Why Did Gawker Decline to Publish Story About a Vanity Fair Editor?

A piece by site’s staff writer, alleged Scientology informant John Cook, is published by the New York Observer instead

OK, this is pretty confusing.

The New York Observer published a story on its website on Tuesday — entitled “Was a Vanity Fair Editor Secretly Working for the Church of Scientology?” — with John Cook, a staff writer at Gawker, getting the byline.

The 3,500-word piece — which asks whether Vanity Fair contributing editor John Connolly was secretly working for the Church of Scientology “to infiltrate and gather intelligence on the cult's enemies in the media” — begins with this disclaimer:

Gawker.com, where the author is employed as a staff writer, declined to publish this story.

Now that’s a bit odd, considering Gawker’s relatively long history of doing battle with the "church." In 2008, Gawker posted that infamous Scientology indoctrination video featuring Tom Cruise ("The Cruise Indoctrination Video Scientology Tried To Suppress") and was threatened with a copyright infringement suit by Scientology’s lawyers. Gawker didn’t back down then, and it's been viewed more than 3 million times since. ("It's newsworthy," Gawker chief Nick Denton wrote in the 2008 post, "and we will not be removing it.")

So why did Gawker (presumably) back off this time?

I e-mailed Denton and Gawker editor-in-chief Remy Stern for comment. They haven't responded yet, but I’ll update this post if they do.

Historically, there have been plenty of media outlets that have shied away from reporting about Scientology, out of fear of litigation, intimidation or both — all of it well-documented. But not Gawker, at least until now.

Just three weeks ago, Gawker published a Cook post on Scientology ("Tom Cruise’s Favorite Toys Were Built For Free by Scientology Slaves") which picked up a thread from Lawrence Wright's recent investigation into Scientology in the New Yorker ("Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology") and ran with it. (Cook mined a blog post by one of Wright’s sources, John Brousseau, “a former member of Scientology's Sea Org who claims to have been drafted to do what amounts to slave labor for Tom Cruise.”)

So if Gawker chose not to publish it without fear of Scientology suppression, then what? One theory: At 3,500-plus words, it's far too long for Gawker's current redesign.

Here's another: Connolly himself.

Connolly authored a post for Gawker on Feb. 3 ("Law & Order Commemorates Jeffrey Epstein’s Taste for Teen Hookers") about one of his favorite subjects: the billionaire money manager who was convicted of soliciting underage prostitutes in Palm Beach a few years ago. (Epstein was released from prison in July after serving 12 months.)

For what it's worth, Cook’s Observer piece has a number of details about Scientology’s alleged information-gathering campaign that might interest Hollywood. Like how Connolly used his "contributing editor" title at Vanity Fair to investigate other journalists digging into Scientology, including an interview Connolly did with Andrew Morton as Morton was prepping his 2008 biography of Tom Cruise.

Via what's alleged to be a Scientology memo published by Cook:

Connolly was here in LA working on the Pellicano story ["Talk of the Town," Vanity Fair, June 2006] and contacted Morton and met with him on the basis of gaining his cooperation to be interviewed for an article for Vanity Fair about the books Morton has done on celebrities including the one he is writing on Tom Cruise. Connolly wanted to see what Morton was like and get any information about where Morton is currently at with regard to writing the book and to see if Morton would agree to be interviewed for an article. Based on the meeting, Connolly said that Morton seems to have finished his research already and is busy writing the book.

Read Cook's entire Observer piece here.