A controversial film titled, "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," arrived last weekend in newspapers in major cities in Florida and North Carolina — two key electoral swing states that could decide the 2008 presidential contest between Republican candidate John McCain and his Democratic rival Barack Obama.
The 60-minute DVD, bundled into Sunday editions, is drawing complaints from Muslims and prompting some soul-searching among journalists over their responsibilities to protecting free speech.
The film itself is not new — it was made in 2005 and has been broadcast on Fox News channel, which has prompted at least one columnist, William E. Jackson Jr. of Editor and Publisher, to suggest it’s a thinly veiled election stunt. Obama already has been subject to apparent “push-polling” tactics seeking to persuade Jewish voters and others that he may be a secret Muslim.
The film has appeared in major dailies in Miami, West Palm Beach, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Fort Myers and Orlando. In all, it may eventually arrive in 28 million households in other swing states, including Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, over the next week.
Despite protests from Muslim and liberal activists, financially strapped newspaper companies told Editor and Publisher and The Miami Herald that the DVD does not violate their usual advertising standards.
The group behind the film, The Clarion Fund, says it is not intended to be political, despite the fact that its Web site recently featured an endorsement of John McCain. The first showing of the film on Fox News was just prior to the 2006 midterm elections.
The documentary shows Muslim children being encouraged to become suicide bombers, interspersed with shots of Nazi rallies.
"The threat of Radical Islam is the most important issue facing us today,'' reads written material included with the DVD. ''But it's a topic that neither the presidential candidates nor the media are discussing openly. It's our responsibility to ensure we can all make an informed vote in November.''
"In the beginning of our film, we say `most Muslims are peaceful.' We are only speaking about a minority that is estimated to be 10 to 15 percent of Muslims,'' Clarion Fund spokesman Gregory Ross told the Miami Herald. "We feel there is no greater threat to America right now than radical Islam.''
But South Florida Muslims The Herald interviewed were enraged that an attack on their religion was being delivered by their local newspaper.
''I watched it with my wife. ... It is vulgar material,'' one South Florida Muslim told the Herald. "I'm sure good, wholesome Americans are going to see it and be able to decipher the truth.''
Ironically, when it was first shown, the film drew praise from one of Obama’s key supporters, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. "We must not let the terrorists continue to teach their children hate,” she said after a Capitol Hill screening. “And we must continue to teach our children to love life.''
Jackson, the Editor & Publisher columnist, said newspapers distrubuting the film should be ashamed.
"Anyone can see an electoral vote pattern to the targeted areas, with almost all of the battleground or swing states represented," Jackson said, noting only one state (Minnesota) has refused the ad. "These papers have allowed themselves to be caught up in a neo-con propaganda scam in the context of the presidential campaign, and during 9/11 week.”
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