The Oregonian today distributed to its Portland area subscribers, as paid advertising, the controversial DVD titled Obsession that raises alarms about the threat of radical Islam. It joined at least 75 other newspapers across the country in doing so -- despite a plea by Portland Mayor Tom Potter and a coalition of community members.
The mayor's office said he wrote to the publisher of the paper: "The Mayor reviewed the video and personally asked Fred Stickel, Oregonian publisher, not to distribute it in next Sunday's issue. The Mayor felt that the tenor of the video contributes towards a climate of distrust towards Muslims that holds the entire Muslim community accountable for the actions of a dangerously misguided few. Distributing with the Oregonian lends the video an impression of objectivity and legitimacy it does not deserve."
The Oregonian, like many other papers who had distributed the DVD (almost all of them in "swing states), carried an article explaining the move today. My magazine, Editor & Publisher, has chronicled this phenomenon for over two weeks, following the Huff Post's lead.
The report by Bill Graves revealed that Fred Stickel, publisher of The Oregonian, said the newspaper is treating the DVD as it does other paid advertising or product inserts.
"I've always felt we have an obligation to keep our advertising columns as open as possible," said Stickel, after viewing the DVD. "Our acceptance of anything -- our acceptance or rejection -- does not depend on whether or not we agree with the content. . . . There is a principle of freedom of speech involved here. I could find no reason to reject this."
Only a handful of newspapers have refused to distribute it.
Stickel said The Oregonian does not disclose how much the company is paid for advertising as a matter of policy. Here is an excerpt from the article.
Masoud Kheirabadi, a Portland State University professor who teaches about Islam, viewed "Obsession" at The Oregonian's request, and concluded, "It is a bad piece of propaganda." He said the work fails to provide historical context, blurs lines between violent Muslim extremists and the vast majority of Muslims, who oppose terrorism, and promotes division rather than understanding.
Islam sees itself as the culmination of the Jewish and Christian religious traditions -- not at odds with them, he said. But the film says Islam teaches that it will destroy all other religions through Islamic jihad fighters. "This is hate-mongering," Kheirabadi said.
He says there's no basis for an estimate made in the film by Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, a think tank focused on U.S. interests in the Middle East, that 10 to 15 percent of Muslims worldwide support militant Islam.
More than 30 local community leaders, clergy members, attorneys and groups, including Sho Dozono, past president of the Portland Japanese American Citizen's League; David Leslie, executive director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon; and Jan Abushakrah, co-president of the Institute for Christian-Muslim Understanding, wrote a letter to Stickel on Thursday asking the newspaper not to distribute "Obsession."
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