Hundreds of complaints, over fifty cancelled subscriptions to the North Carolina News and Observer, public editor criticizes own newspaper for accepting hatemongering video without first identifying who produced it.
‘Obsession’ was produced by The Clarion Fund. Three of the founders of The Clarion Fund, which is responsible for this movie, are leaders or employees in an extremist group called Aish Hatorah that has been identified on Rick Ross’ Cult Watch website as a cult. For more information about it, who the group is and why it is accurate to call it a cult, go to www.progressiveislam.info and search for Aish Hatorah.
Ted Vaden, the public editor at the North Carolina News and Observer writes:
Should The News & Observer allow itself to be used as a vehicle for disseminating offensive speech against a religious faith?
No, was the resounding response from readers who objected to a DVD that was distributed in The N&O last weekend. The video, titled “Obsession,” portrays radical Islam as an organized global terrorism campaign aimed at Jews, Christians and America.
It depicts armies of jihadist warriors, suicide bombers in training and armed children chanting anti-Western slogans. Images of Islamist militants are juxtaposed with scenes of goose-stepping Nazi troopers. Graphic footage displays carnage from attacks in New York, London and Madrid.
“This is a film about a radical world view and the threat it poses to us all, Muslim and non-Muslim alike,” a title says at the beginning of the video.
After the DVD was distributed Sept. 13, protests poured into News & Observer offices. We received at least 300 e-mail and phone messages, and about 50 people canceled subscriptions
“By taking responsibility for the delivery of this movie, an esteemed newspaper lent credence and stature to a movie which is, at best, hyperbolic, frightening propaganda. Surely, money cannot replace ethics,” wrote reader MARY HARRISON.
“Gee, if I was still teaching, this video could be a classroom aid to show how some use hate and religious intolerance to scare people,” wrote retired fourth-grade teacher MARY GILBERT of Raleigh. “However, I would not want to poison young minds by having them watch it.”
The DVD was distributed by The N&O as an advertising product, inserted along with the advertising circulars into the paper. Jim McClure, vice president for display advertising, said he recognized that the DVD would be controversial and consulted with other executives before accepting it.
But he concluded that the paper should not deny advertisers the opportunity to reach the N&O audience because their message is unpopular or offensive to some. “The ultimate question is, at what point do you draw the line and start censoring things based on comfort level?” he said.
Many readers, citing The N&O’s well-publicized revenue problems, accused the paper of selling out scruples for advertising dollars. McClure said the paper doesn’t disclose what customers pay for ads, because they expect confidentiality for competitive reasons, but money was not a factor: “There was no consideration that this was so lucrative that we have to lower our standards and accept this. It was accepted on its merits.”
I have a problem with this particular entry into the free-speech marketplace, because we don’t know where the speech is coming from. The DVD package contained a name and address for the sponsor, The Clarion Fund of New York City. A Clarion Web site gives no information about its directors or its funding. It says the film was made possible by a large donor, but doesn’t identify who.
Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic studies at UNC-CH, has researched the video and the Clarion Fund. He says the producer of the video is a Canadian native who now is a rabbi and Zionist leader in Israel. Distribution was aided by a Christian Zionist organization headed by Texas evangelist John Hagee, he said, and a Clarion Fund Web site recently published, then removed, an article that endorsed John McCain over Barack Obama for president.
Safi noted that the DVD was placed in newspapers only in key election swing states, suggesting it’s intended to scare voters into the McCain camp. “The whole premise of this film is that the West doesn’t know what radical Islam represents,” Safi said. “Fair enough. Tell us what you represent.” My calls to the Clarion Fund were not returned.
I think newspapers have an obligation to be as transparent as possible with readers about the information they provide. In this case, I think the DVD fell short in two respects.
First, it should have been labeled as paid advertising content, as the newspaper would require of a political advertisement. Despite the story on the front page, it’s clear from their comments that some readers perceived the video as somehow endorsed by The N&O. McClure said it’s the first time he could recall that The N&O has distributed a DVD.
More important is the lack of information about the source of this controversial content. Without that, the readers were not in a position to make an informed judgment about the message they received.
Letter to the editor responses to ‘Obsession’ movie
From the Lansing (MI) State Journal
DVD Drives Away Reader
I found a CD, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” tucked into my Sept. 14 LSJ.
Its packaging boldly claimed, “As seen on CNN and FOX News by more than 20 million viewers worldwide.”
I am distressed that the LSJ would distribute such inflammatory, fear-coddling material. I am disappointed that Lansing’s newspaper has become an extension of CNN and FOX News. I am saddened that the LSJ is unable to distinguish journalism from jingoism.
As a nation and as a people, we are greater than this hate-mongering. We are capable of finding other more constructive ways to address extremism and inequity, nationally and globally. Showcasing war, demonizing “the enemy,” and presenting the world in “us vs. them” terms, feeds continual hate, misery, and arms sales – not security.
The LSJ has been shrinking in size. It has now shrunk beyond any recognition as a responsible newspaper. Cancel my subscription.
Laura B. DeLind
Who’s Behind DVDs?
I just received a DVD in that could potentially fuel anti-Muslim hate in the community.
This is a time when every well-meaning individual, regardless of religious or ethnic background, is trying to foster an atmosphere of unity and understanding amongst various diverse groups that make up America. This really prompts me to want to ask the following questions:
Why does the LSJ believe it is appropriate to profit from this kind of hate message? Who actually paid for these to be distributed and how much did it cost? Would you have distributed a similar hate DVD from a racist group, whether white, black, Hispanic, Asian, etc.?
Now, does sending out the DVD in key election swing states have to do with putting a candidate at an advantage? I trust I’d get a response to these questions.
LSJ Wrong On DVD
The inclusion of the anti-Muslim DVD, “Obsession” in the Sept. 14 LSJ does a gross disservice to our community. While radicals may claim affiliation with any religious group, their true culture is one of intolerance and violence. By contrast, Islam is known as a religion that values peace and equilibrium above all else.
Look at Eric Robert Rudolph, identified with the group Christian Identity, who was responsible for the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that killed two and injured 111.
How about Timothy McVeigh? Raised as a Catholic, he killed 168 and injured an additional 800 persons in a domestic terrorism attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Would the LSJ have distributed a DVD that offers these two as pr
oof that Christian extremists are mounting a threat to America?
At the very least, it should have been incumbent upon the LSJ to seek to identify The Clarion Fund or its financial backers before accepting its 30 pieces of silver to sell out Lansing’s Islamic Community.
LSJ Delivers Fear
When I opened my Sunday paper on Sept. 14, I found the glossy insert, “Obsession.” This gift was not a perfume sample. It was a DVD of a movie whose subtitle read “radical Islam’s war against the west.” It was produced by the Clarion Fund (http://clarionfund.org), a nonprofit organization “whose mission is to educate Americans about issues of national security.” Perhaps.
But, the timing of this “gift,” the pivotal role that Michigan will play in the November election and the film’s shadowy funding suggest the hands of the well-financed, pro-war backers of John McCain – whether McCain himself approves or not. This is the politics of fear, pure and simple.
This is also the Gannett Company, the LSJ’s parent, taking a back-handed partisan position in the election. I wonder if they would circulate a free movie that questioned the global war on terror, even if they were paid.
Subscribers and voters, back to you.
From the Des Moines Register
Who’s really behind this propaganda?
The DVD enclosed in Sunday’s Register contains 60 minutes of propaganda aimed at convincing the viewer that “radical Islam” threatens everyone in our country and that very nearly everyone in Muslim countries grows up learning the beliefs of “radical Islam.”
Though several people are named as responsible for making, manufacturing and mailing the DVD, in spite of a strenuous search on the Internet, I learned almost nothing about the executive producer (Peter Mier), the director (Wayne Kopping) and the Clarion Fund Inc., the nonprofit that apparently sponsored the DVD and seems to exist only as a street address in New York and as a 501c(3) with no disclosed source of funding.
What did the Register ask to know about the Clarion Fund Inc. before agreeing to insert the DVD?
-Mark Kane, Des Moines
DVD sought to sow fear in the electorate
I am incredibly disappointed in the Register for serving as the delivery agent for “jihad Swift Boating” by including the DVD “Obsession” in the Sept. 14 edition. I watched it in its entirety.
This DVD connects modern Jihadi to Nazi Germany ideologues. It attempts to scare us into a paranoiac approach to our place in the world.
While I do not deny that terrorism is a real threat, and feel strongly that we must all prepare to deal with it, this is a blatant attempt to frighten us into our own brand of Western militancy. The last eight years of the Bush doctrine have taught us the consequences of stirring the hornets’ nest of militant Islam in the Middle East. Saber rattling, “shock and awe” and cowboy diplomacy have only fueled hatred of the United States in the Islamic world and threatened our long-term security here at home.
The fact that this DVD, which was produced in 2006, should be released with less than two months before our national election and that it should be targeted for newspapers in swing states is a thinly veiled ploy to frighten the electorate into voting for the perceived “party most likely to protect us.”
I shouldn’t be surprised that the Republicans are willing to stoop to frightening footage to secure votes. I had not thought the Register would serve as the delivery boy for Jihad hysteria.
– James L. Fritz, Decorah
Newspaper insert was vicious propaganda
When I opened the Register this past Sunday to find a hateful insult to Islam, a decent and humane religion, inserted in the paper under the guise of advertising, I felt angry, hurt, violated and disgusted. I am ashamed of the Register, which claims to be “The Newspaper Iowa Depends Upon.” Upon which groups will you next release such viciousness?
I had a long chat with your advertising manager and have been advised that the decision to allow this material into the paper was collective, that it took place at many levels of your corporation and that it was a difficult decision. Respectfully, I have to say that I disagree that the decision was so difficult. The ethical line you crossed was as bright as the sun and as wide as day.
I have read the Register for 17 years and have never seen in any publication, short of the neo-Nazi papers that used to get shoved in our mailbox in Pennsylvania during the ’60s, such disregard for the difference between propaganda and information. Your paper is responsible for the latter: Let the slimy characters who vend this other stuff pay for their own paper. Don’t sully your reputation, my home and the idea of responsible free speech in a democracy.
– David Devonis, Davis City
From Denver Post readers
“It was a shock to receive that in my newspaper,” said Priscilla Linsley of Denver. “It is wrong to distribute hateful information on Islam.”
Sherryl Weston of Westcloud Consulting teaches multiculturalism at Colorado universities. She said the DVD baits people to be anti-Muslim. “The newspaper is not the place for it,” Weston said. “It’s not news. It’s not an ad. It’s propaganda.”
“How do newspapers justify the right to profit from anti-Muslim hate speech?” asked Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni of the Islamic Center of Al-Beit in Lakewood. “Would newspapers have done the same if the materials had been anti-Semitic?”