Newspaper subscribers are accustomed to the sample-size boxes of laundry detergent or aspirin bottles that sometimes arrive packaged with their morning paper, courtesy of advertisers. But readers in battleground states are getting a different kind of freebie: the DVD of a controversial documentary on Islam.
Millions of copies of "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West" were delivered over the last few weeks to homes in states whose votes will be critical in the presidential election, and more will be distributed through early October. Most of the 28 million DVDs were included as advertising inserts in newspapers. Some also were mailed directly to homes.
The campaign by Clarion Fund -- a nonprofit organization founded by filmmaker Raphael Shore "to educate Americans about issues of national security," its website says -- has prompted criticism of the newspapers for distributing what some describe as Muslim-bashing propaganda.
There are also accusations that the group is trying to influence the election in favor of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, cast by some as tougher on terrorism. One Islamic advocacy group recently filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging that Clarion is abusing its tax-exempt status by engaging in politics.
"Any neutral observer would say this is a biased, one-sided, inflammatory portrayal that seeks to portray Muslims and Islam as Nazi-like," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council for American-Islamic Relations, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.
Hooper claims the DVD campaign aims to steer voters toward McCain.
"If you're able to raise the level of fear in the public about terrorism or national security, those people are more likely to skew toward John McCain," he said.
Hooper said he heard reports that some DVD recipients in Ohio also had received automated phone calls referencing the film and saying, "We hope you take it into consideration when you go into the voting booth." (MORE)