In a very busy news week—from the first presidential debate to Wall Street's meltdown—The Oregonian made its own headlines by inserting a DVD in its Sunday editions that managed to tick off local Muslims, Christians and Jews, as well as non-believers.
The target of their anger, this week's Rogue—publisher Fred Stickel and his decision to accept the paid insert from the New York-based Clarion Fund, which produced the hourlong film, Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West. They said the film (see review, this page) incited fear of Muslims by assuming an educational tone while airily linking Islam to terrorist organizations.
"It is the moral obligation of a newspaper to inform, not to misinform," United Methodist minister Rev. Chuck Cooper said to applause from about 75 demonstrators protesting Monday outside the daily's downtown office. "The Oregonian gets a well-deserved F for citizenship."
The day before, Stickel was quoted in a news story The Oregonian ran on the controversial film as saying that he watched Obsession before deciding to include it, and "could find no reason to reject [it]."
"I've always felt we have an obligation to keep our advertising columns as open as possible," Stickel said, adding that the newspaper's policy is not to disclose how much it gets for particular ads. "Our acceptance of anything—our acceptance or rejection—does not depend on whether or not we agree with the content.… There is a principle of freedom of speech involved here."
However, in years past, Stickel—a devout Catholic—has rejected ads such as those for the 1973 Marlon Brando film Last Tango in Paris and for condoms in the 1980s.
The O—which, like all newspapers, is losing print ad revenue—joined the ranks of papers such as The New York Times and The Denver Post that have distributed the Obsession DVD.
Other papers, such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Detroit Free Press, declined to accept the DVD.
"We did meet and discuss this particular DVD with our newsroom," said Free-Press senior vice president of advertising Rebecca Steckler. "And due to the graphic images on the DVD that were not labeled on the packaging, we did not feel it was in the best interest of our company to accept this advertisement."
Protesters outside The Oregonian on Monday blasted the daily for not doing the same.
Waving white flags with doves on them and chanting, "Say no to hatred, Fred!" protesters attracted honks and waves of approval from passing motorists during the 45-minute rally.
Local faith and civil rights leaders formed the Good Faith Coalition in response last week to The Oregonian's plans to enclose the DVD in its Sunday paper, which landed as Ramadan comes to a close.
On Sept. 25, the group hand-delivered a letter to Stickel's office, asking The Oregonian to at least consider postponing distribution of the film until someone from the paper had met with the Good Faith Coalition and listened to the group's concerns. The O reported Tuesday that the "vast majority" of about 500 callers contacting the paper about the DVD opposed its distribution. Circulation director Kevin Denny was quoted as saying "very few" canceled their subscriptions.
Mayor Tom Potter also called Stickel on Sept. 25 to ask him not to distribute