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Reader's Digest on Cruise Control

Apr. 9 2008, Published 7:10 a.m. ET

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Did Reader’s Digest sell its soul to the Church of Scientologyto get Tom Cruise on the cover of its current issue? Accordingto several sources inside the world's largest-selling monthly, the magazine’seditor-in-chief, Jackie Leo, wanted Cruise as her cover boy butwas impeded by the magazine’s history with the controversial group.

Back in 1991, Reader’s Digest excerpted an in-depthinvestigative piece from Time magazine entitled Scientology: TheCult of Greed. Among other things, the article asserted that the Church“is a highly profitable global racket that survives by intimidatingmembers and critics in a Mafia-like manner.”

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In response, the Church filed injunctions aimed at blockingReader’s Digest from publishing the story in its internationaleditions. But Scientology’s lawyers ultimately lost, and the mag gainedcred beyond its walker-waving readership for standing up to the cult’sbullying ways.

With so much bad blood between them, how did Reader's Digest land a rare sit-down with Scientology's top celebrity spokesman? By caving in to a long list of bizarre demands. According to well-placed sources at the magazine, to ensure Cruise's cooperation, the Digest's reporter, Meg Grant, promised to give "Scientology issues" equal play in her profile of the star, and agreed to enroll in a one-day Church "immersion course." Before the interview took place, our sources say, the magazine also agreed to submit its questions for Cruise to his Church handlers, who weeded out any queries they deemed inappropriate. But they were still not taking any chances. When the exclusive interview finally took place, one of Cruise's handlers asked the star the list of pre-approved questions, as Grant recorded Cruise's responses.

Needless to say, the Church is thrilled with the resulting story, we hear.With such fawning treatment in the pages of the global magazine that denouncedit only a decade ago, it's scored a significant coup. As for the magazine?“Reader’s Digest has sold out with no turning back as faras I’m concerned,” laments one former editor. Asked about herjournalistic horse-trading, Editor-in-Chief Leo explained she didn’t“know anything about Cruise’s ‘requests’ because Iwasn’t the one who did the interview,” and suggested we talk to thewriter of the piece. Reached in L.A., Grant denied providing her questions inadvance or relaying them to Cruise through a third party during the interview.”I would never do that journalistically, and the magazine wouldn’tallow it,” she claims.

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But, after some prodding, Grant admitted she was indeed put through animmersion course in Scientology, but that it was a surprise. “Before theinterview, I went to a lunch with Cruise’s sister/publicist LeeAnne DeVette, which turned out to be at the Scientology CelebrityCenter, and turned out to be not a lunch but a six hour tour of thecenter,” she says. After the tour, Grant says she was taken to thechurch’s “anti-psychiatry museum” on Sunset Blvd. (at whichpoint her guides made clear they somehow knew her husband was a practicingpsychiatrist).

“I suppose I could have left at any time, but it would have beenawkward,” she says. Did you hear that, celebrity journalists? Ifyou’re looking to score an exclusive with Cruise, Beck,Kirstie Alley, Greta van Susteren,John Travolta, or Jenna Elfman, don’tforget your Paxil—and a pair of running shoes.


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