The Atlantic magazine has pulled a paid article lauding the recent achievements of the Church of Scientology, amid widespread outrage on the Internet and concerns that the propaganda piece undermined the storied publication’s credibility.
“2012 was a milestone year for Scientology, with the religion expanding to more than 10,000 Churches, Missions and affiliated groups, spanning 167 nations–figures that represent a growth rate 20 times that of a decade ago,” the article began. “The driving force behind this unparalleled era of growth is David Miscavige, ecclesiastical leader of the Scientology religion. Mr. Miscavige is unrelenting in his work for millions of parishioners and the cities served by Scientology Churches. …”
The article then introduced large photographs of several recently opened Scientology churches and administrative locations in scenic locations, with lengthy, enthusiastic captions accompanying each one.
“The Church of Scientology opened its new National Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., in a ceremony led by David Miscavige,” one paragraph began. “The establishment … was necessitated by the Church’s unprecedented worldwide growth and commensurate demand for Church-sponsored programs.”
The Atlantic apparently moderated the reader comments section below the story, either by removing critical comments or preventing them from appearing in the first place.
“Seems like David Miscavige and Scientology are on a roll,” one user, Kiwi Boy, wrote. “Also it appears the media have been missing the real story.”
“I hadn’t realized there were so many new churches opened this past year. Great report!” agreed a poster called “Manila Green.”
The story was marked with a yellow “Sponsor Content” badge — indicating that it was drafted without the oversight or approval of the Atlantic’s editorial staff — but was otherwise indistinguishable from site’s regular content.
Readers who wanted to learn more about the site’s sponsored content policy could click on the small “What’s this?” link next to the yellow badge, which brought up a message explaining that the article was written solely by advertisers and The Atlantic’s promotional department.
The reaction from Internet commentators was swift. Gawker called the piece “bizarre, blatant Scientology propaganda,” and a parody Twitter account @TheAtlanticAds quickly gained nearly 250 followers.
“We have temporarily suspended the Scientology article while we investigate whether Tom Cruise can actually fly, as it claimed,” the mock account tweeted early Tuesday.
Within hours, The Atlantic replaced the article with a short message: “We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads.”