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Why Did a News Outlet Scrub a Controversial Story on Scientology?


"2012 was a milestone year for Scientology..."

Over the past 24 hours, social media has been abuzz over The Atlantic's publication of a sponsored article about Scientology. But just as quickly as controversy followed the initial appearance of the advertorial and its related comments, the outlet decided to remove the controversial content.

The initial article was published on Monday at 12:25 ET under the headline, "David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year" (here's the cached version). The purpose of the advertisement was to praise Miscavige and the church for spawning monumental growth over the past 12 months.

"2012 was a milestone year for Scientology, with the religion expanding to more than 10,000 Churches, Missions and affiliated groups, spanning 167 nations--figures that represent a growth rate 20 times that of a decade ago," the article read. "The driving force behind this unparalleled era of growth is David Miscavige, ecclesiastical leader of the Scientology religion."

A screen shot from the controversial Scientology sponsored content on The Atlantic

Then, the article goes on to note, in detail, the areas of expansion that the church has experienced. The piece includes images of recently-launched so-called "Ideal Scientology Churches," houses of worship that are described as "ideal in location, design, quality of religious services and social betterment programs."

After the article's sponsored presence on The Atlantic spread across Twitter and Facebook, the outlet promptly removed the ad. At the link where it once resided, a message is posted that claims the content has been "temporarily suspended," while policies surrounding sponsor content are reviewed. Here's a screen shot:

A screen shot from The Atlantic

A description of sponsor content that accompanied the original article reads, "Sponsor Content is created by The Atlantic’s Promotions Department in partnership with our advertisers. The Atlantic editorial team is not involved in the creation of this content."

But it wasn't only the selection of the article that caused controversy. The second portion of The Atlantic's suspension notice mentions that the outlet is also exploring how it manages comment threads that are attached to advertised content. Gawker, which called the ad "propaganda," notes that, of the 17 comments that were posted as of Monday evening, the majority were pro-Scientology and read as though they were "an extension of the original post."  

It will intriguing to see if -- and how -- the Church of Scientology responds to the controversy.

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