Memorable headlines: Scientology as a “ruthless global scam”

Copy editors at newspapers spend a great deal of time and energy on writing headlines. And for good reason — headlines attract attention, and some live on decades after they are written. This is the fifth in a series of posts on memorable headlines.

time-pg1THE HEADLINE: The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power: Ruined lives. Lost fortunes. Federal crimes. Scientology poses as a religion but really is a ruthless global scam — and aiming for the mainstream.

THE PUBLICATION: Time magazine

THE STORY: In 1991, Time magazine published a lengthy article on the Church of Scientology. The story accused the church of being a money-hungry organization that uses Mafia-like tactics.

ITS SIGNIFICANCE: In the days before the World Wide Web, information about Scientology was difficult to find, and the church regularly obstructed efforts by reporters to write stories about it.

Time’s award-winning story presented a view of the church’s operations to a national audience. “Ruthless global scam” became a shorthand for Scientology’s critics, and journalists such as Kurt Loder of MTV have referred to it in reports on the church.

The article led to a $416 million libel lawsuit from Scientology. The lawsuit was dismissed, and the “ruthless global scam” label lives on in search terms on Google.



  1. Andy, it’s terrific that you’re highlighting this significant bit of journalistic history for your students.

    L. Ron Hubbard wrote extensive instructions to Scientologists about the evils of the media and how to handle them. One such instruction, published in the “Manual of Justice” can be read here:

    The section on “Entheta Press” – which is essentially bad press about Scientology – is still applied (being part of Scientology “scriptures” it MUST be applied without amendment). The goal is to see the journalist “shudder into silence”.

    Time was successful in court, of course, but the cost to it and damage to future journalistic efforts to shine a light on Scientology were dramatic.

    Thankfully, in recent times, particularly with the antics of Anonymous and the power of the internet, Scientology is finding itself less able to quash dissenting voices and the press are growing in confidence in writing about Scientology.

    It’s in cases like this that a journalist’s vocation can come to light.

Comments are closed.