We had a story on the air this morning about the mass distribution of an inflamatory DVD on radical Islam, which critics say is intended to help John McCain's presidential bid. The video documentary was blasted out by the Clarion Fund, an obscure New York-based charity.
Clarion wouldn't return our phone calls before the story aired. But today it hired a PR firm, which quickly issued this statement in response to our story:
The Clarion Fund has one goal: educate the public about the threat of Islamic terrorism. Obsession is the film opponents of free speech don't want you to see. Terrorist attacks don't distinguish between political parties- they kill everyone. America needs to know the truth about the threat without censorship.
Clarion's new voice is Hank Sheinkopf, a long-time Democratic consultant in New York, who worked on President Clinton's re-election campaign. The choice of a Democratic flak is a smart move, since critics have said Clarion is covertly trying to help elect Republican McCain. That kind of active political work would violate its 501(c)(3) charity exemption.
As we reported, one of the promoters of the DVD is Joe Wierzbicki, who is active in two anti-Obama political action committees.
One group, Move America Forward, recently produced an ad we already showcased. The other, Our Country Deserves Better PAC, just put up a Web video contending that Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin has more executive experience than Barack Obama. "All Barack Obama has ever run," it says, "has been his mouth." The video, which runs over 3 minutes, goes into a blooper reel of Obama's gaffes, tongue-tied moments and controversial comments.
More after the jump...
Earlier this week, we pointed out the Clarion Fund's ties to Aish HaTorah, a staunchly pro-Israel organization that promotes Jewish pride and helps send young Jewish Americans to Israel. The St. Petersburg Times found even more connections, including the name of an Aish employee on Clarion's bulk mailing permit. (Aish's PR consultant, however, told us today that he represents Aish only and didn't even have the phone number for Clarion.)
Meanwhile, the Inter Press Service reported that another organization, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, was also responsible for the DVD distribution. In March, the Endowment hosted a showing of "Obsession" on Capitol Hill.
Leading the Endowment is Sarah Stern, a former lobbyist for the Zionist Organization of America. She takes a hard line in defense of Israel, arguing against Israeli concessions such as land withdrawals and prisoner releases. In a recent open letter to the "next president," she warned that if tough diplomatic measures against Iran fail by the time he is inaugurated, "Mr. President, you may inherit the difficult task of easing the way for a preemptive strike."