and the BBC: Accusations Fly"
BBC of Being Anti-Scientology After Reporter's Outburst on Tape
May 14, 2007 —
Sweeney is famous for confronting despots,
championing lost causes and traveling through the streets of Harare,
Zimbabwe, in the trunk of a car. But faced with Tommy Davis of the Church
Angeles, he totally lost his cool.
of Sweeney screaming
at Davis is on YouTube, taped and posted by the church.
can dish out, but he certainly can't take it,"
Mike Rinder, a spokesman for the Church of Scientology,
told ABC News. "The tables got turned on him, and he was the one who
ultimately melted down."
assignment for the BBC in Los Angeles to investigate the Church of
Scientology and the accusations from some quarters that it is, or was,
a sinister cult.
Sweeney's "meltdown" appeared
on the Internet just hours before his documentary "Scientology and Me"
was scheduled to air.
look like an exploding tomato and shout like a
Web site. "If you are interested in becoming a TV journalist, it is a
fine example of how not to do it."
is how it happened: Sweeney was wrapping up a
seven-day shoot in Los Angeles when Davis approached him to complain
angrily that Sweeney had been too easy on an interviewee.
Just inches from Davis' face, Sweeney began to shout with the ferocity
of a hair dryer on high. "You were not there at the beginning of that
interview," bellowed Sweeney. "You did not hear or record all the
interview." Halfway through his rant, Sweeney asked, very calmly, "Do
you understand, did you understand that?"
incident has pitted two powerful institutions
against each other. This goes beyond Sweeney vs. Davis. This is the
Scientology vs. the
one of the religion's most high-profile devotees, wrote to the BBC,
accusing Sweeney of "personal prejudices, bigotry and animosity." The
circulating a DVD of its own documentary about Sweeney's investigation
to British politicians, and is setting up a Web site called
Church of Scientology accuses
the BBC of
staging an anti-Scientology demonstration in London. "Completely
untrue," a BBC representative told ABC News.
BBC has confronted the furor head-on. Sandy
Smith, the editor of Panorama, the documentary strand behind
"Scientology and Me," appeared on "BBC Breakfast" and called the Church
of Scientology an "extraordinary organization" that has "no way of
dealing with any kind of criticism at all."
I put that claim to Rinder, the Scientologist
spokesman, he laughed. "Do you know how much criticism I have had to
take in my life?" he asked.
Sweeney has apologized, and his boss said he does not "condone"
Sweeney's behavior. He said he was "very disappointed" by the
this morning the BBC also showed a clip of Davis
getting a little short with Sweeney. Davis accused the BBC man of
referring to Scientology as a cult in an effort to get a reaction.
"Well, buddy, you got it," he told Sweeney, "Right here, right now. I'm
angry. Real angry." Although not as angry as Sweeney in the now
has given his side of the story on the ABC's
Web site and also in Britain's Daily Mail newspaper. "I let my team
down, and I apologized when it happened and I apologize again now,"
Sweeney began. He then went on to explain what drove him to lose
After landing in Los Angeles, Sweeney claimed, "Our team was spied on
by 10 different strangers." Rinder said the BBC team was filmed, not
spied upon. "We had a camera, and he knew that we were filming," he
also wrote that Davis, a spokesman for the
church, "invaded" interviews and showed up at the crew's hotel late at
night to berate it for interviewing people who had left the church.
Sweeney claimed it was a Scientology exhibition called "Psychiatry:
Industry of Death" that pushed him over the edge. "At the end of 90
minutes, I felt bombarded and unable to bear another single second,"
home in Britain, Sweeney said a stranger was
apprehended sifting through the mail at Sweeney's mother-in-law's
apartment building, that a neighbor was asked by a stranger for
Sweeney's address, and that a strange man was seen hiding in the
bushes, spying on Sweeney's wedding in rural England. According to
Rinder, Sweeney is "Making those stories up to defend his outrageous
fought many battles to
keep its secrets off the web," Sweeney lamented in his article on
BBC's Web site. "Now they are using it to attack my investigation into
The program was "updated" today in the hours before going to air.
According to a BBC representative, what hit the screens "has certainly
reflected what happened over the weekend." John Sweeney's "exploding
tomato" moment is included. Apparently, it had been included all along.
"Them posting the clip on YouTube: That's not what precipitated us
including John's outburst," the BBC rep told ABC News.
"reference to him losing his temper" was
sent out weeks ago to newspapers and magazines preparing the TV
(Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures)
Note: For more
data on Sweeney
see this video.