The Atlantic has removed from its website a paid “sponsor content” story touting Scientology after news organizations and bloggers raised questions about the piece.
In the paid advertorial posted Jan. 14 on theatlantic.com, the Church of Scientology promoted its accomplishments in 2012, including the opening of 12 flagship “Ideal” Scientology churches around the globe. It also lavished praise on church leader David Miscavige and was replete with photos of him and the new church buildings. The posting came in advance of the Jan. 17 publication of Going Clear, a new history of the religion by New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright.
The advertorial piece retained the look of an Atlantic article but contained a highlighted “Sponsor Post” notification above the headline.
“The driving force behind this unparalleled era of growth is David Miscavige, ecclesiastical leader of the Scientology religion,” the story read. “Mr. Miscavige is unrelenting in his work for millions of parishioners and the cities served by Scientology Churches. He has led a renaissance for the religion itself, while driving worldwide programs to serve communities through Church-sponsored social and humanitarian initiatives.”
The “sponsor content” drew withering criticism online from Salon and Gawker, among others, and was removed the evening of Jan. 14. “We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads,” a message on the site read.
Gawker called the piece “bizarre, blatant Scientology propaganda.”
Several well-known Atlantic writers tweeted encouragement for Wright’s book but avoided directly criticizing the publication for running the advertorial.
Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted, “There’s no time like the present to tout my friend Larry Wright’s great new investigation of the Church of Scientology,” pointing to a link to a blog post he wrote praising Going Clear. Writer James Fallows retweeted Goldberg.
Several media outlets recently have experimented with “sponsored” content as a way to boost revenue. The Associated Press recently began selling “sponsored tweets” to advertisers.
On Jan. 15, The Atlantic posted an apology online, saying, “We screwed up.” The publication promised to examine the mistake and learn from it.
Representatives of the Church of Scientology did not immediately respond to a request for comment.