's this statement of what the celebrity will get out of spending the next several hours of his or her life going through this stuff...
PURPOSE: To make celebrities into experts in handling media, so with ARC they can effectively cause public relations actions that will help their careers, and get their good works well publicized and be bigger opinion leaders, and mold public opinion and so be in a better position to get LRH, Scientology and Dianetics well publicized and LRH's technology widely used.
AWARD: MEDIA HANDLING PROFESSIONAL CERT.
Yes, to repeat: For completing this checksheet, Celebrity Joe or Jane will be taking home a certificate!
Nobody seems to love certificates -- particularly framed, and with big seals and stuff -- like the Scientologists. Just look at them waving them about in this recent video from the Advanced Org in Copenhagen.
("ARC" stands for "affinity, reality, and communication," in Scientology a holy trinity of concepts which adds up to understanding and compassion. Or something. Your nearest Scientologist will talk your ear off about what a genius discovery this triad of concepts was by Hubbard. In general, when a Scientologist signs off a message "with ARC," it sort of means, "with love," but it also means "I should probably get some serious help.")
After each of the items in the five-page checksheet, there are three columns of blank lines, for signatures, so that the celebrity and his handlers could make sure that he's completed each step, in order. (There is no cheating on the test in Scientology.)
Now, let's look at what our celebrity is actually asked to do in order to learn how to talk to reporters and stuff. First up, that favorite of Scientology learning, working the dictionary!
DEFINITIONS: Look up the following words and use in sentences to be sure you understand them and use Admin and Tech Dictionary where applicable. (Scientology, Dianetics, Media, Press, Guardian, Control, Cause, Public Relations, Professional, Appearance, Message, Image, Dissemination, Communication, L. Ron Hubbard, Technology)
I just love the image of John Travolta (who had joined in 1975), or Thomas Mapother IV (1990), leafing through the dictionary and using "dissemination" or "press" in a sentence, don't you?
And now, some individual checksheet items. First up, in a section about how a celebrity should handle a television or radio appearance.
13A. What could you take to the show, to show as evidence that Dianetics is a best-seller?
14C. What message could you get across on LRH?
14D. What message could you get across on Dianetics?
14E. What message could you get across on Scientology?
18A. Choose a suburban type paper.
18B. Write up a short press release on L. Ron Hubbard that is suitable for the public to which it goes.
18C. Sent it to LRH Pers PRO Int for approval to use, and include with the press release a selected LRH article, suitable for that suburban type public to be printed with the press release. Be sure the message goes through both the release and the article.
That's "L. Ron Hubbard Personal Public Relations Office International" being abbreviated in that last item. And note the level of oversight here -- the celebrity is conditioned so that even a minor item in a neighborhood newspaper must be routed through Hubbard's personal, international public relations outfit. Former executives tell me that that level of micromanagement from the highest levels is still very much in place today.
For section 19 on the checksheet, the celebrity is asked to review a policy written by Hubbard in 1969, titled "PRO ACTIONS." In that policy, Hubbard in part explained how to feed the press negative information about psychiatry...
Three weeks of news stories are designed. A pathetic girl abused by psychiatrist comes to C[hurch] of S[cientology] for help to get guidance to right the wrong. That's a story with photos. C of S Committee visited sanitarium. Is refused entrance. That's a story. C of S Committee seeks and can't obtain death records of the sanitarium. That's a story. C of S Committee visits big name in government to force death list to be given out. That's a story. C of S Committee meets with a law society committee to recommend legislation. That's a story. Girl treated by a medical doctor paid for by C of S and Scn processing helps girl. That's another consecutive story. Citizens' Committee urges police action to close sanitarium. That's another story. Girl restored to family by C of S Committee. That's a story. You see what an event is? And what a story is? A PRO gets ideas like this and carries them out and gives them out so they'll get published.
In order to make sure this lesson sinks in...
19B. Do in clay.
"The 'clay table training' was done constantly with many courses," says Skip Press, a screenwriter and former Scientologist, who was around Scientology celebrities in the 1970s. "The basic idea was that the clay acted as 'mass' so that your mind could see in real life the 'significance' of ideas in your mind. Hubbard said you needed a balance of mass and significance before you could have 'cognition' (realization) of something. A 'clay demo' would be judged by the course supervisor. If that person could look at what you had demonstrated in clay and knew what was going on, then you 'got it.' Tiny pieces of paper with labels would be used to show what each object was like 'police officer' or 'megaphone' or whatever."
I think the idea of Travolta or Karen Black squeezing out a few little clay reporters with paper labels for a course supervisor is my favorite Scientology image in like a month.
More items, as things get a bit more confrontational...
19C. Name a specific public group.
19F. Write a short attack on some enemy of this group that you could use on the radio show (be sure you have documented proof on your attack).
20A. What is Hard News?
20B. Draw up the outline of a plan of something you could do for hard news - circus type.
20C. Write an essay on how you will use invalidation, controversy and two opposing forces in your story and harm, sex, money and big names.
21. HOW TO HANDLE BLACK PR
21A. Write a list of rumors you could be given to handle on you.
31A. Tell someone what you know about LRH.
31B. Write a short biography on his life.
32B. Write essay on what Dianetics is and what it does.
36B. List things with which you have had trouble before, on TV, radio or in press interviews or during public events, get bullbaited on them and flatten.
That last item is very revealing, and shows how useful this kind of training could be. Scientology understands that the best way to lessen the impact of a cruel comment is not to avoid it, but to hear it shouted at you, over and over again. After "People think you're gay!" has been screamed at Tom Cruise hundreds of times by short people in naval outfits, and he can take it without flinching, then he really isn't going to react to what the public or the press throws at him. (I don't know that Cruise was bull-baited in this way, but it would seem like a useful exercise, doesn't it?)
After completing all of the items on the checksheet, our celebrity is then asked to sign his name under this statement:
I attest to having done the above materials per the checksheet, and that I have no misunderstood words, that I know and will apply the data.
But, and here's the question that I took to numerous former Scientology executives, did any celebrity actually go through this thing?
I first turned to Mike Rinder, formerly Scientology's top spokesman, and someone who was very familiar with its celebrities for decades before his 2007 defection.
"I'm certainly familiar with getting celebrities to talk to the press about the church. Tom Cruise was good at that, but it turned into a nightmare for War of the Worlds," he says, referring to Cruise's 2005 freakout.
Rinder says that celebrities are trained to talk to the press, and are trotted out when the church believes it will help. "Yes, it is definitely a strategy that gets employed to deal with the media and use them as spokespeople, but also as bait," he says, explaining that he would offer interviews with celebrities in exchange for friendly treatment.
When the BBC was doing a major piece on its Panorama program about Scientology in 2007, Rinder says he knew it would be critical, but also knew that he could temper it somewhat by sending over celebrities to be a part of it.
"Tommy Davis and I set up interviews for the BBC with all sorts of people. Anne Archer. Juliette Lewis. Maybe Jenna. They want to use the footage of the celebrities for the ratings, and if you can get the celebrities saying good things, that's minutes of the program used for positive messages," he says.
But if the celebrities were trained how to talk about Scientology, does he remember a checksheet like the one from 1977? He said he didn't.
"I can't imagine that Cruise, or Travolta or Kirstie Alley would have been asked to do something like that," he added.
I then turned to another top former executive, Marty Rathbun, who agreed with Rinder that Scientology celebrities do get extensive training for how to talk about Scientology with the press.
"Look at the tapes from [BBC journalist] John Sweeney. Anne Archer and the others. They're drilled like barking seals. You don't just put them in front of an audience. You drill them," Rathbun says. "They needed to be hatted to be able to handle media. Look at Jenna Elfman. People had to be trained. I don't recall a checklist, but it was always, 'is the guy hatted,' meaning trained."
Rathbun brought up the infamous 2005 incident, when perhaps the "hatting" had gone a bit too far.
"Look at Tom Cruise, and how he was talking on television. That wasn't him. It was [church leader] David Miscavige," Rathbun says.
Despite his assurances that celebrities get plenty of training, Rathbun also wasn't familiar with the checksheet. So I turned next to a celebrity.
Michael Fairman is one of our favorite former Scientologists. A terrific character actor we've all seen many times on television, he recently left the church after many years as one of its more recognizable members -- he appeared in Scientology television commercials and its internal films -- and then went public with his disaffection in a big way.
"Yeah, I remember," he said when I asked him about being trained to talk to the media. "I was trained not with a 50-item checksheet. But I was given certain policies about how to talk to the press. I was hatted, not intensively, but I was hatted somewhat, how to speak to the media."
Fairman had joined in the early 1980s. Another familiar character actor, Jason Beghe, had joined in the 1990s, and also left a few years ago. I asked him if during his era, he also received training for how to talk to the media.
"Oh yeah. I was trained by a woman from South Africa. Older. Classy broad. Her name was Christina Lowe. She was a PR expert, and she trained me," Jason told me. "It was smart. It was about how to answer a question in a way that made you comfortable. She would just drill you, acting like a press person. It wasn't only about Scientology. It was in general."
After working with her, Beghe remembers, Lowe just "sort of vanished." Today, he says, celebrities get trained with the use of a book.
"They have this thing now, you get drilled on this book, What is Scientology." The heavy tome, sometimes called "WIS" (pronounced "wiz") is a very familiar one. I think at one time Scientology had mailed me four of the things. Beghe says that there's an index of frequently asked questions about Scientology which celebrities are drilled on these days. "It covers everything they could ask you about Scientology -- except for the hardcore Xenu stuff, which they're not going to tell you about," he says, referring to the upper-level "OT III" materials about the galactic overlord Xenu and the disembodied alien souls inhabiting our bodies, which Scientologists are not told about until they're a couple hundred thousand dollars into their years long training.
I was learning a lot about how celebrities are trained to talk to the media in Scientology, but I was no closer to learning about this particular checksheet. I had to go back further.
So I talked to Nancy Many, whose long and wild Scientology career we've written about before. Back in the 1970s, she had overseen all Celebrity Centres, at the International office. And she thinks she remembers which specific celebrity debacle had prompted the checksheet being produced.
Since Hubbard had come up with Project Celebrity in the mid-50's, executives like Many were charged with going after every up and coming actor for lovebombing to get them into the fold. And in 1975, a hit new series, Baretta, had them salivating over its star, Robert Blake.
Blake as Baretta (with Fred)
Many says their "in" was Blake's co-star on the series, Michael D. Roberts, who was a Scientologist. Through Roberts, they worked and worked to get Blake in for courses.
But then, in 1977, Many says, in an appearance on The Tonight Show, Blake ridiculed Scientology, and it was considered a huge embarrassment inside the church.
The executive who had been charged with getting Blake in was immediately sent to the RPF, Scientology's prison detail, Many says.
She thinks the checksheet may have been produced at that time as a result, to make sure that celebrities would be under tighter control.
She also points out that the person who wrote the checksheet, Yvonne Jentzsch, was only months away from death.
Skip Press recently wrote a terrific story about Jentzsch, who had helped set up Celebrity Centres around the country but was unappreciated by Hubbard, who sent her to PRO -- his personal public relations office -- where she produced this checksheet. She then developed brain cancer, and Press gives the impression that her dedication to Hubbard, and his disregard for her, hurried her demise.
In the piece, Press also makes Jentzsch seem like a wise and reasonable person who was unappreciated. But this checksheet is wacky. I asked Skip how to reconcile that.
"Yvonne seemed wise and reasonable," he answered in an e-mail this morning. "Basically, she was a kindergarten teacher with that kind of caring personality. Like a fairy godmother. She was also very naive. I performed some at Celebrity Centre and got a standing ovation once. I tried to talk her into letting me leave staff to become a rock star, which I told her would take a couple of years. She said 'we probably don't have that much time.' She was convinced that if Scientology wasn't spread quickly enough there would be a nuclear war across the planet (this was about 1975 as I recall)."
Skip and others suggested that I talk to a person who worked closely with Yvonne, who I am not going to name in this story. That person definitely remembered the checksheet.
The person says celebrities needed training because they were so clueless. Travolta, for example, had at one time talked to reporters about specifics of Hubbard's technology, and of course, it had disastrous results.
"They would do stupid shit. We told them they could only talk about what it had done for them. Don't talk about the technology," the person says.
Again, I asked, could the person remember any particular celebrity doing the checksheet, in its entirety?
No, I was told. But celebrities were definitely trained, drilled, and even punished. I asked for an example, and was told about a 1970s film director, very big at the time, on his hands and knees, cleaning the parking lot of the old Hollywood Celebrity Centre on 8th Street.
Well, I hadn't hit paydirt with stories of particular actors or actresses drilling the checksheet, but I had learned a lot about the handling of celebrities, particularly at a certain time in Scientology's history. Like other documents I have run across from the church, this one was probably put together not so much for the celebrities it seems written for, but for Jentzsch's superiors, to show that she and others in the PRO wing were doing what they could to get celebrities under control.
And Rinder, Rathbun, Beghe and the others assure, me that kind of training and control is still very much going on today.
Postscript: Speaking of celebrities, the lovely and talented Janet Reitman, author of the terrific history, Inside Scientology, will be appearing Tuesday evening at University Settlement, hosted by the Center for Inquiry. Admission is only 5 bucks, and Janet will be interviewed about her book by yours truly. So come on out for the good times.
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
#1: L. Ron Hubbard
#2: David Miscavige
#3: Marty Rathbun
#4: Tom Cruise
#5: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin
#7: Mark Bunker
#8: Mike Rinder
#9: Jason Beghe
#10: Lisa McPherson
#11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants)
#12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives)
#13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists)
#14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists)
#15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics)
#16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church's HQ
#17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano
#18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive
#19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church's other thugs and goons)
#20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures)
#21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church
#22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members)
#23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church)
#24: David Touretzky (and other academics)
#25: Xenu, galactic overlord
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing "disconnection"]
[Tom Cruise and Baby Suri embarrassed by news item, so someone must pay]
[Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology]
[Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?]
[Scientology hates clean ice: The "Fair Game" operation that should turn your stomach]
[Scientology hates clean ice, part 2: Another target, and the web as weapon]
MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties]
In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview]
The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun's open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun's cause] | [Squirrel Buster's claim to be making a "documentary"] | [VIDEO: "On a Boat"] | ["Anna" sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology's highest levels]
SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND "FAIR GAME"
[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley]
[Scientology's West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology's enemies list: Are you on it?]
Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2]
[A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard's remarkable public confession]
[Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine]
[Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to "handle" the Voice]
[Lori Hodgson and Disconnection: "No one's going to take my eternity away"]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
["Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | ["Tom Cruise not a kook!"] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise]
[Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church]
[Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his "suppressive person" declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice]
[Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense]
[Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis]
[Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology's retaliation is "scary and pathetic"]
Grant Cardone, NatGeo's "Turnaround King": [Doing Scientology's dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone's smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo]
[Philip Boyd, Saving Grace actor, rips "the business that is Scientology"]
JANET REITMAN'S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman's first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid]
[Scientology doesn't like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post]
[A roundup of Reitman's print reviews, and why isn't she on television more?]
HUGH URBAN'S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
[Marc Headley: "Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [The Nancy Many interview]
[Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman's Story] | [Jeff Hawkins' Counterfeit Dreams]
[86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]
[Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested]
[All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots]
[Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige "toxic" and "violent"]
[Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?] | [The Birmingham trove: 7,000 internal e-mails]
[Australian farmer blamed for giving Tom Cruise a bad shrimp, loses her friends, family]
ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS
[Scientology singalong, "We Stand Tall"] | [Captain Bill Robertson and "Galactic Patrol"]
[Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!]
[Birmingham in the House! The "Ideal" dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam]
[When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers]
[Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.]
[Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York "org"]
THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
[A scientologist's letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth]
[Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family]
[Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]