Have some news reporters become cult apologists or stooges?
Some journalists write hard-hitting news stories about destructive cults, which have often led to further action. They expose wrongdoing and the authorities often follow-up through criminal prosecution or some other enforcement action. However, there are those reporters who seem to be more interested in presenting a pretty picture for their community, than exposing the truth about cults.
Three recent stories about well-known groups often called “cults,” expose what looks like a penchant for puff pieces. This is a term used to describe uncritical articles that are more positive spin and/or froth than substance. In such puffery reporters largely let the “cult” tell the story, without asking anything really tough, or follow-up questions. Here are some recent examples that seem to fit into the category of “puff piece” if not cult apology.
A recent story written about the notorious group “Ananda Marga,” which has been accused of violent crimes, child abuse and linked to suicide, described members as “covered in a life of peace.” The journalist did ask a member about the “C” word (cult) though. A devotee answered evasively, "You won't lose your mind and be brainwashed." And according to another member they are "not a religion." Right.
I guess that resolves everything, well at least the reporter seems to think so at the Kingston Jamaica Gleaner.
However, P.R. Sarkar the founder and “God-Man” of Ananda Marga who died in 1990 did some time in an Indian prison. And that government felt he was important enough to publish a book about his group titled, Ananda Marga: Soiling the Saffron Robe. This was not a “puff piece” and Sarkar comes off as little more than a "sociopath," hardly "covered in a life of peace." And not apparently respected by Hindus. The next journalist to offer up what amounts to cult apologies works in Ithaca, New York. This time the group is the “Twelve Tribes,” a racist anti-Semitic “cult” led by Elbert Eugene Spriggs, a former carnival barker.
The Twelve Tribes has a horrific history of child abuse, terrible custody battles, kidnappings and harsh exploitation, which rivals some of the worst “cults” in America. In numerous news reports former members have spoken out about the abuse they endured under Spriggs harsh totalitarian rule. But the leader they now call “Yoneq” lives in luxury, travelling between his homes in France, the United States and South America. Forget about all this.
The reporter for the Ithaca Times says the Twelve Tribes are a “unorthodox religious group ... that worships Jesus.” Right. Didn’t Jim Jones make that claim? “And they have now chosen Ithaca as their newest community,” the reporter happily adds. The upstate New York journalist then essentially dismisses virtually every allegation against the Twelve Tribes offering readers instead their version of events. No former member is quoted, no other opinions offered except, “Much of the content found on the Web can be described as derogatory.” Is this in-depth journalism?
The article reads almost like an infomercial with a plug for the group’s website at the end.
Such positive spin for “cults” in not limited to America. “Down under” an Australian journalist seems to be plugging away for Scientology. This Sydney Morning Herald reporter tells us the story of Hindu boy named Raja who found happiness at the Athena School in Sydney run by Scientologists. There is nothing said about the troubled history of this controversial church, that Time Magazine named the “Cult of Greed.” Instead readers are regaled with how happy the little boy is at his new school, which teaches from text originated by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder.
This Australian article puffs on almost like an ad campaign, complete with a price quote per school term and a mention for a booklet by Hubbard called The Way to Happiness. However, Lisa McPherson didn’t seem to find her “way to happiness” and instead died after a breakdown, while under the care of her friends at Scientology. Somehow the Sydney reporter didn’t bother to include that little titbit. Certainly these articles will not be nominated for Pulitzers. Instead of reflecting professional journalism at its best these reporters seem be treading down a different path.
They didn’t do their research and/or chose to ignore it. Their motto appears to be; Make nice, be happy and ignore reality. Maybe that is “The Way to Happiness”?
But cults have a nasty way of getting headlines, through bad behavior and shattered lives. And eventually that cannot be ignored, even in Ithaca, Kingston or Sydney.
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