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Pastor Hagee's Desperate News Suppression Campaign Backfires

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During the week of July 1, lawyers representing far-right Pastor John Hagee demanded that YouTube remove scores of videos supposedly infringing on the copyright of John Hagee Ministries. YouTube acceded to Hagee's attorneys without even a cursory review of their claims. As the Huffington Post's Sam Stein reported, the maneuver resulted in the immediate disappearance of over 120 videos from YouTube -- almost all of which depicted the preacher in a negative light.

Among the videos removed by YouTube was my mini-documentary, "Rapture Ready: The Christians United For Israel Tour." Considering that my piece contained no copyrighted material whatsoever, it became apparent to me that Hagee's minions were guided by ulterior political motives. Instead of guarding their copyrights, they sought to stifle legitimate reporting on Hagee's far-out End Times ideology.


Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour from huffpost on Vimeo. See the video Pastor John Hagee doesn't want you to see.

After a series of contentious conversations with Hagee's top PR flack, Juda Engelmeyer, who initially accused me of harboring "conspiratorial" motives for daring to ask if Hagee's people were behind the video removals, I finally confirmed the obvious: The Hagee video slaughter was a naked exercise in news suppression orchestrated by high-level operatives from the preacher's headquarters in San Antonio, Texas.

Video has proven a particularly effective medium for encouraging mainstream media coverage of Hagee's radical political activities. In the past, reporters from the national press corps generally ignored print exposes of Hagee by progressive reporters (including me). But when presented with explicit visual evidence, the national press found it difficult to dispute the fact that he sought to advance a radical End Times agenda in America and throughout the world.

When I published "Rapture Ready" here on the Huffington Post in July 2007, I was immediately beseeched with interview requests from outlets including the Forward and Hagee's hometown paper, the San Antonio Express-News. This year, when progressive bloggers turned John McCain's endorsement by Hagee into a national controversy, the YouTube edition of my "Rapture Ready" video became one of their most effective tools. Thanks to widespread online dissemination, its hit count spiked from just over 20,000 hits to close to nearly 150,000 in less than a week (its Vimeo version had already been viewed by hundreds of thousands).

But after a video produced by progressive blogger Bruce Wilson prompted McCain to discard Hagee's endorsement, members of Hagee's political team concocted a desperate strategy to stanch their public relations disaster. They trolled YouTube for hours, identifying videos that seemed critical of Hagee, then demanded that YouTube remove them one by one on the grounds of copyright infringement. Besides my documentary, Hagee's minions flagged videos by Bruce Wilson and People For The American Way which reproduced some of the preacher's most hysterical sermons. (In one PFAW video, Hagee is seen predicting that Jesus will one day punish the ACLU "with a rod of iron;" a video by Wilson contains an audio clip of Hagee calling the Holocaust the will of God.)

Hagee's operatives correctly assumed that YouTube would approve their copyright infringement claims without even reviewing them. They were also keenly aware that once YouTube removed the videos, users like me would be limited to only one means of recourse: filing a counter-claim that would take at least two weeks to process.

Hagee's YouTube slaughter was carefully timed to provide PR cover for his Christians United for Israel Washington-Israel Summit, which convenes in Washington on July 21. By the time the Summit begins, YouTube will still not have been able to process counter-claims by me and others whose videos were scrubbed. Thus, "Rapture Ready" will remain off YouTube's server until Hagee's summit is over.

But Hagee's news suppression campaign will do little to reverse the damage he has already done to himself. Candidates hoping to cultivate a broad-based national constituency now recognize his endorsement as the political equivalent of a malignant cancer. He is simply too toxic to participate in mainstream American life. Among high-profile lawmakers, only Joseph Lieberman is still willing to share a stage with him, though that may eventually change as well.

The end may be nigh for Hagee's Armageddon-based agenda.