McCain and Hate Mongering DVDs in Virginia

By David Swanson

Unrequested and unwanted, this notorious fear and hate mongering DVD arrived today, October 23rd, in my mailbox in Charlottesville in the swing state of Virginia:

The DVD seeks to teach people that an entire religion, Islam, is aimed at terrorizing and killing them. The distributors of the DVD have clearly determined by some respectable and scholarly method that this information is most edifying for residents of swing states.

The DVD did not arrive inserted in a newspaper ad, the way it arrived in so many homes in other swing states a month or two back. It arrived by itself in a little postcard-sized envelope with nonprofit postage from The Clarion Fund. The Clarion Fund could have gotten my name and address from any list, but not from any religious or rightwing political list, because I’m not on any — with one exception. I recently entered my address on the Virginia McCain website in order to obtain tickets for a Sarah Palin rally in Richmond, at which I made this video of my own, which is also full of hatred and bigotry, but which does not approve of those attitudes:

I only subscribe to one newspaper, the Charlottesville Daily Progress. I called and asked them if they’d sent the DVD or sold their mailing list, and the person I spoke with said they did not know and would get back to me. Clarion Fund doesn’t answer their phones. Chances are the Daily Progress had nothing to do with it, but if it did then chances are very good that Media General, the parent company owning lots of newspapers in Virginia and North Carolina, among other places, is hitting more than this one little town.

According to a story posted yesterday on MSNBC, thousands of people around Hampton Roads, Va., have received the DVD, and the McCain campaign claims to have nothing to do with the DVD or its distribution, refusing to comment on it even to condemn its vicious and destructive lies:

For those who’ve forgotten or don’t know what “Obsession” is about and what it is being used for, here are a couple of articles:


National outcry over ‘Obsession’ DVD
By ANICK JESDANUN • AP Business Writer • October 4, 2008

NEW YORK– Newspapers that carried an advertising supplement in recent weeks containing a DVD critical of radical Muslims have faced complaints from readers and questions about whether newspapers should offer a platform to everyone willing to pay for distribution.

Although a few papers refused to carry the DVD, about 70 including The New York Times distributed it on the grounds that rejecting it would violate the sponsor’s right to free speech. The decision generated letters, cancellations and even a protest.


The Clarion Fund, a nonprofit founded in 2006 to address “the most urgent threat of radical Islam,” spent millions of dollars distributing the DVDs mostly in battleground election states. That targeting led to further outcry about the group’s motives.

“This is definitely the most feedback that I’ve gotten to an ad,” said Ted Vaden, public editor for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. “It’s among the heaviest reaction I’ve gotten to anything. The great majority of the reaction was negative.”

Vaden said the paper received about 500 e-mail and phone messages and had some 50 cancellations. He said the paper may have sparked some of the complaints by writing a front-page story calling attention to “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” the DVD insert that critics have denounced as anti-Muslim propaganda.

The decision over running the ad was similar to what online services like Google Inc.’s YouTube and Yahoo Inc.’s Flickr face when they let users freely share provocative video or photos. They get complaints of promoting unpopular viewpoints when they try to uphold free-speech principles; they get complaints of censorship when they don’t.

Newspapers generally insist on giving a platform to a variety of viewpoints, but readers who complained were largely critical.

“I cannot believe that I was sent the hate-inflaming, fear-mongering video disk ‘Obsession’ in my newspaper!” Margaret Lewis of Durham, N.C., wrote to The News & Observer. “What will you enclose next? KKK robes?”

Kelly McBride, head of the ethics faculty at the journalism think tank Poynter Institute, said papers generally reject ads only if they promote illegal activity or might incite violence. The “Obsession” DVD, at most, makes people angry, she said.

“It’s pretty hard to make an argument to reject it,” she said. “It’s hard to articulate a standard that would give you the opportunity to reject something like the ‘Obsession’ DVD but allow other types of political, religious or anti-religious speech.”

The Clarion Fund, which has declined to identify all of its board members or the sources of its funding, is working with the Endowment for Middle East Truth on “The Obsession Project,” which is to include research publications and issue forums.

Clarion Fund spokesman Gregory Ross said the group spent several million dollars in donations from individuals he would not name, and he said running the ad in swing states was a means of drawing media attention and not meant to influence the election’s result, a move barred by federal tax law covering nonprofits.

“We found (newspapers were) the most economical and best way to get it out there,” Ross said.

Dozens of people protested outside The Oregonian’s offices on Monday, the morning after the Portland, Ore., newspaper carried the DVD. One said he canceled his subscription. Mayor Tom Potter had tried to persuade the paper not to run the ad.

Publisher Fred Stickel, who did not return phone calls from The Associated Press for comment, has said The Oregonian tries to keep its advertising channels open, regardless of whether the paper agrees with the sponsor’s message.

But Elizabeth Brenner, the publisher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, told reporters at the Milwaukee Press Club that based on complaints from its readers, the paper likely would not carry it again if faced with the same decision. She declined further comment to the AP, saying she didn’t want to re-ignite the issue.

“Obsession,” an hour-long movie that features graphic images of terrorism, video of anti-American speeches from Mideast television and comparisons with Nazi Germany, has been sent to about 28 million households through newspapers and direct mail.

Ross questioned whether many of the video’s critics actually had seen it, and he noted that it carried a disclaimer saying it was not about the majority of Muslims, who are peaceful.

Some readers expressed support.

“It’s refreshing to see something other than the ‘politically correct’ drivel most Americans seem to accept as fact,” Steven Earle of Clifton, Colo., wrote to The Denver Post, which distributed a half million copies.

The News & Record of Greensboro, N.C., rejected the DVD, considering it inflammatory and hateful without contributing much educational value.

“We got a lot of e-mails from across the country applauding the decision,” Editor John Robinson said, adding that most feedback for and against came from outside his paper’s region.

The Detroit Free Press, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch also declined to carry the ad.

The glossy color insert to which the DVD was attached described it in tiny print as a “Paid Advertising Supplement.”

As at other newspapers, The New York Times’ decision to run the ad in some markets outside New York came from its advertising department, not the newsroom.

“Just as we print advertisements that rebut New York Times editorials, news articles or critical reviews, we print ads that differ from our editorial position,” spokeswoman Diane McNulty said. “We do so in the belief that it is in the best interests of our readers for our pages to be as open as possible.”

The Miami Herald got dozens of letters and e-mails, mostly critical. But Anders Gyllenhaal, the newspaper’s executive editor, said the outcry led to good discussions with the region’s Muslim community about the principles of free speech.


Obsession DVD Distributors: Would We Try To Influence Election? Never!
By Eric Kleefeld – September 25, 2008, 10:59AM…

We’ve finally gotten to speak with the people behind the mass distribution of Obsession, a DVD warning viewers of the threats of radical Islam. And they’re actually claiming that their mailing of the DVD to millions of households in swing states, and paying to have it inserted in local papers in places like Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, is not an attempt to sway voters in swing states.

And get this: They’re saying the swing-state focus is simply an effort to get the attention of reporters in swing states, because the media is heavily focused on swing states and if they distributed the DVD in non-swing states it wouldn’t get any attention.

The movie is being distributed by Clarion Fund, a right-wing group founded by filmmaker Raphael Shore, in partnership with the Endowment for Middle East Truth. Since these organizations are 501(c)(3) non-profits, it would be illegal for them to use the DVD as an express effort to win people’s votes — but they can embark on educational campaigns.

Nonetheless, this “educational campaign” — which would seem to be helpful to John McCain — is heavily focused on swing states. Why?

“If we were to distribute only in Hawaii and Maine, the press would be like, ‘Look we’re in Pennsylvania, we’re in Florida, we’re not covering something in Hawaii now,'” said Gregory Ross, Clarion Fund spokesman, in an interview with Election Central.

Ross explained. “So to capture the press and get interviews just like you’re calling me, that why we’re sending it to the swing states.”

“We do not consider this electioneering,” Ross added, “because we’re not telling anyone how to vote.”

Still, Ross appeared to accidentally concede that politics might be behind the campaign.

In a reference to the Endowment for Middle East Truth, which is helping push the DVD, Ross said: “They use our movie Obsession as a vehicle to help foster political — well I should say, discussion in general.”

Ari Morgenstern, spokesman for EMET, concurred that this is not about influencing the election: “Well, this is in no way an effort to influence the election. The goal is to help educate the American public about radical Islam’s war with the West.”

Neither Ross or Morgenstern would disclose the identities of any of their donors who are helping with this effort, but Ross did say they “span the political spectrum.” He declined, however, to say if one or more were backing Barack Obama or John McCain.

Ross said that Clarion Fund has another movie coming out, The Third Jihad, about the threat of radical Islamists right here in America, set to premiere in October. There are not currently any plans to distribute it in swing states in the same way as they are doing for Obsession — but he’s not ruling anything out.


In other Virginia for McCain news, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani will be appearing (and possibly cross-dressing) at a McCain rally in Midlothian, Va., this Saturday, but unbeknownst to McCain, Rudy has already begun raising funds for a 2012 presidential run against Obama:

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