Friday, September 21, 2018
News Roundup

Clearwater stars as Scientology launches its TV network: ‘There’s a lot of talk about us, and we get it.’

Televangelists have dominated religious broadcasting for decades with their use of TV to preach gospel into living rooms, some soliciting donations from viewers through one simple phone call in the name of Jesus Christ.

Now the Church of Scientology has stepped into the broadcasting arena with Monday evening’s launch of the Scientology Network on DIRECTV’s channel 320, streaming devices like AppleTV and Roku, and apps on iTunes and Google Play.

Standing inside the Flag Building in downtown Clearwater, the church’s international spiritual headquarters, Scientology leader David Miscavige greeted viewers at 8 p.m. with a video message, promising the network would reveal the inside of the "dynamic and expanding religion," its beliefs and technologies.

"There’s a lot of talk about us, and we get it," Miscavige said. "We want to answer your questions, because frankly, whatever you have heard, if you haven’t heard it from us, I can assure you we are not what you expect."

RELATED: Clearwater council candidate’s development plan relies on Scientology’s cooperation

In the network’s opening moments, viewers saw panoramic aerial video of downtown Clearwater. After that came a long stream of footage showing Scientology’s churches around the world, depictions of its outreach programs and courses, and images of its technological hardware, all set to pulsating music.

The Scientology Network follows the launch of Scientology Media Productions in 2016, a five-acre broadcasting studio on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Scientology spokesperson Karin Pouw declined to answer specific questions about the network Tuesday.

The Network’s catchphrase is "Curious?" But whether the 64-year-old religion can use its newfound platform to recruit believers and control its message is yet to be seen. It is launching amid increasing media scrutiny, allegations of rampant abuse and financial exploitation of parishioners, and ridicule by late night talk show hosts.

"It’s an attempt to get legitimacy; at the same time it’s an attempt to diminish the impact of extensive media criticism," said Stephen Kent, a professor of sociology at University of Alberta who has studied Scientology for 30 years. "A lot of indicators point to the fact (Scientology) is not doing well."

Christian churches that historically dominated religious broadcasting aimed to recruit financially supportive followers and elevate their public image, Kent said. But while those televangelists were reaching out to the millions of Evangelical Christians in America, Scientology has a drastically smaller pool from which to draw.

The church has boasted its membership to be in the millions worldwide. But Kent said a more reasonable estimate is closer to 50,000 globally. That comes from census figures reported in various countries, low activity at refurbished buildings known as Ideal Orgs, and analysis from former high-level insiders, Kent said.

"The fact that Scientology is targeting its broadcasting through new media is indicative of the problems the organization is having with its image," Kent said.

Last week, comedian and political commentator Samantha Bee had a segment on her TBS show Full Frontal, telling National Rifle Association members if they wanted to be part of a "money-making scheme" and "brainwashing cult," they could ditch the AR-15s and join Scientology instead.

And in September, A&E’s Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath won an Emmy award for its series that detailed stories of physical, mental, sexual and financial abuses within the church to millions of viewers.

Scientology has long faced criticism for operating like a business by charging members to advance through levels, putting prices on required courses and using aggressive sales tactics. The sums that practicing Scientologist spend for courses, counseling and donations can reach well into six-figures.

RELATED: In Scientology’s backyard, Baptist preacher ‘takes a stand’

Adding a broadcast network onto that, in an apparent attempt to gain paying members, further clouds their stance as a tax-exempt religious organization, said Pete Evans, an investigator with Trinity Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog group that has monitored religious broadcasters for three decades.

"They will be making money off their broadcasting and gaining donations," Evans said. "I’m sure they’ll be talking about the good works they do … so they’ll be soliciting money and pulling on people’s heartstrings and there will be absolutely no accountability for that number."

Evans noted that many religious broadcasters have preached their faith ethically without exploiting viewers financially. He pointed to the late Billy Graham, who became world renowned for his televangelism beginning in the 1950s and "stuck with Christ as a message rather than money."

But others, like Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar, have become notorious for lavish personal wealth and spending on the backs of viewers.

"You can look at the number of televangelists that have jets, and there are dozens," he said.

Contact Tracey McManus at or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.


Football: St. Petersburg 23, Gibbs 6

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg’s Aumhryaun Brown’s two touchdowns helped overcome the ejection of quarterback Tonio Shavers as the Green Devils cruised to a 23-6 win against Gibbs on Friday.As time expired during the first half, with the Green Devil...
Updated: 10 minutes ago

Football: Plant City 24, East Bay 7

GIBSONTON — Plant City’s high-powered passing game gets most of the attention. But the Raiders’ defense is just as responsible for the team’s unbeaten start.In Plant City’s 24-7 road victory against East Bay in Class 7A, District 9 on Friday, the def...
Updated: 16 minutes ago

Football: Sickles 7, Freedom 3

TAMPA — Sickles needed a goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter to escape Freedom 7-3 on Homecoming and remain in the hunt for a Class 7A, District 8 title.Gryphons coach Patrick Murphy knew that facing the Patriots would be a battle. Freedom (1-...
Updated: 20 minutes ago

Football: Clearwater Central Catholic 38, Northeast 17

ST. PETERSBURG — Championship caliber teams don’t cut themselves any slack.Just ask senior quarterback Rory Hicks, a tough grader moments after visiting Clearwater Central Catholic rolled out its textbook offensive precision to subdue Northeast, 38-1...
Updated: 24 minutes ago

Football: Wesley Chapel 48, Gulf 7

NEW PORT RICHEY — Welcome to the Jelani Vassell show. The Wesley Chapel junior entered Friday night’s game leading Pasco County in touchdowns with seven. Before the first quarter ended against Gulf, he had added three more as the Wildcats eventually ...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
Rays journal: Carlos Gomez says ump should’ve been ejected

Rays journal: Carlos Gomez says ump should’ve been ejected

TORONTO — After unleashing a Twitter rant criticizing umpire Andy Fletcher's work behind the plate Thursday, Rays OF Carlos Gomez doubled down on his comments, saying he was even more upset about how Fletcher treated him when questioning a thir...
Updated: 26 minutes ago

Football: Wiregrass Ranch 42, Wharton 6

TAMPA — The Wiregrass Ranch Bulls football team has been struggling on offense the last two weeks heading into Friday’s District 7A-8 game against Wharton High. The Bulls had scored a total of 19 points the last two games after averaging 30.5 the fir...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Rays bounce back big after a debacle

Rays bounce back big after a debacle

TORONTO — The way the Rays played Friday — all nine innings, lesson learned — in beating the Jays 11-3 provided the best answer on how, or even if, they could rebound from the crushing loss the night before that all but ended their ...
Updated: 29 minutes ago

Football: Dixie Hollins 43, Dunedin 6

ST. PETERSBURG — A 14-point halftime lead by Dixie Hollins become a blowout as the Rebels took big chunks of yardage through the air and on the ground in the second half to stifle visiting Dunedin, 43-6.The Rebels got on the board late in the first q...
Updated: 1 hour ago
UCF-FAU featured the fun most Florida teams would love to have

UCF-FAU featured the fun most Florida teams would love to have

ORLANDO — The first two times Lane Kiffin and Florida Atlantic faced fourth down Friday night at No. 16 UCF, they kept their offense on the field. The quarterback punted.On the third time, the Owls brought their punt unit onto the fie...
Updated: 1 hour ago