Carole M. Cusack
Since L. Ron Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology in 1954, this controversial new religion has had a checkered relationship with the media. In early 2008, the changed nature of media coverage due to the Internet caused the viral propagation of two films (initially via YouTube). The first was actor and prominent Scientologist Tom Cruise discussing his beliefs, and the second was the first salvo by the anti-Scientology protest group Anonymous, which asserted that it would “expel the Church from the Internet.” This article first describes Scientology's teachings, organizational structure, and coverage in the media throughout its history. It then considers landmark media pieces in the United States, focusing on the work of crusading journalists Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin of the St. Petersburg Times: the three-part expose “The Truth Rundown” (June 2009); “Strength in Their Numbers” on Scientology defectors telling their stories (August 2009); and “Man Overboard,” which told of Don Jason's escape from Scientology after doing forced labor on the ship Freewinds, on which he was illegally detained (November 2009).
Jane Naomi Iwamura
Mass media, especially the news industry, played a crucial role in the changing attitudes and consciousness of the 1960s. Surprisingly, the stories that stirred the most interest were not those that covered religiously motivated conflict in Asia or the example of a conventionally recognized religious leader. Rather, Americans' provocative and widespread initiation into an alternative worldview came through the media's intense focus on the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his Spiritual Regeneration Movement in the late 1960s. Mahesh's relationship with the Beatles and other high-profile Western celebrities made for good copy and hurled the guru, as well as Indian spirituality, into the headlines. Before the 1960s, coverage and references to Indian religions, especially Hinduism, were consigned to the international pages of newspapers and magazines. The Orientalist divide between a backwards India and the modern West was perpetually reinforced by American news reporters and cultural commentators. But it became much more difficult to maintain in the case of the Maharishi Mahesh. This article focuses on news coverage and popular press reports of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960s.
In The Angel and the Beehive, sociologist Armand Mauss finds that Mormon Americans have, in recent decades, struggled with two competing archetypes of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint. The first is the beehive, whereby Mormons have been driven to assimilate—becoming financially successful, politically powerful, and culturally integrated into the American mainstream. The second is the angel, a sign of Mormons' theological distinctiveness and self-understanding as a peculiar people. In media coverage of Mormonism, we see both archetypes, sometimes even in the same news story. This article examines representative print media coverage of Mormonism since 1970, exploring the interplay between these two tropes. It focuses on five major metropolitan newspapers outside of the Mormon-dominated Wasatch Front: the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, and Chicago Tribune. It also mentions smaller regional papers, as well as the two dominant newspapers in the Salt Lake area, the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News. Articles about Mormonism that appeared in the nation's two major newsweekly magazines, Newsweek and Time, are also canvassed.
Sarah M. Pike
On June 6, 1993, the Commercial Appeal, a daily newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee, ran the headline “Evil Worship Debated in Slayings” following the arrest of three teenagers—one of them Wiccan—for the brutal murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The Commercial Appeal, the Jonesboro Sun, and other local newspapers kept the devil in the headlines over the weeks following the teenagers' arrest, subsequent trial, and, not surprisingly, eventual conviction. Throughout the trial, most news coverage neglected to distinguish between “cult,” “occult,” “Wicca,” and “Satanism.” In 1994, with no motive other than “Satanism,” Damien Echols, the oldest of the three teenagers, was sentenced to death, while the other two young men, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley, were sentenced to life in prison. News coverage of the “West Memphis Three” trial and its growing numbers of celebrity supporters two decades later is a clear example of how media coverage and public understanding of witchcraft has changed since the 1960s.