Church of Scientology Goes to War with HBO

Kevork Djansezian/AP
Kevork Djansezian/AP

The Church of Scientology ran a full-page advertisement in the New York Times Friday attacking HBO for the pay cabler’s upcoming documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.

In the advertisement, the church accuses HBO and director Alex Gibney of failing to reach out to the church for comment while making the film.

Going Clear, based on the 2013 book of the same name by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright, will examine the role of celebrities in the church, particularly, the role they play in recruiting and advancing the church’s agenda, reports the New York Post.

The ad’s title makes reference to Rolling Stone magazine’s now-discredited UVA campus rape story: “Is Alex Gibney’s Upcoming HBO ‘Documentary’ a Rolling Stone/UVA Redux?”

“HBO is planning to air a documentary about the Church of Scientology, and like Rolling Stone, HBO is not confirming facts central to its film,” the advertisement reads. “Twelve times Alex Gibney and HBO have refused the church’s requests for questions, assertions, and statements about Scientology that will be included in the film so that it can comment on the ‘facts.'”

The church’s ad also attacked the film’s source material.

“Primary sources for the Wright book have not had any involvement with or firsthand knowledge of the church in approximately 10 to 30 years,” the ad reads.

Gibney, who previously won an Oscar with HBO for his Guantanamo torture documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, responded to the church’s accusations, telling the Post he made attempts to contact church officials multiple times.

“I requested interviews with various people – including current church members and officials – who could shed light on specific incidents discussed in the film,” Gibney explained. “All those asked either declined, did not respond, or set unreasonable conditions.”

HBO released its own statement in response to the ad:

“HBO has an extensive history of producing award-winning documentary films,” the network said. “It is customary in the documentary filmmaking process to request on-camera interviews from individuals that participated in events discussed in the film. This film identifies those who were approached.”

HBO likely expected a public attack by the church against the film; in November, the network reportedly hired 160 lawyers in anticipation of legal challenges to the film.

Going Clear is scheduled to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25 in advance of a limited theatrical run. The film will premiere March 16 on HBO.


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