Four Words for The Mercury News: Knock Off the Hate 

San Jose, California, is a big city. 

It’s the biggest city in the San Francisco Bay Area, both by area and population. It’s the third most populous city in California and the tenth most populous in the United States. It’s the capital of Silicon Valley.

Yet its only daily newspaper, The Mercury News (The Merc as it’s often referred to locally) looks and reads like a small-town broadsheet. It was once proud, with Pulitzer-prize-winning journalists and editors, but that was in days gone by. To say that it’s a shadow of its former self would require one to be able to even find a shadow. To be fair, all papers that have survived in competition with the internet have shrunk, but this one is sadder than most I’ve seen.

Mercury News
Photo by Sundry Photography/

In its heyday, this paper was thick and heavy with hard news written and edited by prize-winning journalists. It has devolved to this: if you want world and national news, you can have it in the first four to six pages of section one. Four or five pages of local news, four or five of sports, and two of business. 

In terms of large display ads, most are about services of the newspaper itself. And eight pages of arts and entertainment, much of which is gossip. And there’s more gossip—called “human interest” in the newspaper biz—filling out the rest of the first section.

Notable in the paper’s stable of gossip writers is Martha Ross. Her bio says that she was once a hard news reporter and an investigative journalist. Now it says she covers pop culture, society, health, women’s issues and families. A look through her articles just over the past month reveals a solid diet of movie-star scandals, large dollops of dish on celebrity dating, conspiracy theories regarding the royal family, and very little else. If you scrolled down her list of headlines you would think you were looking at National Enquirer.

It was once proud, with Pulitzer-prize-winning journalists and editors, but that was in days gone by. To say that it’s a shadow of its former self would require one to be able to even find a shadow.

Martha Ross came to my attention because in a recent story she slandered an actor for taking a socially responsible step to stand against bigotry, one which she decried as being “bad.”


Because he’s a Scientologist.

Every other media outlet I could find lauded what this actor had done, or simply reported it without comment. But Martha? Oh no. To Martha it was a super, double-plus BAD THING.

How does she know? She called upon “experts”—full-time anti-Scientologists, also known as professional bigots. Yashar Ali, who spouts off about everything under the sun including Scientology, regardless of the fact that he knows not one whit about it. Mike Rinder, a violent misogynist (something he is expert at), was kicked out of the Church for outrageous misconduct. Tony Ortega, who has never had any contact with Scientology and no firsthand knowledge of it but who is known for defending and promoting child sex trafficking and printing fabricated stories about rape, is another of Martha’s go-to favorites.

There’s no evidence that Ross attempted to contact the actor himself for comment or anyone who is actually in the Church, for background—what a responsible journalist would do. She only went to anti-Scientologists. (My goodness, let’s not confuse her with the facts. This is yellow tabloid journalism. It’s not supposed to be true. It’s supposed to be lurid.)

Ribbon pull
The grand opening of the Church of Scientology Stevens Creek. The Church sits a short drive from The Mercury News.

The Mercury News is the flagship of the Bay Area News Group. Its published standards read: “The Bay Area News Group is committed to the highest ethical standards. Fairness and accuracy are among our core values. But nothing stands above the need to maintain our integrity. The public’s trust—our most important asset—depends on it.”

Ross’ hate, thinly disguised as gossip, is not doing the public a service and is not worthy of public trust.

Does she just think it’s hip to bash religion? It’s not. 

Manifestly, The Merc’s stated values mean nothing when the rubber meets the road. Martha seems to have a “thing” about Scientology. She has a long list of anti-Scientology articles—it goes back years. And in every single one that I’ve seen she exclusively calls on anti-Scientologists for her only “information.” I don’t see that she’s ever made so much as an attempt to get information about Scientology or the Church from the Church or even from a Scientologist. To any reader with an IQ above 85, this blatant bias kills credibility, any pretense of journalism, and flies in the face of public trust.

So what’s the deal? Personal vendetta? Why? Based on what? Editorial direction? Again, why? Does she just think it’s hip to bash religion? It’s not. These days it’s hip to not be divisive, but to be inclusive instead. Because we are a religion just as much as the Baptists or the Catholics or the Jews or Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists, all of whom—and more—are well represented in the community.

As are we.

I’m a Scientologist and I don’t appreciate my religion, and me by extension, being mocked by snarky fake news. I’ve been a member of the Greater San Jose community for slightly longer than I’ve been a member of the Church. I started in Santa Clara in the 1970s. My Church has since moved to North San Jose. There’s another Church of Scientology in West San Jose that serves that area, Los Gatos and surrounding cities. And another in Mountain View. And another in San Francisco.

We are active, responsible contributing members of our communities. Just one of many examples of this is the Stay Well campaign many of us took part in at the height of the pandemic. We did it because it’s in everyone’s best interest to stay well and beat the pandemic.

My advice to Martha Ross and the editorial board of The Mercury News would be to just stop. There are adequate opportunities to find out the truth about Scientology. There is no excuse not to. This presentation of L. Ron Hubbard’s essay “What Is Greatness?” would be a good place to start.

Then print the truth. Cut the hate. Skip the fake news. 

And return some credibility and trust to The Merc.

Michael Scandling
Fine-art photographer, writer, counselor-at-large, chef, dog lover, nature lover. Not particularly reverent.