Scientology's Dept. 20:: a memoir
Part 3 - Reporter TRs
by Robert Vaughn Young
The ability to throw and give a press conference was usually the last part of the training that we gave to Scientology PRs and the final drilling for it was what was called "Reporter TRs."
The "TR" acronym stood for "training routine" or "training regimen" and came from drills or exercises Hubbard had designed for auditors. The first drill was "TR-0" where two people just sat and stared at each other, saying nothing, TR-1 was saying something. TR-2 was acknowledging something. TR-3 was asking a question repetitively, etc. "TRs" was part of the Scientology language, to basically mean to not be thrown off but, in fact, meant to communicate in a very restricted, controlled manner. It was why so many people would wonder why Scientologists stared at them so intently when talking. That's "TRs."
When the acronym was applied to "Reporter TRs," it was a series of drills that a PR did to learn how to answer questions and to take control of the conversation and, if need be, to cave a person in. The drill consisted of a PR and a coach. The coach controlled the training session, starting it by saying "start" and ending with a "that's it." In between, the coach would "flunk" the student for any failure or deviance from the norm. The first drills were simple. The coach would assume the identity of a reporter and would ask questions, e.g.,
Coach: Okay, start. So tell me, what is scientology?
Student: Scientology's a way of thinking that...
Coach: Flunk. Wrong answer. Here, read this. (Coach hands student PR the sheet with the approved replies.)
Student: Got it.
Coach: Good. Start. So I'm supposed to ask you, what is scientology?
Student: Scientology is an applied religious philosophy.
Coach: Who dreamed it up?
Student: L. Ron Hubbard.
Coach: Flunk. You didn't correct my use of the word "dreamed up" and it might appear in the story. Start. So who dreamed it up?
Student: If you mean who discovered the laws of Scientology, it was L. Ron Hubbard, an American writer and philosopher.
Coach: Wasn't he a science fiction writer?
Student: Yes, he...
Coach: Flunk. Too quick on the admission. Start. Wasn't he a science fiction writer?
Student: Mr. Hubbard was one of America's most prolific writers, writing millions of words in many fields and futuristic fiction was only one of many.
Once the student PR handles basic questions, the heat is turned up. The coach/reporter gets more antagonistic. (My use of the sci-fi question should actually have waited just a tad. The early questions merely deal with the basic, until the student PR is comfortable with those answers.) When the student can handle antagonistic questions, it is turned up another notch, where the student now begins to see questions he/she doesn't want to answer and interrupts and cuts the reporter off, taking control. For example:
Coach: So when Hubbard was writing science fiction, how much of it spilled over into Scientology? Flunk. You should have cut me off. You've already seen my antagonism. Take control. Start. So when Hubbard was writing science fiction, how...
Student: Wait a minute, Mr. Hubbard was famous for many fields of writing. If you want to deal with one field, let's take it up. Do you want to discuss his science fiction writing?
Coach: Well, I was wondering if...
Student: (interrupting) Let's do science fiction. Mr. Hubbard is known as one of the giants of the era, not only for his foresight but....
And so it goes.
The last Reporter TRs" drill was what was called "verbal karate." This is where the "reporter" is arguing and the student PR has to cut him down, take control, wipe him out and dominate. The PR is told he is free to scream, curse, pound the table, do anything he wants to take command and control. When we wanted to really put the PR through the wringer, we'd pit two people against him/her and let 'er rip! That was why it was called "verbal karate."
The idea was not that one should approach all reporters that way, although we did get some who misunderstood when to do it, but that the PR was _able_ to do it. Plus there were always non-reporter occasions when similar tactics would be needed. The fact that the drill was called "Reporter TRs" didn't mean that it was for reporters only. The same drills would be used in preparation for meetings with authorities or any situation that might turn hostile where the PR had to field questions.
It would usually take a PR several day or maybe a week to get through Reporter TRs, depending on their experience and how much time they put into the course each day. Those who came to the US offices from other cities were "full time" which meant all day. They could get through the drill in a few days. The others who were on course only for a few hours a day would take a week.
And Reporter TRs was not something one did only once. If one made a goof at a press conference or with the media and it was caught by US, e.g., seeing it on TV, one went back and did them again. And again. And again. There is no telling how many hundreds of hours some of us put into them over the years. Few people knew how diligently and strenuously they were done. Some thought our PRs simply learned on the job. They had no idea how rigorously each PR is drilled to give the right answer in exactly the right mode or fashion. It reminded me of some drills I had been put through in the Marine Corps: they were done not to produce a skill but to produce uniform, unthinking response that one could do in one's sleep.
Once the PR passed Reporter TRs, they would be ready for the "Press Conference" drill. This meant they stood at a podium, made a statement and then opened the floor to questions. For the drill, we used other students but for the "final exam," we gathered as many PR staff as we could muster. There would be a coach on the side to be in control and the PR was on his/her own. The questions started simple and then got tougher and tougher until it was a "feeding frenzy," with reporters ganging up on the poor PR. At the same time, we tried to recognize the purpose of the drill. We knew (or I hoped we knew) that the purpose was merely to give the PR the skill needed for a simple press conference, that there would never be a reason to defend against a "gang-bang."
But then no one had ever drilled holding a press conference on the day one is being raided by the FBI.
It would take me years to look back and fully realize why Artie had declined to hold the press conference himself. After all, he was the head of Public Relations for the Church of Scientology and had been so identified in the media. With an event of this magnitude, it would be highly natural for the head of the organization to step forward to answer a few questions. Instead, he gave it to me. At the same time, Artie knew my style. Jeff was more highly strung and was good at an "attack-style" press conference. He knew how to deliver, rat-a-tat-tat. But he wasn't as comfortable when fielding reciprocal hostile questions. Plus Artie and I went back more years and we had that stint with "The Tom Snyder Show" national TV show in 1975 as well as my share of press conferences. But in a few hours, I would start to learn the real reason Artie did not want to do it: he knew too much.
Instead, I was about to be sacrificed to the Los Angeles Press Corps and Reporter TRs wouldn't save me.
end of Part 3
Copyright © 1997 by Robert Vaughn Young
All Rights Reserved