The St. Petersburg Times is running a three-part series on Scientology, written by Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin, based largely on new interviews with former high-ranking members of the "church."
Part 1, "Scientology: The Truth Rundown," ran yesterday. It focuses on the current head of the organization, David Miscavige, pictured above. Miscavige began his association with Scientology at age sixteen, worked his way up, and seized control after the founder, L. Ron Hubbard, died in 1986. The details of his dealings with the IRS to get tax-exempt status as a church are remarkable, as are the endless stories of him physically abusing his employees.
Part 2, "Scientology: Death in slow motion" ran this morning. It concentrates on Lisa McPherson, a member of the cult, who died after being held for seventeen days in a Scientology-owned hotel, where she was ostensibly being "treated" for a mental breakdown.
Part 3, "Scientology: No Escape From Reality," is scheduled to run tonight. You'll be able to find a link to it (if I forget to update this post) by visiting the newspaper's project home page. You can find videos of the interviews, written responses from Miscavige and other Scientologists, and links to earlier reports on that same page.
Update: Part 3 is up. It's now called "Scientology: Ecclesiastical justice."
Hat tip to Tony Ortega, whose post on the Village Voice blog Runnin' Scared is a good place to start. As Tony notes, this isn't a hatchet job -- while it's got an unambiguous perspective, it is a scrupulously reported piece where Miscavige and other current members of the organization are given ample space to respond to the story the defectors tell. [Added: Miscavige's quotes come from earlier work, evidently -- he did not consent to an interview for this series before press time. Pretty funny email on that here.]
Pretty creepy stuff, even if you already have some sense of what Scientology is all about.
[Added] Here is one of the videos from the project home page, a seven-minute summary of the whole effort, it appears.
[Added] Follow-up post.