Lawrence Wright is probably right-on when he says that people are still making a big fuss over Scientology these days because of Tom Cruise.
"There's nobody more important in Scientology since L. Ron Hubbard. He's the front of Scientology," Wright says of Cruise in an interview with E! News at New York's Whiskey Park to discuss his latest book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief.
And, according to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who also penned a conversation-starting New Yorker article about filmmaker (and ex-Scientologist) Paul Haggis' experience with the organization, the Hubbard-founded church is perfectly content with letting Cruise be its most prominent champion.
"From the very beginning of the Church of Scientology," Wright says, "they established it in Los Angeles, they created the Celebrity Center there in Hollywood, and the whole goal was to take over the entertainment industry and use celebrities as kind of a product endorsement for their brand."
But, he tells E! News, the door swings both ways. John Travolta, for instance, Wright says, has credited Scientology for helping him score his best film roles.
We have to know: Did Terl from Battlefield Earth make his best-of list?
For more from Lawrence Wright on Scientology's enduring relationship with Hollywood—and how it's affected the church's most famous two members—tune into E! News on Thursday at 7 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
UPDATE : The Church of Scientology released a statement to E! News slamming Wright's tome.
"Mr. Wright's book is so ludicrous it belongs in a supermarket tabloid. The book is an error-filled, unsubstantiated, bigoted anti-Scientology book. The Church has produced a white paper identifying the more than 200 errors so far discovered in Mr. Wright's book," said Church officials, pointing to a website, lawrencewrightgoingclear.com, which listed their documentation. "If objectivity and truth are the hallmark of an ethical journalist, then the only words to describe Lawrence Wright are corrupt and bigoted."
UPDATE: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group subsequently issued a response backing up Wright and refuting the Church's allegations.
"Wright spent several years researching and writing Going Clear. During that time he conducted over 250 interviews, the majority of them with present and former Scientologists; sourced original material about the Church and its founder; read thousands of documents; and did extensive reporting," read the statement from Knopf. "He was assisted by a fact checker throughout the process.
"The fact checker was in contact with the Church numerous times prior to publication, having sent over 150 queries to one of their spokespeople. The Church responded slowly and evasively, frequently putting forth their own agenda and complaining about the focus of Wright's reporting rather than addressing Wright's queries," the publisher continued. "Additionally, Wright provided officials from the Church with repeated opportunities to speak on the record and they declined to do so."
The publisher also stressed that Wright is no hack, having previously won a Pulitzer, and pointed out that his New Yorker piece on director Paul Haggis' break from the Church, which was the genesis of Going Clear, won the National Magazine Award for reporting.
"Given the arc and scope of Wright's narrative, and the readership it is likely to draw, it is unsurprising that the Church has chosen to vilify Wright, as well as reach out to media organizations in an effort to influence their coverage of his book," Knopf said.
(Originally published on Jan. 23, 2013 at 9:43 p.m. PT)