In the midst of remarkably cynical election-time mud-slinging, the Obsession campaign is truly in a class of its own.
Over the past weeks, 28 million copies of the anti-Muslim propaganda film Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West have been delivered to the doors of newspaper subscribers in swing states. The 2006 documentary, which has been a mainstay of David Horowitz's "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week," describes "radical Islam" as a menace comparable to Adolf Hitler that, according to the film's website, "is threatening, with all the means at its disposal, to bow Western civilization under the yoke of its values."
For the groups behind the film's distribution, the goal seems pretty clear: Scare the holy hell out of millions of voters in swing states about a possible Muslim takeover of the U.S. It's hard to see the targeting of electoral battlegrounds as anything other than an attempt to help John McCain get elected -- perhaps by capitalizing on the widespread whispering campaign that Obama is a "secret Muslim."
And one has to admit that the Obsession campaign's marketing plan has been quite slick. After all, what better way to disseminate hate propaganda than under the unassuming guise of a documentary film delivered in Americans' daily newspapers? A plan that, sadly, many newspapers were all too happy to go along with for the sake of corporate profits. While a handful of newspapers -- the Greensboro, N.C., News & Record, the Detroit Free Press, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- have taken the ethical stance of refusing to carry the DVD (the News & Record called it "fear-mongering and divisive"), some 70 papers, including the New York Times, have delivered it to their subscribers as a paid advertising supplement.
There has really just been one small glitch in the plan: The public doesn't seem to be buying it. Newspapers that carried the DVD have faced floods of complaints from readers, and the past week has seen protests and press conferences denouncing the film.
The problem, it would appear, is that many readers simply do not accept the notion their newspaper should provide a cover for hate propaganda. As one Durham, N.C., News & Observer reader put it, "I cannot believe that I was sent the hate-inflaming, fear-mongering video disk Obsession in my newspaper! What will you enclose next? KKK robes?"
The public, it turns out, is a much a tougher sell than the corporate media. Major corporate media outlets have for years been citing the anti-Muslim pundits featured in Obsession as "experts."
For example: Steve Emerson has been invited regularly on NBC and described as an "anti-terror expert," despite the fact his research has been repudiated many times over. This is an "expert" who initially blamed the Oklahoma City bombing on Middle Eastern terrorists, and who is now going around claiming that the Bush State Department is collaborating with extremists.
And then there's Daniel Pipes. While he's repeatedly been cited by the media as an "expert" on Islam and the Middle East, he has warned that "the presence, and increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims" entail "true dangers" for American Jews, and led a witch hunt against a public school official who was slated to run an Arabic-language charter school in New York City.
Just a month before a critical election, there are no signs that the anti-Muslim mud-slinging campaign is going away. In fact, the secretive nonprofit called the Clarion Fund behind the Obsession campaign just came out with a brand new DVD, The Third Jihad, featuring Mark Steyn -- who, as FAIR's new report documents, has warned of the "demographic decline" posed by Europe's emerging Muslim population, and suggests there are lessons for Europeans in the Balkan example of ethnic cleansing.
You can read all about Emerson, Pipes and Steyn in a new report that's just been released called "Smearcasting: How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation" . The report profiles 12 top anti-Muslim pundits, including prominent talk show hosts Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.
The media's long record of failing to challenge (and often enabling) anti-Muslim smears should leave us quite worried about how this final leg of election '08 will play out: Will the media continue to provide a platform to the anti-Muslim smear machine, or will they uphold standards of responsible journalism?
Follow Isabel Macdonald on Twitter: www.twitter.com/isabelmacdo