Following harsh criticism, The Atlantic magazine pulled a blog post published on its website late Monday that was sponsored by the Church of Scientology. The post had touted the church's "milestone year" under leader David Miscavige, who succeeded its founder, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
"We have temporarily suspended this advertising campaign pending a review of our policies that govern sponsor content and subsequent comment threads," Atlantic spokeswoman Natalie Raabe wrote in an email to Yahoo News.
The blog post—labeled "sponsor content"—began: "2012 was a milestone year for Scientology, with the religion expanding to more than 10,000 Churches, Missions and affiliated groups, spanning 167 nations—figures that represent a growth rate 20 times that of a decade ago. The driving force behind this unparalleled era of growth is David Miscavige, ecclesiastical leader of the Scientology religion."
Miscavige, the post asserted, is "unrelenting in his work for millions of parishioners and the cities served by Scientology Churches. He has led a renaissance for the religion itself, while driving worldwide programs to serve communities through Church-sponsored social and humanitarian initiatives."
It also listed the openings of "12 Ideal Scientology Churches" in 2012 under Miscavige's direction—replete with photos of large crowds at each opening.
The paid advertisement came just days before the publication of a controversial new book by New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright, "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief." It was based, in part, on his 2011 article "Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology."
It appeared the advertorial was part of a preemptive strike by the church ahead of the book's publication, which is slated for Thursday.
A note linked to the top of the post made it clear that its sponsor content was "created by The Atlantic’s Promotions Department in partnership with our advertisers" and that "The Atlantic editorial team is not involved in [its] creation."
UPDATE, 12:30 p.m., Jan. 15:
The Atlantic has released a longer statement responding to the controversy:
We screwed up. It shouldn't have taken a wave of constructive criticism—but it has—to alert us that we've made a mistake, possibly several mistakes. We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way. It's safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand. In the meantime, we have decided to withdraw the ad until we figure all of this out. We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge—sheepishly—that we got ahead of ourselves. We are sorry, and we're working very hard to put things right.