This is taken from a collection of memories of the Clearwater Sun:

Scientology was the biggest story when I was there.

In April 1973, Terry Plumb, the managing editor, called me at home one night and asked if I wanted to be city editor of the Sun. I had worked only in sports and wasn’t sure what a city editor did. I asked Terry for a brief job description. Then I said yes.

Scientology was the biggest story during my tenure as city editor. In 1975, using an apple-pie corporate name, L. Ron Hubbard and company bought the Fort Harrison Hotel and the Bank of Clearwater building. Reporter Mark Sableman came close to figuring out who the new owners actually were, but in the end the Scientologists unmasked themselves by dropping off a press release early one morning. Within four hours, Sableman and others had filled that day’s front page with stories about the purchase and about Scientology.

Besides their secretive ways, two things made covering the Scientologists hard. First, they were confrontational and unpleasant (Hubbard’s doctrine described journalists as “Merchants of Chaos”). Second, our city desk clerk was a Scientology spy. We wrote nearly 200 stories during the year after we disclosed the Scientologists’ presence, and they always seemed to know what we were up to. They publicly humiliated Tom Coat, a desk editor who had agreed to go to Tampa to take the first Scientology course for a Sun series (his outing made for a better series, actually). They attacked Sableman’s reputation. They threatened lawsuits. With pages-long accounts of “errors,” they challenged the accuracy of every substantial story we did. And more than once Fred Rock, a Scientology press-office hack, stood over my desk badgering me as I edited a story for that day’s edition. One morning I got in a shoving match with Rock. We knew the newsroom had been infiltrated, but we never guessed the spy was the friendly, efficient, sympathetic “June Phillips.” We learned this only years later from FBI files.

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