Just two weeks before Vanity Fair published its expose of Tom Cruise's alleged courtship rituals, Jeffrey K. Riffer, a Los Angeles lawyer who represents the Church of Scientology's leader, David Miscavige, fired off a scathing eight-page letter to Vanity Fair's editor, Graydon Carter, hoping to prevent the story from ever seeing the light of day.
The letter, which was published on the Scientology website, blasts the expose as shoddy journalism, religious bigotry and potential legal liability, while accusing Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth of deliberately not speaking with sources knowledgeable about Scientology would burden her story with the truth.
Those sources, according to Riffer, include Vanity Fair staffers who know Miscavige personally -- and at least one employee who works with the religious leader in a professional capacity. The letter does not identify the staffers by name, and a spokesperson for Vanity Fair told the International Business Times that the magazine is unaware of the staffers Riffer is referring to.
Riffer has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
This is not the first time a Vanity Fair staffer has been accused of having ties with the church. In March, Gawker writer John Cook cited two high-ranking Scientology officials who claim that VF contributing editor John Connolly has been a paid informant for the church for two decades. Cook's article was posted on the Observer website as Gawker declined to publish it.
For the expose, Orth, a special correspondent for Vanity Fair, did not speak with Miscavige himself. Although the writer had apparently made at least one an attempt to secure an interview, Riffer called that effort a disingenuous sham.
She couldn't possibly have thought that an 'Oh, by the way' phone call to the Church's Public Affairs office requesting an interview with the ecclesiastical leader of the religion could possibly be accommodated, Riffer wrote.
In the expose, which was published in Vanity Fair's October with a cover photo of Katie Holmes, Orth writes that the Church of Scientology held secret auditions to find a new wife for Cruise after he and Nicole Kidman divorced in 2001. The story claims that the women being auditioned were not told that they were being groomed as the future Mrs. Cruise.
The chosen woman was the British-Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi, who was allegedly cut off from her family as part of her grooming period. According to the story, Boniadi and Cruise did not quite click, and the actress was ultimately banished to the Scientology headquarters in Clearwater, Fla., where she was forced to dig ditches and clean toilets with toothbrushes.
Boniadi was not quoted directly in the story, and a rep for Cruise vehemently denied it the article's claims. However, Crash director Paul Haggis, a former Scientologist who publicly denounced the religion in a 2011 New Yorker profile, told the Los Angeles Times that the actress in fact shared her ordeal with him.
Riffer's letter appears to have been written, in part, as a response to 32 questions that Vanity Fair sent to the magazine as Orth was doing her research. (One question, according to the letter, asks if Miscavige will comment on being perceived as a kind of third wheel in Tom Cruise's relationships.) In the letter, Riffer objects to the frat house mentality of the questions and takes them as evidence that Orth was planning a tabloid-style hatchet job:
Do you realize how blatantly bigoted these questions are? Ms. Orth shows no sensitivity to Scientology's religious beliefs as she apparently hasn't a clue what those beliefs are. Scientology auditing is the most sacrosanct practice of the Scientology religion and the confidences of parishioners given in auditing are inviolate. Yet the very tenor of Ms. Orth's questions concerning such matters, on the order of By the way, do you take sugar in your coffee? evidences her total ignorance and lack of respect for the beliefs of Scientologists. The allegations she forwards are akin to asking the Pope if he threw poison in the wine before failing to bless the Holy Communion during the Easter service.
Papal comparisons of its leader notwithstanding, the Church of Scientology has a long history of aggressive damage control against unfavorable press. Following Time magazine's scathing 1991 article Scientology: The Cult of Greed, the church spent ten years in a libel lawsuit against Time Warner (NYSE: TWX). The case was dismissed by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and when the church tried to get the case reinstated, it was denied by the Supreme Court.
More recently, the church responded viciously to the New Yorker's lengthy 2011 expose, with Scientology members handing out copies of a mock-New Yorker magazine in front of Condé Nast's Manhattan office.
And just this weekend, angry protesters gathered at screenings of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, which was inspired in part by the life of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. The protests caused the Weinstein Co. to beef up security at screenings in Los Angeles and New York.
A spokesperson for Vanity Fair told IBTimes last week that Scientology had so far not taken legal action against the magazine. She added that Condé Nast lawyers have responded to Riffer's letter in a general way.
Read Riffer's full letter here.