Ortega, in his nonfiction debut, describes a journalist’s decadeslong battle against the Church of Scientology.
There have been assertions of horror stories involving the Church of Scientology in a plethora of books, articles, documentaries, and interviews with ex-members. This new account focuses on Paulette Cooper, one of the first journalists to investigate what many see as the questionable moral practices of L. Ron Hubbard’s religion—and one of the first people, he says, to become a target of its vengeance. In a 1969 article in Queen magazine and later in a 1971 book, The Scandal of Scientology, Cooper offered a damning exploration of the church and its practices. “More than previous writers,” notes Ortega, “Paulette focused on the harassment of those who dared to speak up about Scientology, whether they’d been in the church or not.” In response to her words, Ortega says, the church set out to destroy her life with an unprecedented yearslong campaign of litigation, defamation, intimidation, and harassment that pushed the journalist nearly to the point of suicide. In Cooper, Ortega finds the perfect foil to what he portrays as the secretive, suppressive machinations of Scientology: she’s a nearly archetypical newshound, savvy and scoop-obsessed, with a colorful history of committing fully to her work. For example, Ortega shares one anecdote of Cooper stowing away on a cruise ship for the sake of a travel piece, hiding in plain sight and stashing a change of clothes in a barroom piano. This book is far from just another look into the familiar, if terrifying, alleged tactics of the Church of Scientology; it’s a profile of a fascinating reporter making her bones and taking her lumps in the fickle world of 1970s magazine journalism. Plucky, self-possessed, and fearless in the face of the many threats—legal and otherwise—against her reputation and person, Cooper is a figure whose name is worth knowing.
A thrilling account of a reporter’s duel with a controversial church.