Recently an outcry of criticism has been aimed at The Oregonian for distributing a DVD with the daily paper called Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West that clearly contains anti-Islamic rhetoric. The Clarion Group, the organization that produced the DVD, is a “non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to educate Americans about issues of national security,” according to the group’s Web site.
On that point
Recently an outcry of criticism has been aimed at The Oregonian for distributing a DVD with the daily paper called Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West that clearly contains anti-Islamic rhetoric.
The Clarion Group, the organization that produced the DVD, is a “non-profit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to educate Americans about issues of national security,” according to the group’s Web site.
The Oregonian has been facing protests outside of their downtown office this week and members of the community have been asking individuals who received the DVDs with their paper to send them back to The O‘s headquarters.
This situation brought to mind a quote from Jurassic Park. Bear with me. Dr. Malcolm and the rest of the scientists asked to review Jurassic Park were discussing what opening an attraction with dinosaurs would mean to society.
“…Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should,” Malcolm said.
That should be the mantra of every editor, publisher or person who find themselves in a moral predicament about advertising. Unfortunately, The Oregonian didn’t think of the ramifications of distributing hate literature.
Yes, the paper had the right as a publication based on ad revenue to use that ad to its advantage; no one should be disputing that. What should be discussed is the perception of advertising in “neutral” spheres and how it treads a thin line in media. Some advertisements feed off its host’s creditability and may cause rifts within communities.
For an example of past controversy regarding inappropriate advertising, one doesn’t need to look very far–just back two years ago, to this very publication. The Vanguard ran an “anti-abortion” advertising insert after the previous year’s editor-in-chief decided against running it.
The ad itself, a page insert with graphic misrepresentations of abortions, came with a check for $5,000–$1 per paper. Owen Smith, the editor-in-chief who decided to run the ad two years ago, even though he believed it to be “in poor taste,” said it basically came down to the money.
When asked if money wasn’t the lynchpin to deciding whether or not to run the ad, Smith said he would likely not have run it. Most likely, the same can be said for The Oregonian.
The last week has brought up the question of whether money should dictate what goes on the page (or within it) of a legitimate news source. Sure both sides should be represented, but is there a way to make that possible without running ads that go beyond poor taste, such as the Obsession DVD?
This particular instance of The Oregonian‘s controversial advertising is exceptionally potent for two reasons. First, the advertising isn’t selling a product but an idea, a very charged, politically motivated, disenfranchising idea.
The ideas espoused on the DVD are fear mongering, discriminatory, and, in some cases, blatantly false. Second, at this point in time, The Oregonian really needs the money. While it’s clear why The Oregonian did it, money should not be reason enough to allow hate speech to co-mingle with real news.
Why didn’t the Clarion Group send out the DVD in bulk mail, as most groups of its kind do when they want to relay a message to a large population? For example, neo-Nazi groups often publish their hate literature in “historical revisionist” journals under the guise of legitimate publications.
Piggybacking fringe ideas on the laurels of “unbiased” daily newspapers and university publications allows for creditability unmatched by sending out pamphlets to mailboxes. Sadly, some people may see the advertisement label on the Obsession DVD, but still believe The Oregonian shares its sentiments, because in all honesty, that advertisement is paying its printing costs. That false credibility makes way to legitimacy of reaction, as we are seeing in Dayton, Ohio, where some people attacked mosques after viewing the DVD.
The local community in Portland is calling for an apology from Fred Stickel, the publisher of The Oregonian. Whether or not he is sorry for accepting desperately needed money from a shady source should not be the ultimate outcome to this controversy.
Let’s hope The O learned its lesson. While a change in accepting advertisements that have a clear misrepresentation of reality should be in order, the publication should also be more aware of how it will be perceived based on the advertisements that it chooses to run.