Have you seen the Cruise sermons?

spEP912  Trapped in the Closet  2 01There is a fascinating religion story developing right now out in cyberspace, one in which Hollywood crashes into the Internet, while bloggers and journalists (and journalists who are bloggers) square off once again with the crack legal team from the Church of Scientology.

At the center of the story is, of course, the megastar Tom Cruise who (at this point in the sentence, you can insert your most recent forwarded email containing some wild rumor about his role in the spreading and defense of his faith).

The ink is already flying. Here is the top of a Rush & Molloy gossip report in the New York Daily News:

A precious trove of Tom Cruise’s sermons on Scientology could be headed to the Internet.

“It’s the most unintentionally hilarious footage you’ve ever seen,” says investigative journalist Mark Ebner, who is helping to post more than two hours of the videotaped preaching. “It’s better than Tom jumping on Oprah’s couch. It’s better than the ‘Trapped in the Closet’ episode of ‘South Park.’ ”

Among the actor’s pronounce-ments, according to Ebner:

* “We [the Scientologists] are the authorities on the mind. … We are the way to happiness.”

* “Crush these guys [psychiatrists]! I’ve had it! Psychiatry doesn’t work. No mercy! None! Go to guns!” (Ebner allows that Cruise wasn’t advocating killing shrinks, but merely spouting some macho “Top Gun” talk.)

* “If you are a Scientologist, you see things the way they are, in all their glory, in all their complexity. … It’s rough and tumble. It’s wild and woolly. It’s a blast.”

The report includes — in this day of multi-media digital journalism — a link to an example of these public-relations sermons by Cruise. Here it is at Gawker. The problem, of course, is that these links tend to go dead minutes or hours after they go up, as the publishers wrestle with complaints from Cruise & Co.

So try that link quick. Did it work?

This is the latest smackdown between the superstar and the media on issues linked to open coverage of his beliefs and their impact on his career. A Fox News report by Roger Friedman notes:

Cruise, who does not have a college degree, is also described in the videos by a voice-over narrator as a NASA spokesman and an expert on illiteracy. The videos became available online in advance of a new unauthorized biography that cites Cruise as “the number two” in Scientology in the world. “Number one” would be David Miscavige, the Cruise-like leader who succeeded Hubbard two decades ago.

One of the videos was up for a while at radaronline.com. Several others have come and gone on other sites. Some media outlets — like this column — have some of the videos but can’t host them because of concern over copyright issues. Since Saturday night, the videos have been appearing and disappearing on the Internet.

So have you seen the videos?

Do you want to see the videos?

Do you think you have a right to see the videos?

Can you think of a way for journalists to cover this story — in the multi-media digital age that we are in — without links to the videos? How about television reporters trying to cover the story? What should they do?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    Having watched the videos all i can think is I really feel sorry for Cruise.

    Do I have a right to watch the videos? I don’t know. I am not sure if I do or do not recognize the concept of information being property.

    A good writer can describe anything with words.

  • Dale

    Can you think of a way for journalists to cover this story — in the multi-media digital age that we are in — without links to the videos? How about television reporters trying to cover the story? What should they do?

    If anyone ever had a case for the fair use doctrine, it would be journalists who critique Scientology’s copyright materials. Under “fair use”, a journalist can’t report the content by duplicating the copyright material (and the clips I saw were close to that, although one could argue that editing the video clips together to become Tom Cruise’s Weirdest Moments is a form of criticism); but a journalist certainly can use pieces of the copyright work to create a criticism or commentary about the underlying subject. So a T.V. reporter can comment on Cruise’s lack of education, qualification, and ability to articulate a proper English sentence without a script, and use excerpts from the copyright work as examples to support the criticism. Or the reporter can discuss the allegations in Morton’s book about Cruise, and use clips from the training videos as examples of Cruise’s influence within Scientology.

    If you’re cutting down Tom Cruise, you’re certainly not going to appropriate the value of the Scientology training videos. No one’s going to join your church and pay for auditing sessions because you post video clips of Cruise making a fool of himself. As long as you make your critical or journalistic intent clear, and don’t try to use Cruise’s identity to increase readership/viewership/website traffic without critical or journalistic content, you should be O.K.

  • http://blog.muchmorethanwords.com gfe

    As some who makes a living from writing and/or editing material that is protected by copyright, I would find it hypocritical at best to violate someone else’s copyright. But I think that Dale stated the legal issues very well. The law does provide for fair use of copyrighted material, and showing brief excerpts for purposes of critique or analysis typically falls within that provision of law.

    To use more than that, unless a court or the copyright owner puts it in public domain or takes similar action, is theft.

    And as my response suggests, the answer to “Do you think you have a right to see the videos?” the answer is no, just as no one has the right to read what I produce unless it’s under terms I agree to. (In my case, everything I produce is available free or at nominal cost, since advertisers foot the bill, so there’s not much of an issue unless someone plagiarizes my work, which has happened more than once.)

    I’m no fan of the Church of Scientology (although I don’t know enough about it to be specifically critical either). But it has as much right as I do to have the protection of copyright law.

  • Dale

    And as my response suggests, the answer to “Do you think you have a right to see the videos?” the answer is no, just as no one has the right to read what I produce unless it’s under terms I agree to.

    I disagree. Copyright is exactly what it says: a right to copy. If, against the copyright owner’s wishes, I see a work that has been reproduced according to the copyright laws, the copyright owner has no legal grounds to object.

    If Scientology has any legal remedy, it will be against those who post video files on the internet and thereby create a copy; not against those who access or view the copy.

  • Charles Curtis

    I just watched the video you link to at the Gawker site.

    At first I assumed the music and editing (the camera flash transitions) was the Gawker’s editing, by way of parody. Along with the medallion “KSD” (?) graphic shown initially.

    Then, at the end, that closing video sequence which lauds Cruise for “introducing LOH technology to over one billion people of earth” (LOH technology? what?) I realized that this – all initial impressions aside – must be the actual “Cruise Indoctrination Video Scientology [is trying] To Suppress” referred to in the Gawker headline, uncut & unedited? And the graphics are not part of a parody, but in the original?

    I mean, wow. Sorry if I’m showing how daft I am, but I need some help here. The Gawker doesn’t explain any of this clearly enough, for me. Like where did they get this material, what was it produced for, and what the heck is Cruise talking about when he uses acronyms like PTSP? SP? KSD? What are Techs? Do any of the other words and odd phrases he uses have any particular esoteric meaning here?

    What the heck is Cruise talking about?

    Because this strikes me as a lot more important than just another goofy celebrity scandal story. This man (and John Travolta and the rest of the celebrity Scientologists) are at the heart of one of our most important cultural institutions. As the video states, they reach billions with their message, and their work as actors & entertainers effects us all. Very deeply.

    That their religion is so odd, and gnostic in its nature, is very disturbing. That their founder L. Ron Hubbard was apparently influenced by very underreported and (I think little appreciated and poorly understood) by such figures as Aleister Crowley & Madam Blavatsky (of Ordo Templi Orientis & Theosophy fame) is even more disquieting.

    Like with so much reporting (especially religious reporting) the Gawker gives us little nuance, context or background.

    And Mattk, a good writer cannot describe anything with words. Nothing compares with experience. This video (as with so many things) is so complex, and the questions it raises too multifaceted, to trust that the average reporter would touch on a quarter of the things that I noticed and wondered about in just one viewing. I know how most reporters treat things like Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Evangelicalism and Islam (thing I already know quite a lot about from my own experience & education) to trust that they are going to really describe or delve into something like this video as well as I would want them to.

    So, yes. This video is newsworthy, it needs to be seen to be appreciated, and it begs to be explained and contextualized. The Gawker does us a service in the first two senses, but falls flat on the third.

  • Christopher W. Chase

    Charles Curtis wrote:

    Then, at the end, that closing video sequence which lauds Cruise for “introducing LOH technology to over one billion people of earth” (LOH technology? what?)…what the heck is Cruise talking about when he uses acronyms like PTSP? SP? KSD? What are Techs? Do any of the other words and odd phrases he uses have any particular esoteric meaning here? That their religion is so odd, and gnostic in its nature, is very disturbing. That their founder L. Ron Hubbard was apparently influenced by… Aleister Crowley & Madam Blavatsky

    Discussions like these are part of the reason journalists covering the Church Of Scientology [COS] need to do the actual job of wading through not only first-rate comparative religion scholarship on Scientology but also the actual Scientology courses (on CD) and the books published by LRH (L. Ron Hubbard..not “LOH”). The courses are available for purchase, and some institutions (like Religious Studies departments and news organization) could certainly spring for them. Part of the difficulty in reporting on and studying COS is that it does use a fairly specific language built like an edifice–layer upon layer. Luckily, the courses come with glossaries, so its not hard to find translations for the acronyms (like “SP” = Suppresive Person, or “KSW” = “Keep Scientology Working”) and do the basic footwork necessary to understand this esoteric tradition. Some of Cruise’s quotations cited in this post and at Gawker have already been misinterpreted. For example, the phrase “way to happiness” Cruise uses refers not to the COS but to a specific non-Scientology book of “common sense” ethics used in Criminon and Narconon courses called “The Way To Happiness.” It was written by Hubbard and is published by a separate foundation related to but not really part of COS. The quotations make it sound as if Cruise is referring to the COS as the “way” rather than the actual course used in prisons and other pastoral settings. Otherwise, I think it is entirely appropriate for journalists to ask and challenge Cruise on the actual results of COS efforts, from Criminon to Narconon and others.

    Having said all this, I do not think it is very helpful for journalists or commentators to toss around unsupported and hotly disputed claims about the alleged influence of religious “lightning rods” such as Aleister Crowley or H.P. Blavatsky. In a culture where so many people are religiously illiterate concerning traditions such as Islam and Mormonism, it cannot be helpful to bring up historic figures who have not received any but the barest of careful historical and hermeneutic investigation. While I am no expert on Scientology, the only figure I know of that Hubbard makes reference to in the courses is Mary Baker Eddy of Christian Science fame. Hubbard had some pretty serious theological disagreements with Eddy, but nonetheless agreed with her assessment that Matter, Energy, Space and Time (“MEST” in Scientology) are illusory and should be treated as illusory next to spiritual reality. Unfortunately I don’t have the citation handy of which course it is in–should I come across it, I will post it.

    I think these first few comments by myself and others have demonstrated a legitimate need for these videos to be viewed under “fair use” doctrines. Certainly other videos released by the COS would be fair game for analysis and commentary.

  • Charles Curtis

    Sorry for the butchered writing in the first post.

    Mr. Chase, thank you for the links to Mary Farrell Bednarowski and J. Gordon Melton’s books. This is exactly the sort of thing I (and most of us, especially repoerters) ought to have on their bedstands.

  • rompandplay

    Is this video noteworthy? Yes. Is it newsworthy? You bet.

    A little advice for churches and other groups who don’t want their training videos to become public: Don’t include a celebrity or other public figure.

    The media have every right to make reference to this video, even if Cruise hadn’t been included. This is not a trade secret being exposed, it’s a religion – granted, a very secretive and strange one.

    It’s interesting that videos, including training videos, are plastered all over the LDS.org site (supposedly a secretive religion) and other church Websites for that matter.

    I know it’s customary to pussy-foot around the COS, and not offend them, lest you become a target of extreme harassment. But just because they’re bullies doesn’t mean journalists abandon the right to criticize their practices and hold their claims and statements up to scrutiny. Exposing their recruitment techniques is protected by the First Amendment, and this rather mild (though still quite insane) video is clearly not a “trade secret” being exposed, as if we’re exposing a company’s secret recipe for a hot sauce.

    As noted, using a celebrity of this magnitude almost guarantees that your video will be released to the public.

    If the COS wants to continue as a “church” (KSW! LOL) then it needs to act like a church, and not a factory producing secret sauce. It needs to be open to journalistic inquiries and criticism from opponents. While unsupported, potentially libelous claims should not be repeated (although these claims were recorded in a controversial book, giving *some* leeway to reporters) ALL claims cannot be allowed to be similarly quashed, just because the powerful church wants them quashed.

    On the other hand, THIS COS recruitment video probably should be quashed: http://youtube.com/watch?v=73-NdRrWRn0

    Oh, yeah. I’m a regular contributor, but no, I’m not using my real name for this one. Not on your life.

  • Steven in Falls Church

    Somehow this website has not ben shut down by the Cruise/COS lawyers.

  • rompandplay

    Steven, even the Mighty and Powerful COS can’t subvert the First Amendment *that much*. It would be quite a feat to have them shut down a site mocking a public figure, even if that figure was a noted Scientologist.

    It would actually be frightening, and chilling.

  • RA

    As far as I understand copyright law, there is a fair use proviso, meaning as I understand it that a journalist can use copyrighted material in part as in the following manner covered under this link:

    http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

    That said, however there is another point of concern and something that seems to be ignored in the current debate and that is that the First Amendment also covers Freedom of Religion as well.

    From my point of view, to play this video with out even an explanation of the terms used in it is just irresponsible journalism, even though it is protected under the First.

  • rompandplay

    It may very well be irresponsible not to describe what KSW means (apparently: “Keep Scientology Working”) but that doesn’t stop journalists from doing the very same thing to numerous more mainstream religion’s terms every day. Of course, that’s why this blog exists, so it’s a good point, but an obvious one.

    The fact that this is a RELIGION means that the right to comment on all aspects of it – even ridicule it – is protected by the Constitution.

    I simply can’t see what law protects a video of part of a broadcast to its members. It was an AWARDS SHOW, for Xenu’s sake! Hundreds must have been in the audience. He didn’t give away trade secrets, and we knew he was kind of insane already. So we learned nothing proprietary from watching it.

    __________________________________
    “And I won’t hesitate to put ethics in on someone else. Because I put it ruthlessly in on myself. And I think that, ah, I respect that in others.” – Tommy Cruise

  • rompandplay

    Can you think of a way for journalists to cover this story — in the multi-media digital age that we are in —without links to the videos?

    Video is essential to this story because it’s a video that actually tells the story.

    Incidentally (and I hope not too tangentially) video is becoming more and more ubiquitous in non-broadcast media as well as online sites like gawker. My local newspaper, the Union Leader, posted a video of a district fire chief explaining a huge fire on its Website. Bear in mind this is a *newspaper* Website. But it’s a Website first.

    front page (Thursday’s edition) http://www.unionleader.com
    The video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyFwGe29O3o

  • http://tmamone.blogspot.com Travis Mamone

    Well I don’t know about how journalists can properly cover it. But it was a hillarious video!

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