When the stories of Harvey Weinstein perpetrating sexual assaults and rapes began to surface in 2017, Weinstein retained the services of Sitrick & Company. We cover the story of Weinstein here as Mike Sitrick and his firm have represented the Church of Scientology. Sitrick’s business of “crisis management” apparently has an Ecclesiastical Division in the company as Sitrick did work for the Los Angeles Archdiocese as it fought law enforcement and victims for decades under the leadership of the now disgraced Cardinal Roger Mahony.
Scientology’s disastrous 2013 advertorial in The Atlantic created a big PR blowback for the Church of Scientology:
While we don’t know if Sitrick was behind the advertorial; what we do know is that he took calls in response to David Miscavige’s self-aggrandizing advertorial. In these calls Sitrick stated that he had been working for the Church of Scientology for three and a half years. That would take us back to 2009 time frame. This was a crucial period in Scientology’s history. Anonymous had taken on the Church in 2008. Other than Scientology creating a laughably fake anthrax threat and accusing Anons of being the terrorists behind it, Scientology showed a complete inability to handle Anonymous.
For new Scientology watchers, a bit of history is in order to show why Anonymous choose to take on the Church of Scientology in 2008. Part of the story goes back to 2005 when South Park famously lampooned Scientology, Tom Cruise, and John Travolta.
SCIENTOLOGY, TOM CRUISE, SOUTH PARK, CAA & ANONYMOUS
Ronan Farrow, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist at the center of the Harvey Weinstein story, is represented by Creative Artists Agency. CAA is worth noting here as Tom Cruise’s agent Kevin Huvane is a managing partner at the Hollywood powerhouse CAA. Cruise’s long-time production partner Paula Wagner, who had helped Cruise launch the lucrative Mission Impossible franchise in 1993 when Cruise/Wagner Productions began, was a former CAA agent. Wagner’s husband Rick Nicita was a partner at CAA through 2008.
When South Park episode 912 “Trapped in the Closet” — an episode that satirized Scientology, Cruise, and Travolta — was set to air in November 2005, Cruise and Scientology called upon their contacts at CAA for help. A meeting was set up to see what could be done to stop the South Park episode from airing . Mike Rinder, who was then in charge of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs, was dispatched to CAA along with other Scientology execs to ask for CAA’s help in stopping the broadcast of the South Park episode.
Jacob Siegel’s 2015 story in the Daily Beast Why Scientology’s Cone of Silence Shattered offers a revealing insight into Scientology’s attempt to stop South Park episode 912 from airing:
“When South Park did their program, I went to CAA,” said Rinder, using the abbreviation for Creative Artists Agency, a top Hollywood talent agency that represented Cruise.
Rinder said this is what happened next:
“The Tom Cruise card was played with CAA to get them to put pressure on Comedy Central and Viacom. Ultimately, it really backfired.
CAA was opposed to Scientology’s attempt at censorship. Scientology failed in getting South Park episode 912 from airing in the United States. However, South Park did not rebroadcast the episode due to pressures exerted by Scientology. Moreover, Scientology and Cruise succeeded in getting the episode stopped in England due to that country’s medieval libel laws. This Scientology act of censorship was widely reported. The young people who were avid fans of South Park took notice. Many of these young people were members of 4chan, the online bulletin board whose members called themselves Anonymous.
Scientology’s next major act of censorship was in 2008 when the Church got a leaked Tom Cruise video taken down from YouTube. This video was an internal Church of Scientology video in which a very radicalized Tom Cruise exhorts his fellow Scientologists to “go to guns” against Scientology’s enemies. It was Scientology’s takedown of this video that triggered Anonymous to launch its Project Chanology campaign against the Church of Scientology. The campaign began with a stunning video that is a masterpiece of psychological warfare:
In 2009 the Independent Scientology movement followed on the heels of Anonymous and Scientology proved equally inept at handling the startling revelations of former high level Scientology executives. The Tampa Bay Times series called The Truth Rundown was devastating in its exposure of Scientology leader David Miscavige and his physical violence. The Truth Rundown chronicled the stories of former high level Scientology Sea Org executives who had lived through the hell of David Miscavige’s dystopian nightmare at the International Base located in San Jacinto, California. The seminal Truth Rundown series is now available as an e-Book for Kindle.
Bringing in Mike Sitrick at this time of crisis for Scientology would be a move David Miscavige would make. But what else could Miscavige do given that he had decimated the executive strata of Scientology? In 2009, Scientology’s remaining execs were either locked up in the SP Hole while others were secretly planning their escapes.
David Miscavige responded to the Independent Scientology movement with the Squirrel Busters. This proved to be an epic PR and legal disaster for Scientology. Miscavige also deployed the angry Tommy Davis as Scientology’s spokesman. Davis’ public behavior was an embarrassment. Accordingly he became a PR liability and was either placed on, or took, a leave of absence from the Sea Org whereupon he disappeared off the radar for some time. Other PR disasters for Scientology ensured. Scientology very publicly attacked, in no particular order, Lawrence Wright, Paul Haggis, Alex Gibney, Leah Remini, my dear wife Karen de la Carriere, Mike Rinder, CNN, Anderson Cooper, Vanity Fair, The Tampa Bay Times, and dozens of other people and media outlets that exposed this greedy, lying, and vicious cult. The world watched and saw Scientology Fair Game at work.
Due to the Church of Scientology’s own malicious behavior it had become a walking PR disaster, a self-destructive and disgusting mess.
What does a Cult with a toxic reputation and an uncontrollable need for revenge do?
Scientology did what Harvey Weinstein, Michael Vick, Cardinal Mahony, and numerous other miscreants have done and that is to call Mike Sitrick for help with a self-inflicted disaster. Mike Sitrick shamelessly boasts about the horrendous clients he’s represented. This appears on his company’s own website:
Sitrick boasting about having worked for the Los Angeles Catholic Diocese when it was engulfed in covering up child molestation is extraordinarily disturbing; the boast seems to be a very naked solicitation to do business with the worst scum of society. For an alleged PR genius to brag about helping a Church engaged in protecting pedophile priests is bizarre. One would think Mr. Sitrick would be more discreet about such matters: Halle Barry, Ron Burkle, Roy Disney, and Rush Limbaugh would certainly not like knowing they had been lumped in with pedophile priests on Sitrick & Company’s website.
SITRICK & COMPANY: THE INITIAL HARVEY WEINSTEIN DENIAL
When the call for help came in from Harvey Weinstein, Mike Sitrick’s mother had just passed away and Sitrick was in Chicago making final arrangements. Accordingly, Sitrick assigned the Weinstein case to his employee Sallie Hofmeister. She issued a completely tone deaf denial on Weinstein’s behalf:
Any allegations of nonconsensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances. Mr. Weinstein obviously can’t speak to anonymous allegations, but with respect to any women who have made allegations on the record, Mr. Weinstein believes that all of these relationships were consensual. Mr. Weinstein has begun counseling, has listened to the community and is pursuing a better path. Mr. Weinstein is hoping that, if he makes enough progress, he will be given a second chance.
This press release shows Sitrick & Company at its worst: The firm appears to have such contempt for Hollywood and the general public that it actually believed it could portray Weinstein as a contrite figure who “has listened to the community” and deserved a second chance. Sorry, Sitrick & Company, Harvey Weinstein is not Mel Gibson. Gibson made stupid drunken anti-Semitic comments; he did not rape women.
Read Geoffrey Pullum’s brilliant linguistic takedown of Harvey Weinstein’s denial as written by Sallie Hofmeister: The Strange Language of Harvey Weinstein’s Denial
Two years before Harvey Weinstein was engulfed in a firestorm of his own making, Scientology leader David Miscavige was likewise caught in a maelstrom of horrendous PR of his own making. In 2015, the Los Angeles Times broke the story that Miscavige had hired a father-son team of armed private investigators to secretly follow his own father for two years, this after Ron Miscavige Sr. and his wife had escaped Scientology’s Sea Org. When Ron Miscavige Sr. appeared to be having a heart attack in the parking lot of a Wisconsin supermarket, the PI’s called and asked David Miscavige if they should intervene and call for help. David Miscavige cold-bloodedly replied, “If he dies, let him die.” Outraged by the story going viral, the Church of Scientology issued an angry denial to The Hollywood Reporter that was unique in the annals of ecclesiastical denials:
As for the purported emergency incident involving an investigator and the second-hand account of an alleged conversation containing a despicably false quote, Mr. Miscavige’s attorney, Michael Lee Hertzberg, is on record stating that Mr. Miscavige does not know the investigator, has never heard of the investigator, has never met the investigator, has never spoken to the investigator, never hired the investigator and never directed any investigations by him.
So let me be clear: No such conversation with Mr. Miscavige ever took place and any claim that one did is provable bullshit.
David Miscavige’s belligerent denial mirrors that of Harvey Weinstein. As reported by AV Club, Weinstein disrupted group sessions when he was going through the charade of sex therapy in 2017:
According to sources at the outpatient clinic—where Weinstein, committed to changing his behavior patterns, drops in after spending his nights in a luxury hotel—Weinstein has been derailing group therapy sessions with his belligerent rants about “how this is all a conspiracy against him,” insisting “he never raped or assaulted anyone, and that all the encounters were consensual.” That Weinstein continues to downplay or outright dismiss the more than 40 women who have now accused him of sexual harassment or assault isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s followed this story, or are generally familiar with sexual abusers.
What Harvey Weinstein and David Miscavige have in common is that both are sleazebags who, when cornered, angrily protest that there is a conspiracy against them and that the bad acts of which they stand accused are baseless, i.e. “proveable bullshit” in the shrill argot of Scientology.
WEINSTEIN’S BOGUS CONTRITION
One of Sitrick’s textbook plays is to paint a miscreant client as a sincerely contrite person who seeks repentance by performing good acts. Thus, in a desperate and phony gambit that reeked of trying to buy his way out of what was shaping up to be a future prison sentence, Weinstein announced that he wanted to donate $5 million dollars to USC to fund to female filmmakers. USC wanted nothing to with Weinstein’s inept pandering and sleazy attempts at damage control into which he had dragged his own mother:
As allegations of sexual harassment against embattled film mogul Harvey Weinstein continue to unfold, the USC School of Cinematic Arts said Tuesday that it is rejecting a $5-million pledge Weinstein had made to fund a program for female filmmakers.
Weinstein referenced the pledge last week in a statement to the New York Times in response to the paper’s exhaustive story detailing accusations of sexual misconduct against him going back decades. “It will be named after my mom, and I won’t disappoint her,” he wrote.
TIME TO DITCH THE CLIENT
Abby Aguirre’s recent New York Times story about Mike Sitrick is aptly entitled He Fixes the Worst P.R. Crises Imaginable. Then Comes Harvey Weinstein. In her insightful article Aguirre shows that Mike Sitrick’s vaunted grasp of a situation seems to have failed him in the case of Harvey Weinstein:
As the #MeToo dam broke, the allegations against Mr. Weinstein multiplied. So did Sitrick and Company’s rebuttals… Sitrick and Company issued what would turn out to be one of its final statements to USA Today, for an article on March 22: “Mr. Weinstein categorically denies ever engaging in any non-consensual sexual conduct with anyone.”
Two months later Mr. Weinstein was arrested. His lawyer is Benjamin Brafman, whose clients have included Martin Shkreli, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Vincent Gigante, known as “The Chin.”
Only when it became inevitable that Weinstein was headed for felony charges did Sitrick & Company drop Weinstein. The Hollywood Reporter carried the headline:
THE COLLAPSE OF THE GOOD OLD BOY’S NETWORK
Harvey Weinstein’s arrest draws attention to the ability of wealthy and powerful evildoers such as Harvey Weinstein, the Church of Scientology, Enron and other Sitrick clients to spend lavish sums of money to spin the story in an attempt to redefine, deny, and portray themselves as something other than deviant individuals and organizations.
We view Sitrick & Company as a part of the larger ecosystem of corruption where monied elites are able to use their power and wealth to distort the news by using carefully crafted spin, cover ups, fake news, lies, threats, and denials. As we see it, Mike Sitrick and his firm are quickly becoming dinosaurs in the rapidly collapsing American “Good Old Boy’s Network.”
If Harvey Weinstein had owned a crystal ball in 2016, he could have skipped paying Sitrick & Company and conserved his funds for the large and expensive criminal defense team he will need. Inasmuch as Sitrick, like Scientology, cannot guarantee any particular result, wealthy people facing serious accusations in the post Harvey Weinstein era need to ask themselves if premium-priced “crisis management” is a form of wishful thinking or denial. Indeed, can any crisis management firm head off the inevitable where criminality can be proven to exist? The lesson to be learned here is ancient: Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.
SITRICK AS THE FIXER
The title of Sitrick’s new book The Fixer: Secrets for Your Reputation in the Age of Viral Media is a self-admission of how Sitrick views himself: He is a fixer. The notorious private investigator Anthony Pellicano was formerly a part of this system of high-priced “fixers” until he was taken out by the Feds and sent to prison along with attorney Terry Christensen, another pricey Hollywood fixer.
A fixer is someone who makes very ugly problems go away. Typically, a fixer works in such a way that his client has complete deniability and knows nothing about how the very ugly problem was made to go away. Fixers like Mike Sitrick work to simply spin, distort, and try to create a different perception of their clients. Fixers and the particular sort of work they do are central to the Good Old Boy’s Network. However, Fixers are no match for great journalists who see right through their machinations.
As Weinstein’s denials were issuing forth from Sitrick & Company, NBC Today Show contributor Ronan Farrow took notice of Harvey Weinstein and put together a blockbuster story. NBC execs, however, infamously passed on the story and urged Farrow to take it elsewhere. Farrow did just that; his subsequent articles in The New Yorker earned both himself and the magazine the 2018 Pulitzer Prize gold medal for public service. Farrow is an attorney and a member of the New York bar. His skills as an attorney were evident in the way he investigated Weinstein.
Kara Swisher’s interview of Ronan Farrow on Recode Decode is outstanding. Parts of it sound like Farrow is talking about Scientology Fair Game when he describes the depredations of the wealthy and powerful:
Recode Decode says of Swisher’s interview with Ronan Farrow:
On the new podcast, Farrow explained how he convinced Weinstein’s victims to talk to him for the story; he credited his sister Dylan Farrow, ex-Fox News host Gretchen Carlson and Bill Cosby’s myriad accusers with proving that women could relive the trauma, come forward with their stories and be okay in the end.
“I think the world changed,” Farrow said. “There was a progression of brave women and also, of course, eventually men — I don’t want to discount the importance of male survivors of sexual violence and how much we need to hear their voices. But at the time, it was mostly women coming forward and chipping away at the culture of silence.”
He reiterated that the focus should be on these survivors and on the ways in which the justice system and the media failed them — not on predators like Weinstein. Many of the systems that preserved the status quo of silence are “still thriving,” he said.
While Ronan Farrow astutely saw the world changing as women came forward and chipped away at the Hollywood Culture of Silence that protected Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and other sexual predators, Mike Sitrick saw a chance to make a big payday spinning for Harvey Weinstein. However, nothing Sitrick did, or could have done, would have helped Harvey Weinstein.
TheWrap noted that Sitrick & Company stayed on helping Weinstein while others were dropping Weinstein in order to prevent further damage to their reputations for having represented him the first place:
Crisis public relations firm Sitrick and Company is no longer representing disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein, the company told TheWrap on Tuesday.
Weinstein has been accused of rape, sexual assault and harassment by nearly 90 women in in various cities around the world. The producer has consistently denied any nonconsensual sex through his former Sitrick spokesperson, retained shortly after articles containing early accusations were published in the New Yorker and the New York Times last October.
Sitrick has been a surprising holdover for the past five months as Weinstein watched several key crisis players bail as the accusations piled up and the national conversation became consumed by the #MeToo movement sparked by Weinstein’s alleged misconduct.
Sitrick held on for too long in defending Harvey Weinstein. So did Los Angeles attorney Lisa Bloom who was widely criticized for both taking on Weinstein as a client and attempting to minimize his conduct by saying that he was “an old dinosaur learning new ways.” Bloom admitted to BuzzFeed News that her representation of Harvey Weinstein was “a colossal mistake.”
Another loser who got a big black eye from the Harvey Weinstein story is NBC. Many predict that there is fallout still to come for the peacock network having killed Farrow’s story. Farrow will tell his side of the story when Little, Brown and Co., releases his upcoming book Catch and Kill. A press released said of Farrow’s book, “the project will address the “conspiracy of silence around Weinstein and other men in power.”
SITRICK IN 2018
Mike Sitrick is no match for Wikileaks, the Panama Papers, and crusading journalists like Ronan Farrow, and the courage of women speaking out against their abusers. In this day and age when the US Congress and federal agencies are setting up to take on Google and Facebook’s massive invasions of privacy and selling private data, Sitrick’s skills no longer seem formidable against the vast oceans of social media, high level leakers, and even network and cable news. Indeed, the high-speed downfall of Harvey Weinstein showed the powerlessness of Sitrick & Company to fend off the inevitable by the use of old school tricks.
Weinstein’s arrest makes the case that “crisis management” is quite different than “trying to counter horrendously bad PR for high profile sleazebags who have crossed the line into criminality.” It is one thing to for Johnson & Johnson to handle the nightmarish PR issues related to Tylenol tampering in 1982; it’s quite another for Sitrick & Company to issue blanket denials on behalf of Harvey Weinstein or work in the background for the Church of Scientology even as Scientology works to destroy former members, journalists, and critics who expose its depravity.
This leads us to ask: When does “crisis management” cross the line into complicity?
SCIENTOLOGY & FAIR GAME; MIKE SITRICK & THE WHEEL OF PAIN
Abby Aguirre’s recent New York Times story on Mike Sitrick and Harvey Weinstein offers an illuminating look at what Sitrick & Company did for the disgraced Hollywood mogul. Aguirre notes that in 1998 Sitrick coauthored a book with Allan Mayer. Entitled Spin: How to Turn the Power of the Press to Your Advantage, Aguirre comments on the book:
In Chapter 4, “News Media Abhor a Vacuum,” Mr. Sitrick lays out one of his key tenets: that strategic press representatives must engage the media; “no comment” should never be a first resort. “If you won’t talk to them, they’ll simply find someone else who will,” he and Mr. Mayer write, “which is to say, if you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you.”
In a press release concerning Scientology TV, David Miscavige quoted Mike Sitrick verbatim when he said:
If you don’t write your own story, someone else will. So, yes, we’re now going to be writing our story, like no other religion in history. And it’s all going to happen right here from Scientology Media Productions.”
Miscavige’s verbatim quote of Sitrick suggests that Sitrick still has Scientology as a client. If so, Scientology and Sitrick appear to think alike in terms of Fair Game; Sitrick just phrases it differently. Example: In Sitrick’s new book The Fixer: Secrets for Saving Your Reputation in the Age of Viral Media he advises his clients to “Put Your Opponent in the Wheel of Pain.”
For Mike Sitrick to advise someone like Harvey Weinstein to put his opponents “in the wheel of pain” is beyond comprehension. Are we to take Sitrick’s admonition to mean that Weinstein’s victims were to be put in the wheel of pain by Sitrick & Company? Were Weinstein’s victims to be caused pain? While a clarification from Sitrick & Company on this point seems in order, Sitrick’s advice to cause your opponent pain shows the utter cynicism at Sitrick’s core: He is not afraid to hurt people in the defense of a client.
Attorney Lisa Bloom was also apparently not afraid to attack Weinstein’s accusers as Lloyd Grove’s story in The Daily Beast made clear:
Ronan Farrow was stunned and disgusted early this year when famed feminist lawyer Lisa Bloom phoned him, in the midst of his investigation for NBC News of widespread allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein, and offered to share opposition research on one of Weinstein’s accusers.
“I don’t know if you’ve talked to Rose McGowan, but we have files on her and her… history,” Bloom told Farrow, according to knowledgeable sources inside and outside NBC.
To what extent, if any, Bloom was coordinating with Sitrick remains a mystery. Nevertheless, the question remains: When does crisis management become complicity?
The efforts of Sitrick & Company and Lisa Bloom on behalf of their client Harvey Weinstein resemble Scientology’s practice of Fair Game in certain aspects. Grove’s story in the Daily Beast details just how ugly the Hollywood Good Old Boy’s network became when Harvey Weinstein learned that Ronan Farrow was writing a story about him. Weinstein called in all his markers in Hollywood and his very powerful allies tried to kill Farrow’s story. The Good Old Boys Network in Hollywood had much to lose if Weinstein went down. Worse, some of the Good Old Boys knew they too could be dragged down with Weinstein. It was time to circle the wagons.
FOCUS ON THE FIX
Mike Sitrick advises his clients to “focus on the fix.” Scientology TV is obviously Miscavige’s attempt to focus on the fix. We know that Scientology TV is Miscavige’s attempt to “normalize Scientology.” How Miscavige thinks this is possible is quizzical: One cannot normalize that which is inherently deviant. For instance, how does one “normalize” child labor in the Sea Org or exploiting Sea Org members by paying them .10 cents per hour while inflicting sleep deprivation on them? Sleep deprivation is classed as a form of torture by the United Stations. Defined as “the intentional infliction of physical and psychological pain” sleep deprivation as torture cannot be normalized.
Mike Sitrick calls for an organization in crisis to exercise a strategy in which “strategic press representatives must engage the media.” How has David Miscavige translated this advice into action?
David Miscavige has his OSA “press representatives” engage the media in two ways. First, in terms of responding to Leah’s Remini’s A&E show Scientology and the Aftermath, Miscavige has his people in OSA Legal engage the media and the public by issuing a series of angry and unconvincing written denials. From a legal perspective, A&E prudently airs these denials so as to foreclose any Scientology protest that it was not given a chance to respond.
Miscavige apparently feels that he is telling his story by compelling A&E to broadcast Scientology’s written denials. However, Scientology’s denials carry the same moral authority as Harvey Weinstein’s denials:
David Miscavige’s second response to his critics is to have OSA create hate websites on people Scientology deems Suppressive Persons. However, Scientology’s hate websites only serve as self-indicting evidence that Scientology is as malicious as former members, critics, journalists, and documentarians have stated after having been on the receiving end of Scientology’s Fair Game campaigns.
SCIENTOLOGY TV AS THE PROPAGANDA OF A COLLAPSING REGIME
David Miscavige is so delusional that he spent $100 million on Scientology TV in order to tell Scientology’s story so that other’s won’t. However, this is pure fantasy. The media, critics, and former members have been telling Scientology’s story for decades and will continue to do so. David Miscavige and his “crisis management experts” are powerless to stop any coverage of Scientology.
I once shooped Miscavige as Ceausescu in his final hours to depict Miscavige’s utter incomprehension of what is actually happening around him:
The incomprehension of the wealthy and powerful occurs because they have gotten their own way for so long and live in a bubble of sycophants, lawyers, fixers, private investigators, paid hoodlums, crisis management firms, and other enablers. When something truly disastrous besets them, the wealthy think they can buy their way out of it, silence it with various dire threats, or stop it by enforcing nondisclosure agreements that were signed in the past. Stormy Daniels and her attorney have made a mockery of the system of payoffs and nondisclosure agreements. Ronan Farrow has made a mockery of NBC’s alleged “concerns” of not having enough evidence to run a story. The Panama Papers, Paradise Papers, and the soon to be released Appleby Papers have ripped the veil off the offshore financial chicanery of monied elites. The 1% are powerful, but not that powerful. The 1% should take notice when even the governments of China and Russia fear the internet and the free flow of information.
Scientology has often tried to spin the narrative in self-serving attempts to attack its most effective critics. Taryn Teutsch’s recent attempts to hijack the #MeToo movement for use in attacking her father Mike Rinder were exposed as fraudulent and reprehensible.
Likewise, Joy Villa’s attempts to portray herself as a Christian and Scientologist were unconvincing.
Rather than acknowledging the extremely serious and enormous problems with Scientology, David Miscavige has tried to spin the overwhelming public outrage against Scientology by tossing out the bogus and unconvincing tagline, “Curious? We thought so.”
Mr. Miscavige, the only thing people are curious about concerning Scientology is why the IRS has not revoked its tax exemption.