LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Just after the anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, a small charity group flooded campaign battleground states with an inflammatory DVD about radical Islam. Who is behind it and why it was distributed is the subject of this report by NPR's Peter Overby.
PETER OVERBY: You know those advertising circulars that come with the Sunday newspaper? Earlier this month, subscribers to 70 newspapers in 14 states got a little something extra, a DVD which 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." Here's a clip.
(Soundbite of video "'Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West")
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Unidentified Man: If you recognize a danger and you don't do anything about it, you are risking your demise.
Unidentified Woman: We cannot claim ignorance anymore.
OVERBY: The DVD was made in 2006, before this presidential contest even began, and it doesn't 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. Madeleine Muir of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, got the DVD in her Philadelphia Inquirer. She calls it propaganda.
Ms. MADELEINE MUIR: Whenever it was made, it's really to influence people in the election and scare people.
OVERBY: "Obsession" was produced by the Clarion Fund. It's a 501(c)3 charity, so it can't 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.
(Soundbite of radio broadcast)
Mr. JOSEPH WIERZBICKI (Political Consultant): So, here's the deal. We'll give you, to the first 30 of your listeners, we'll give them a free copy of the DVD to take home with them.
OVERBY: That's Joe Wierzbicki, a political consultant, on a talk show in Detroit earlier this month. He was promoting a free screening of "Obsession," timed to take place on 9/11, and held 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. He didn't respond to our 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 for Clarion, some political connections do emerge.
Wierzbicki, the movie promoter, also works for two political organizations. He's an organizer for Move America Forward. Its political action committee just produced an ad accusing Obama of playing politics with soldiers' lives. And he's the PAC coordinator for Our Country Deserves Better PAC. It says on its website that it has one objective, to defeat Obama. A multi-faith coalition called Hate Hurts America has launched a website 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. Ibrahim Hooper is the council's spokesman. Here's what he wants to know about the DVD.
Mr. IBRAHIM HOOPER (Communications Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations): Where is that money coming from? And what is the agenda of those behind this campaign? And who is behind this campaign ultimately?
OVERBY: 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. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
WERTHEIMER: Will Evans of the Center for Investigative Reporting helped with the story. You can read more about the Clarion fund and its DVD at the Secret Money Project blog at npr.org.
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WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.