After the article's publication, the Church of Scientology mounted a public relations campaign to inform the public of what it felt were falsehoods in the piece. It took out advertisements in USA Today for twelve weeks, and Church leader David Miscavige was interviewed by Ted Koppel on Nightline about what he considered to be an objective bias by the article's author. Miscavige alleged that the article was actually driven by the company Eli Lilly, because of Scientology's efforts against the drug Prozac. The Church of Scientology brought a libel suit against Time Warner and Behar, and sued Reader's Digest in multiple countries in Europe in an attempt to stop the article's publication there. The suit against Time Warner was dismissed in 1996, and the Church of Scientology's petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States in the case was denied in 2001.
Behar received awards in honor of his work on the article, including the Gerald Loeb Award, the Worth Bingham Prize, and the Conscience-in-Media Award. In commentary on the piece, the book Let Them Eat Prozac was critical, and the book Unsecular Media characterized one of the segments of the article an atrocity tale. The article has had ramifications in the current treatment of Scientology in the media, with some publications theorizing that journalists are wary of the litigation that Time Warner went through. The article has been cited by Anderson Cooper on CNN, in a story on Panorama's 2007 program "Scientology and Me" on the BBC, and has been used as a reference for background on the history of Scientology, in books from both the cult and new religious movement perspectives.
Behar wrote that the motive of these operatives was to "threaten, harass and discredit him". He later learned that the Church of Scientology had assigned its head private investigator to orchestrate the Church's investigation into Behar. Anderson Cooper 360 reported that Behar had been contacted by Church of Scientology attorneys numerous times while doing research on the article. The parents of Noah Lottick, a Scientologist who had committed suicide, cooperated with Time and Reader's Digest.
The article outlined a brief history of Scientology, discussing L. Ron Hubbard's initial background as a science fiction writer, and cited a California judge who had deemed Hubbard to be a "pathological liar". The Church of Scientology's litigation history was described, in addition to its conflicts with the Internal Revenue Service, with countries regarding whether or not to accept it as a religion, and its position against psychiatry. Behar wrote of the expensive costs involved in participation in the Church of Scientology, and what he referred to as "front groups and financial scams", and harassment of critics. He estimated that the Church of Scientology paid USD$20 million annually to over one hundred attorneys. Behar maintained that though the Church of Scientology portrays itself as a religion, it was actually a "hugely profitable global racket" which intimidated members and critics in a Mafia-like manner.
Cynthia Kisser, then director of the Cult Awareness Network, was quoted as saying: "Scientology is quite likely the most ruthless, the most classically terroristic, the most litigious and the most lucrative cult the country has ever seen. No cult extracts more money from its members". This quote has since been referenced verbatim in other secondary sources discussing Scientology.
After the advertising run critiquing Time magazine in USA Today had completed, the Church of Scientology mounted a USD$3 million public relations campaign about Scientology in USA Today, in June 1991. The Church of Scientology placed a 48-page advertising supplement in 1.8 million copies of USA Today. In a statement to the St. Petersburg Times, Scientology spokesman Richard Haworth explained "What we are trying to do is put the actual facts of dianetics and Scientology out there".
In response to the Church of Scientology's claims of inaccuracies in the article, a lawyer for Time responded "We've reviewed all of their allegations, and find nothing wrong with the Time story." In June 1991, Newsweek reported that staffers for Time said they had received calls from a man claiming to be a paralegal for Time, who asked them if they had signed a confidentiality form about the article. Time editors sent staffers a computer memo, warning them about calls related to the article, and staffers told Newsweek that "sources named in the story say detectives have asked about their talks with Time". A Church of Scientology spokesman called the claims "scurrilous".
On February 14, 1992, Church leader David Miscavige gave Ted Koppel his first interview on Scientology on the ABC News program Nightline. The program noted that Scientology has vocal critics and cited Behar's 1991 article. Behar appeared on the program and gave his opinion of why individuals join Scientology, stating that the "ulterior motive" is really to get people to take high-priced audit counseling. Behar stated on the program that he had evidence that members of the Church of Scientology had obtained his personal phone records. Later in the program, Koppel questioned Miscavige on the Church of Scientology's response to the Time magazine article, particularly the $3 million the church spent advertising in USA Today. Miscavige explained that the first three weeks of the advertising campaign was meant to correct falsehoods from the Time article, and the rest of the twelve-week campaign was dedicated to informing the public about Scientology. Koppel asked Miscavige what specifically had upset him about the Time article, and Miscavige called Behar "a hater". Miscavige noted that Behar had written an article on Scientology and the Internal Revenue Service three years before he began work on the Time piece, and made allegations that Behar had attempted to get two Scientologists kidnapped. When Koppel questioned Miscavige further on this, Miscavige said that individuals had contacted Behar after an earlier article, and Behar had told them to "kidnap Scientologists out". Koppel pressed further, noting that this was a serious charge to make, and asked Miscavige if his allegations were accurate, why he had not pressed charges for attempted kidnapping. Miscavige said Koppel was "missing the issue," and said that his real point was that he thought the article was not an objective piece.
Miscavige alleged on Nightline that the article itself was published from a request by Eli Lilly, due to "the damage we had caused to their killer drug Prozac". When Koppel asked Miscavige if he had affidavits or evidence to this effect, Miscavige responded "You think they'd admit it?" Miscavige stated that "Eli Lilly ordered a reprint of 750,000 copies of Time magazine before it came out," and that his attempts to investigate the matter with Eli Lilly and associated advertising companies were not successful.
The Church brought a libel lawsuit against Time Warner and Behar, seeking damages of $416 million. The Church alleged false and defamatory statements were made concerning the Church of Scientology International in the Time article. More specifically, the Church of Scientology's court statements claimed that Behar had been refining an anti-Scientology focus since his 1986 article in Forbes, which included gathering negative materials about Scientology, and "never accepting anything a Scientologist said and uniformly ignoring anything positive he learned about the Church". In its initial complaint filing, the Church quoted portions of the Behar article that it alleged were false and defamatory, including the quote from Cynthia Kisser, and Behar's own assertion that Scientology was a "global racket" that intimidated individuals in a "Mafia-like manner".
Noah Lottick's parents submitted affidavits in the case, in which they "affirmed the accuracy of each statement in the article," and Dr. Lottick "concluded that Scientology therapies were manipulations, and that no Scientology staff members attended the funeral [of their son.]". During the litigation, the Church of Scientology attempted to subpoena Behar in a separate ongoing lawsuit with the Internal Revenue Service, and accused a federal magistrate of leaking information to him. Behar was questioned for over one hundred and ninety hours during thirty days of depositions with Scientology attorneys in the libel case. One question was about Behar's life in his parents' home while he was still inside the womb. St. Petersburg Times explained that this question was prompted by Scientology teachings that certain problems come from prenatal memories. Behar told the St. Petersburg Times he "felt it was extremely excessive". In a countersuit, Behar brought up the issues of Church of Scientology private investigators and what he viewed as harassment. By July 1996, all counts of the libel suit had been dismissed. In the course of the litigation through 1996, Time Warner had spent $3.7 million in legal defense costs. The Church of Scientology also sued several individuals quoted in the Time article.
The Church of Scientology sued Reader's Digest in Switzerland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany for publishing a condensed version of the Time story. The only court to provide a temporary injunction was in Lausanne, Switzerland. In France, Italy and the Netherlands, the courts either dismissed the Church of Scientology's motions, or set injunction hearings far beyond the date of actual publication. The company defied the injunction and mailed copies of the article, "Scientology: A Dangerous Cult Goes Mainstream," to their . Worldwide editor-in-chief of Reader's Digest, Kenneth Tomlinson, told The New York Times that "a publisher cannot accept a court prohibiting distribution of a serious journalistic piece. ... The court order violates freedom of speech and freedom of the press". The Church of Scientology subsequently filed a criminal complaint against the Digest in Lausanne, and Mike Rinder stated it was in blatant violation of the law. By defying the Swiss court ban, the Reader's Digest risked a fine of about $3,400, as well as a potential three months of jail time for the Swiss Digest editor-in-chief. A hearing on the injunction was set for November 11, 2001, and the injunction was later lifted by the Swiss court.
In January 2001, a United States Federal Appeals Court upheld the dismissal of the Church of Scientology International's case against Time Warner. In its opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that Time Warner had not published "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power" with an actual intent of malice, a standard that must be met for libel cases involving individuals and public groups. On October 1, 2001, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to consider reinstating the church's libel case Church of Scientology International v. Time Warner Inc., 00-1683. Time Warner said it refused to be "intimidated by the church's apparently limitless legal resources." In arguments presented to the Supreme Court, the Church of Scientology acknowledged that church officials had "committed improper acts" in the past, but also claimed that: "allegations of past misconduct were false and distorted, the result of the misunderstanding, suspicion and prejudice that typically greet a new religion". Of the rulings for Time Warner, the Church of Scientology complained that they "provide a safe harbor for biased journalism". Behar commented on the Church of Scientology's legal defeat, and said that the lawsuit had a chilling effect: "It's a tremendous defeat for Scientology ... But of course their doctrine states that the purpose of a suit is to harass, not to win, so from that perspective they hurt us all. They've had a real chilling effect on journalism, both before and after my piece".
In a February 1992 issue of Time, editor Elizabeth Valk congratulated Behar on his Conscience in Media Award, stating "Needless to say, we are delighted and proud". Valk noted that the honor had only been awarded seven times in the previous seventeen years of its existence. Managing editor Henry Muller also congratulated Behar in an April 1992 issue of Time.
Insane Therapy noted that Scientology "achieved more notoriety ... with the publication of the journalist Richard Behar's highly critical article". Larson's Book of World Religions and Alternative Spirituality described the cover design of the article as it appeared in Time, writing that it "shouted" the headline from the magazine cover. In a 2005 piece, Salon.com magazine noted that for those interested in the Church of Scientology, the Time article still remains a "milestone in news coverage," and that those who back the Church believe it was "an outrageously biased account".
Due to the controversial history between Readers Digest and Scientology, the writer of a 2005 cover story on Tom Cruise agreed to certain demands, including giving Scientology issues equal play in the writer's profile of Cruise, submitting questions for Cruise to Church of Scientology handlers, and sending the writer of the article to a one-day Church immersion course. Also in 2005, an article in Salon questioned whether the tactics of the Church's litigation and private investigations of Time Warner and other media sources had succeeded in decreasing the amount of investigative journalism pieces on Scientology in the press. A 2005 article in The Sunday Times cited the article, and came to the determination that the Church of Scientology's lawsuit against Time Warner "served to warn off other potential investigations," and that "The chill evidently lingers still".
"The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power" continues to be used today by journalists in the media, as a reference for historical information on the Church of Scientology. In April 2007, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper interviewed Office of Special Affairs director Mike Rinder live, in a piece on Anderson Cooper 360 titled "Inside Scientology". The CNN story was prompted by the May 2007 airing of a BBC Panorama investigative program, "Scientology and Me". In the interview, Anderson Cooper quoted directly from "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power" article, when asking Rinder about the history of Operation Snow White, and if those tactics were currently used by the Church. Rinder answered by stating that the individuals involved with Operation Snow White were no longer involved in Church of Scientology activities, and that the incident was "ancient history". Cooper then again referenced the Time magazine article noting that Behar asserted that he was illegally investigated by Scientology contacts during research for his article. Cooper questioned Rinder on the dismissed lawsuit against Time Warner, and Rinder acknowledged that all of the Church of Scientology's appeals against Time Warner were eventually thrown out.
The article has been cited as a reference used for background on Scientology in books which take a critical look at cults such as Larson's Book of World Religions and Alternative Spirituality and Insane Therapy: Portrait of a Psychotherapy Cult, those that analyze new religious movements including Understanding New Religious Movements and The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements, and in a work that includes researchers from both schools of thought, Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field.