A 40-second rant by a British Broadcasting Corp. reporter, shouting angrily at Church of Scientology official while researching a documentary, has become fodder for a simmering dispute now playing itself out in Internet video clips.
John Sweeney’s outburst came as he was interviewing Tommy Davis, a Scientology spokesman who had objected to Sweeney’s use of the word “cult.” Sweeney’s rant was captured by BBC’s Panorama program, to air Monday, and Scientology video cameras.
“I look like an exploding tomato and shout like a jet engine and every time I see it, it makes me cringe,” Sweeney said in a story posted on the BBC News Web site.
“I apologized almost immediately, Tommy carried on as if nothing had happened, but meanwhile Scientology had rushed off copies of me losing it (my temper) to my boss, my boss’s boss and my boss’s boss’s boss, the director-general of the BBC,” Sweeney said.
The Church of Scientology, whose members include John Travolta and Tom Cruise, shadowed the Panorama team with its own camera crew.
A church spokesman denied that Sweeney apologized, and said the organization was putting its own documentary about the dispute on the Internet.
Mike Rinder, a Los Angeles-based spokesman for the Church of Scientology, said he had taken the documentary to the BBC.
“Not one of them would look. The arrogance that has been displayed in this is a little beyond comprehension,” he said.
The first clip on the Scientologists’ documentary shows Sweeney describing the BBC as sometimes “hideously hidebound” and hampered by bureaucracy. “There are people there who claim salaries who frankly are morons,” he says.
Excerpts of the Scientologists’ documentary have been posted on YouTube, apparently taken from one of the 100,000 DVDs of its program that the church distributed, Rinder said.
Another clip on YouTube, from the same documentary, shows Sweeney at a movie premiere shouting at Travolta, “Are you a member of a sinister brainwashing cult?”
The BBC offered links to its footage and its own news report on its Web site.
Panorama’s editor, Sandy Smith, said Monday he was “disappointed” by Sweeney’s outburst but added that the Church of Scientology has “no way of dealing with any kind of criticism at all.”
Rinder said it was not the first time that the church had made its own recordings of reporters doing stories about it.
Sweeney refused an invitation to visit the church’s headquarters in Florida, Rinder said.
“When we found that he was refusing to literally come inside the building, it was at that point that we went, ‘OK we better document this,’ ” Rinder said.
Sweeney said his outburst came while he was touring a Scientology exhibition in Los Angeles, “Psychiatry: Industry of Death.” The exhibit included a mock-up of a Nazi torture chamber, he said, adding that he lost it in the “Mind Control” section of the exhibition.
“I have been shouted at, spied on, had my hotel invaded at midnight, denounced as a ‘bigot’ by star Scientologists, brainwashed — that is how it felt to me — in a mock-up of a Nazi-style torture chamber and chased round the streets of Los Angeles by sinister strangers.”
Rinder said the material in the exhibition came from psychiatric archives. “It’s all documentary and its all on video, that’s why we did it,” he said.