There's been a huge debate within the newspaper world -- and beyond -- about a fiery DVD targeting Islamic extremism called "Obsession" that over the last couple of weeks has been packaged in newspaper ads and distributed to hundreds of thousands of readers, especially in swing states. (The Philadelphia Inquirer was one of those papers.) Proponents say its an honest portrayal of anti-American jihadism, while critics said the video would stir up hatred toward decent God-fearing Muslims, not just those involved in or supporting terrorism. Some wonder if it's all just a big ploy to help John McCain and the GOP, who want to focus the campaign on the threat of Islamic extremists. Here's a review from the Orlando Sentinel, for example:
This inflammatory video -- funded by a new and, I think it's fair to say, shadowy group called the Clarion Fund -- "Obsession" is the kind of controversial thing that newspapers tend to stay away from, but only a couple have turned the insert down so far. Understandably, without hard proof that the documentary contains major factual errors, many are concerned about the First Amendment issues and, let's be candid, given the battered state of the newspaper economy, some publishers NEED the money.
There's no more key battleground state in America than Ohio -- and sure enough thousands were delivered there on Monday in a number of newspapers, including the Dayton Daily News, which is in a hotly contested corner of the Buckeye State.
Four days later, this happened as Muslims in Dayton attempted to worship:
Many in Dayton are wondering if the mass distribution of "Obsession" has anything to do with this. It's unclear whether or not this was in the works before or after the attack on the mosque, but religious leaders were meeting in Dayton yesterday to talk about the DVD:
It should be noted that right now, until the police make more progress in investigating this, that the link is circumstantial based on the timing -- and sadly there've been many anti-Islamic hate crimes in this country before "Obsession" was so widely released. That said, I think that while the case is under investigation, any newspapers that were planning to distribute the DVD but haven't done so yet should call a time out, and wait until we know more about what happened in Dayton.
Is distributing "Obsession" a matter of pure free speech? Or is it yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre?
People need to make that call before someone gets killed.