Charity Floods Swing States With Anti-Islam DVD
by Peter Overby
[A promo from "Obsession" is at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92513698.]
Morning Edition, September 26, 2008 · Just after the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a small charity group flooded campaign battleground states with an inflammatory DVD on radical Islam. Critics say the charity is trying to influence the presidential race.
Earlier this month, subscribers to 70 newspapers in 14 states got a little something extra: A DVD that argues the same hard, militaristic line on terrorism that John McCain takes in his presidential campaign.
It's called Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West. The DVD was made in 2006, before this presidential contest began, and it doesn't even allude to electoral politics.
But, filled with dire warnings about Islamic terrorists, it hit doorsteps seven weeks before Election Day. And critics say it fuels the false whisper campaign that Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim.
Madaline Muir of Montgomery County, Pa., got the DVD in her Philadelphia Inquirer. She called it propaganda.
"It's to influence people. Sent out now. Whenever it was made, 2006, but it's really to influence people in the election and scare people," she said.
Obsession was produced by the Clarion Fund, a 501(c)(3) charity, which cannot get involved in campaign politics.
But its spokesman has said the newspaper distribution had one purpose: to make terrorism a presidential campaign issue where it counts - in the battleground states. He said Clarion did this with a half-million dollar grant from a secret donor.
And others have been promoting Obsession in other ways. Joe Wierzbicki, a political consultant, offered free copies of the DVD to listeners on a talk show in Detroit last month. He was promoting a free screening of Obsession on Sept. 11 in Dearborn, a city with a large Arab population.
Who paid for the screening? And who hired Wierzbicki to handle it? Wierzbicki wouldn't tell local reporters. On Thursday, he didn't respond to NPR's interview requests, and neither did the Clarion Fund.
It's illegal for a 501(c)(3) to advocate expressly for or against a candidate. None of Clarion's three directors have any record of contributing to the candidates. But some political connections do emerge.
Wierzbicki, the movie promoter, also works for two political organizations. He's an organizer for Move America Forward, a political action committee that just produced an ad accusing Obama of playing politics with soldiers' lives.
He also is the PAC coordinator for the Our Country Deserves Better PAC. Its Web site says it has one objective: to defeat Obama.
A multifaith coalition called Hate Hurts America has launched a Web site to counter allegations made in the DVD. And an Arab rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate Clarion for possible violations of campaign finance law.
"Where is that money coming from? And what is the agenda of those behind this campaign? And who is behind this campaign ultimately?" Ibrahim Hooper, the council's spokesman, asked, regarding the DVD.
Those kinds of questions are often asked at the height of campaign season. But even if the election commission decides to investigate the Clarion Fund, the answers would likely be months away.
Will Evans and Shahien Nasiripour of the Center for Investigative Reporting contributed to this report.