Newpapers Distribute Fear DVD : Delivering Propaganda, As If It is Toothpaste

‘Dozens of local newspapers in “swing” election states — from Altoona to Las Vegas (and my own Charlotte Observer) — have been paid to distribute a film designed to spread fear about our national security.’
By William E. Jackson, Jr. / September 13, 2008

DAVIDSON, N.C. — Bundled into my Charlotte Observer on this Saturday morning, and this week into approximately 100 newspapers located overwhelmingly in battleground states across the country, there is a kind of 527-fund contribution to the presidential campaign of John McCain.

Under the cloak of an advertising supplement, a one-hour edition of a DVD entitled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” had been attractively packaged and inserted into some 200,000 copies of the McClatchy-owned newspaper. The same happened at the other major McClatchy paper in North Carolina, the Raleigh News & Observer.

Dozens of local newspapers — from Altoona to Las Vegas and selected regional editions of the New York Times) — have been paid to distribute a film designed to spread fear about our national security.

Anyone can see an electoral vote pattern to the targeted areas, with almost all of the battleground or “swing” states represented. (The daily newspapers in only one such state appear to have refused the ad, Minnesota.) These papers have allowed themselves to be caught up in a “neo-con” propaganda scam in the context of the presidential campaign, and during 9/11 week.

As of Saturday, September 13, the rationalizations of the publishers and ad personnel at the two N.C. newspapers were either beggarly excuses for new sources of revenue, or politically naïve in the extreme.

In the Raleigh News & Observer, Jim McClure, vice president of display advertising for the N&O, was quoted as saying that the “ultimate decision” to distribute the DVDs had been made by the publisher. McClure compared the propaganda to harmless household samples: “Obviously, we have distributed other product samples, whether it’s cereal or toothpaste.” He dismissed allegations that it is inflammatory: “In the beginning of the DVD it clearly states it’s not about Islam. It’s about radical Islam.”

N&O publisher Orage Quarles III said in a statement: “As a newspaper we tend to shy away from censorship. In cases of controversial topics, if we err, we tend to do so on the side of freedom of speech,” a theme that must have been in talking points guidance from company headquarters.

Charlotte Observer publisher Ann Caulkins said paid ads represent the client’s opinions, not the newspaper’s. Moreover, she claimed that the DVD met Observer guidelines: “We’re all for freedom of expression, freedom of speech. This is in no way reflecting our opinions, but it is something we allow.” What wouldn’t be allowed? She identified material that’s racist or contains profanity or offers graphic images of body parts. One has to wonder if she has watched the film her paper has foisted upon readers.

All in all, the propaganda campaign is a shameful episode for the Fourth Estate.

[William E. Jackson, Jr. is a longtime contributor to E&P. He is a former top legislative aide in Congress and arms control expert.]

Source / Editor & Publisher

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