From Tony Ortega’s Underground Bunker.
Google helps Scientology billionaire Bob Duggan
hide a dark family secret
Recently, we told you that California pharmaceuticals entrepreneur Bob Duggan — a man currently worth 2.3 billion — had, through an agent, complained to Google about a story we wrote about him.
Duggan didn’t complain directly to us, but then he must have known that the facts in the story we wrote are rock solid. We relied on first-hand accounts, court records, and photographic evidence to show that in 2013, at the same time that Duggan and his wife, Trish, were propping up failing Scientology facilities in South Africa with large donations, two of their six adopted children suddenly showed up in that country, and were being cared for by South African Scientology families.
It suggested a bizarre trade deal — Duggan largesse saved Scientology buildings while two of their children were taken off their hands — and yet, despite those bizarre allegations, everything about the story was nailed down tighter than John Travolta’s hairpiece.
We titled it “A perplexing tale about Bob Duggan, the richest Scientologist in the world,” and published it on October 15. It proved to be one of our most popular stories of the year, as well as probably the one that took the most work (including long Skype calls to Johannesburg).
It proved so popular, that it soon became the number one result on a Google search of Bob Duggan’s name…
We first noticed that our story was topping Google about the time, in April, that an eagle-eyed reader notified us about the complaint filed by Duggan’s agent, which was memorialized on the Chilling Effects website.
Duggan was clearly unhappy that the most popular online item in the world associated with his name was our story about his strange transfer of his adopted boys to South Africa. But rather than send us a threat letter he instead went straight to Google.
What he did, through his agent, Matt Archambault, was to complain to Google not about the facts in the story, but about the images that we’d used to illustrate it — only two of which he had any ownership claim over. Specifically, Duggan filed a complaint under the DMCA — a “takedown notice” — for six of the images in the story. The first was a headshot of Duggan that came from his own website. Duggan also complained about a photo of his wife Trish that came from her website; a collage of photos from Scientology’s Impact magazine which featured him and Trish accepting trophies from Scientology leader David Miscavige; a photo from Scientology’s website showing the grand opening of the Pretoria Ideal Org in 2013; a photo of Robin Hogarth from Robin’s own Facebook page; and a photo of Robin, his wife Carol, and their (formerly Bob’s) son, from Carol’s Facebook page. In each case, we had been careful to point out in our story where each image had come from, and that in each case the subjects in the photos had posted the items themselves. We wanted readers to know exactly where we had obtained them. (Another photo in the story, showing Carol Hogarth and the blurred-out boy, was taken by Carol’s sister Shelley Ashurst, who gave us the photo with her permission.)
Why did Duggan care that, for example, we’d used a generic promotional photo from the Scientology website about the opening of its Pretoria org? Well, it was pretty obvious to us what he was doing: He wanted Google to punish us for supposed copyright violations by de-indexing our story, making it more difficult for people to find.
We noticed the complaint about ten days after it had been filed. We hoped that was soon enough that our idea for a remedy might be in time — we asked Oregon cartoonist Chad Essley to create illustrations that we could use to replace the photos that Duggan was complaining about. Essley came through quickly, and we thenannounced our clever ploy once we had the new images in place.
Apparently, however, our effort to switch out the images didn’t happen in time, or Google just ignored it, because we noticed this week that our story has indeed been de-indexed and no longer shows up when you search on Bob’s name…
Not only is it no longer a top search result, but even if you search on the words “bob duggan perplexing,” you get an alternative URL to the story and not the original URL it was posted under. As far as we can tell, Google has done its best to bury our story.
On behalf of a billionaire. Who made his kids disappear.
And again, Google did this after we had addressed the issues listed in Bob’s complaint — we had removed the images that Duggan pretended he was concerned about.
Did Google even bother to check whether the images Duggan complained about were still in the piece? Does it matter now? Would they respond to an “appeal” of some sort? Our experts tell us trying to get through to Google and convince it to explain itself is about as quixotic a task as there is in this Internet age.
So we decided rather than go begging to Google we would write this story, and let our readers know what kind of interference the search giant is running for a billionaire like Duggan.
And, if our readers read, link to, tweet, Facebook, and share this story to as many people as they can, it might just rise up on Google’s search results, and help direct people to our original story. At least that’s the theory. We’ll see.