New Hampsire Public Radio: Controversial radical Islam DVD distributed in New Hampshire (AUDIO)

A controversial DVD is showing up in some residents’ mailboxes across the state.

The disc contains an hour long documentary about radical Islam. Feature 266

And it was recently delivered to 28 million homes in election swing states inside dozens of newspapers, including two in New Hampshire.

Critics say group behind the film is trying to influence voters with hate-speech, but others call it free speech.

New Hampshire Public Radio correspondent Shannon Mullen reports

TRANSCRIPT: [SOT: DVD opening music]

MULLEN: If you subscribe to the The Union Leader or the Portsmouth Herald, you probably found the DVD inside your Sunday paper, earlier this month.

It came on glossy cardstock with the film’s title: Obsession – Radical Islam’s War Against the West.

[SOT: start sound from film]

The film starts and ends with the disclaimer that, quote, it’s important to remember - most Muslims are peaceful and don’t support terror.

REHAB: [AR1] I think these are strategically placed caveats – in order for the filmmakers to come out and say later – oh we’re not anti-Muslim, we said this.

MULLEN: Ahmed Rehab is spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations – or CAIR.

The group calls the film hate speech.

Rehab says it tries to conflate radical Islam, with the mainstream faith of the majority of the world’s more than one billion Muslims.

REHAB: The film claims to be a critique of radicalism. It is not. I wish it were, I would have been the first to support it. It is a major propaganda campaign, you know with the elections just around the corner, attempting to sway voters through fear-mongering and a sense of hysteria against Islam and Muslims.

MULLEN: The film shows flag-burning, anti-American rallies in the Middle East…

And it parallels the increase in terror attacks around the world, with the rise of the Nazi Regime.

[clip from film]

An obscure non-profit in New York called the Clarion Fund, released the film in 2006…

Some critics are calling its distribution now “an obvious Republican scare tactic” that plays to perceptions of Democrats as weaker on national security.

As a 501-c-3 organization Clarion can not endorse a candidate or try to influence an election.

The Fund did not return a call to comment for this story but a spokesman has said publicly that Clarion has no political agenda.

Some say the DVD ad campaign betrays that, sent out to swing states, like New Hampshire, where nearly half of voters are independent.

GOLDSTRUM: [mg1] Newspapers have a tendency to resonate particularly well to undecided voters…

MULLEN: Mort Goldstrum is Vice President of Advertising for the Newspaper Association of America.

GOLDSTRUM: And so I think that they were just looking at the demos – you know there’s been a lot of polls done by both the Democrats and the Republicans about newspaper readers in particular, and more importantly, undecided voters, and found that people who are more thoughtful and more participative in government, tend to be newspaper readers.

MULLEN: Those readers’ reactions range from praise to scathing.

One Portsmouth Herald subscriber called the extremists shown in the film – quote – “real, influential, radical Muslims calling for the end of western civilization.”

Others were offended to get the DVD.

TABOR: [jt1] Yeah we got a lot of calls and emails from people who said, how could you put something like this in the paper.

MULLEN: Herald Publisher, John Tabor admits he did not watch the DVD before it went out.

TABOR: [jt2] It got under the radar// It looked like something that would be a product sample. I think we made a, I think we made a mistake, not recognizing this as a political ad, that we should have had another look at.

MULLEN: But Tabor says he trusts his readers to form their own opinions.

And in hindsight he would still have allowed the Obsession DVD to go out.

TABOR:I think any time you censor a political advertisement because you disagree with it, that’s a slippery slope, that’s not a position as a publisher I want to be in, but I certainly think an article accompanying it in the Sunday paper saying readers may find this objectionable, would be what I would do//

MULLEN: That is what the Union Leader did.

The publisher and editors watched the film…

Then they printed a front page disclaimer the day before it went out, that the film has some violent footage unsuitable for children.

The paper’s Vice President of News, Ed Domaingue, says the caveat was rare:

DOMAINGUE: [ed1] You won’t see very often where this kind of warning appears with an advertisement. This one we felt people should be aware of, they should be cautious with.

MULLEN: The Union Leader made about 4-thousand dollars from the DVD ad. Critics are asking who paid the bill.

But as a non-profit, the Clarion Fund does not have to disclose its donors, and so far it hasn’t.

For NHPR News, I’m SM.

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