After the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige disappeared from public view, in 2007, those who asked questions were stonewalled, or worse. Now interviews with former insiders provide a grim assessment of her fate:
This cryptic explanation only fueled the mystery. Had Shelly fled the church? Was she in hiding? Some Scientology defectors believe she was exiled to one of several secretive and heavily guarded bases the church owns in remote western locales. There, the sources say, those who are banned endure lives of isolation, menial labor, and penury. The reason, they claim, is simple. “The law [in Scientology] is: The closer to David Miscavige you get, the harder you’re going to fall,” says Claire Headley, an ex-Scientologist who, along with her husband, Marc, worked closely with the Miscaviges. “It’s like the law of gravity, practically. It’s just a matter of when.” (The church of Scientology declined Vanity Fair’s repeated requests to interview the Miscaviges. In so doing, church representatives dismissed most of V.F.’s sources as disgruntled apostates, and called V.F.’s questions “ludicrous and offensive.” Additionally, the representatives described Shelly Miscavige as a private person who “has been working nonstop in the church, as she always has.” They also point out that I have written critically about the church in the past.)
PUBLISHED: March 1, 2014
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5446 words)
Andrew O’Hagan, in the London Review of Books, recounts the disastrous experience of trying to ghostwrite the autobiography of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. (The publisher later released an unauthorized early draft of the book):
I wrote through the night to assemble what we had. The thinness could become a kind of statement, I asserted; it could become a modernist autobiography. But the jokes wouldn’t hold and Julian, despite promising his publishers and me that he’d produce pages, paragraphs, even notes towards his book, produced nothing in all the months I was there. Not a single written sentence came from him in all that time. But at the end, from all those exhausting late night interviews, we assembled a rough draft of 70,000 words. It wasn’t by any means great, but it had a voice, a reasonable, even-tempered, slightly amused but moral voice, which was as invented as anything I’d ever produced in fiction. Yet it hadn’t felt like creating a character in a novel, so much as writing a voiceover for a real person who isn’t quite real. His vanity and the organisation’s need for money couldn’t resist the project, but he never really considered the outcome, that I’d be there, making marks on a page that would in some way represent this process. The issue of control never became real to Julian. He should have felt worried about what he was supplying, but he never did – he had in this, as in everything, a broad illusion of control. Only once did he turn to me and show a glint of understanding. ‘People think you’re helping me write my book,’ he said, ‘but actually I’m helping you write your novel.’
PUBLISHED: Feb. 23, 2014
LENGTH: 105 minutes (26390 words)
The media entrepreneur’s vision for the future of content and journalism:
DENTON: The Panopticon—the prison in which everybody is exposed to scrutiny all the time. Do you remember the website Fucked Company? It was big in about 2000, 2001. I was CEO of Moreover Technologies at the time. A saleswoman put in an anonymous report to the site about my having paid for the eye operation of a young male executive I had the hots for. The story, like many stories, was roughly half true. Yes, there was a young male executive. Yes, he did have an eye operation. No, it wasn’t paid for by me. It was paid for by the company’s health insurance according to normal procedure. And no, I didn’t fancy him; I detested him. It’s such a great example of Fucked Company and, by extension, most internet discussion systems. There’s some real truth that gets told that is never of a scale to warrant mainstream media attention, and there’s also no mechanism for fact-checking, no mechanism to actually converge on some real truth. It’s out there. Half of it’s right. Half of it’s wrong. You don’t know which half is which. What if we could develop a system for collaboratively reaching the truth? Sources and subjects and writers and editors and readers and casual armchair experts asking questions and answering them, with follow-ups and rebuttals. What if we could actually have a journalistic process that didn’t require paid journalists and tape recorders and the cost of a traditional journalistic operation? You could actually uncover everything—every abusive executive, every corrupt eye operation.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 21, 2014
LENGTH: 30 minutes (7539 words)
What to expect when you are expecting, and also happen to make your living in porn:
Q: It seems like some people might have a hard time with the whole porn-star-becomes-mom thing.
A: Yeah, they kind of don’t mesh well. I remember when I first met porn stars, I was like, “You have kids? How do you do that?” But being around it, I got used to it. I mean, I was shocked when people started having kids just in general. People I went to high school with. You hear about it and you’re like, “Are you old enough for that? Is that OK?”
Obviously there are gong to be things. Like, I’m not going to want her to dig through certain boxes in the garage. But on the other hand, there are so many worse things that I’m going to have to steer her through in life. I don’t know if you saw [our pet] bunny sitting in the window? This bunny is awesome. She’s six years old. Best-case scenario, she’ll live to be nine years old. So I’m gonna have this baby, she’s gonna be attached to this bunny, and right when she’s most attached, this rabbit’s going to keel over on her. I’m gonna have to explain death to a three-year-old.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 19, 2014
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2867 words)
Last year Nicholas Shaxson published a Vanity Fair article, "A Tale of Two Londons," that described the residents of one of London’s most exclusive addresses—One Hyde Park—and the accounting acrobatics they had performed to get there.
Shaxson’s piece was one of the best long-form pieces I read last year (I did in fact believe this before I met him, but you can take that with a grain of salt if you’d like), and last week I asked Shaxson to sit down with me for a proper conversation about how the story came about and whether it achieved what he wanted.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 12, 2014
LENGTH: 7 minutes (1938 words)
The behind-the-scenes story of how NFL prospect Michael Sam came out:
The plan was set. The story would break right after the NFL Combine simultaneously on ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports. There might be a couple interviews after that, but otherwise Sam would focus on football.
The timing, however, would quickly change. Even as the plan was being formulated, it was like outrunning an avalanche. Every day it became more apparent that too many people knew what was coming. While Collins had kept his coming out a secret held among just a few trusted confidants, Sam's sexual orientation would soon become the worst-kept secret in the sports media.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 9, 2014
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3583 words)
An in-depth interview (via The Browser) with Wired co-founder and technology “protopian” Kevin Kelly about the future of sharing and tracking on the Internet:
The question that I’m asking myself is, how far will we share, when are we’re going to stop sharing, and how far are we’re going to allow ourselves to monitor and surveil each other in kind of a coveillance? I believe that there’s no end to how much we can track each other—how far we’re going to self-track, how much we’re going to allow companies to track us—so I find it really difficult to believe that there’s going to be a limit to this, and to try to imagine this world in which we are being self-tracked and co-tracked and tracked by governments, and yet accepting of that, is really hard to imagine.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 3, 2014
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9124 words)
For this week's Longreads Member Pick we are proud to feature a chapter from Gay Propaganda, a new collection of original stories, interviews and testimonials from LGBT Russians both living there and in exile. The book was edited by Masha Gessen and Joseph Huff-Hannon, and will be published by OR Books in February. We'd like to thank them for sharing this chapter with Longreads Members.
Read a free excerpt, and become a Longreads Member to receive the full story and support our service. You can also buy Longreads Gift Memberships to send this and other great stories to friends, family or colleagues.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 30, 2014
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2575 words)
Awkward, wonderful interview with an actor who hates to be interviewed:
PHOENIX: If I was driving and I heard this, I’d be - I’d change the channel.
GROSS: I wouldn’t.
PHOENIX: I’d be like, why - can you shut up?
GROSS: Really? Does it bother you like that?
PHOENIX: No. I mean, I don’t know, sometimes I just, you know, I just think, who cares?
GROSS: We, who love movies, care. Does that help answer the question?
PUBLISHED: Jan. 25, 2014
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9222 words)