Lo and behold, The News & Observer has found a way to boost its bottom line: distributing agitprop.

Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, the DVD, was tucked into the Sept. 13 edition of The N&O and Charlotte Observer, newspapers in other swing states and even the Chronicle of Higher Education. The placement of 28 million DVDs, including a dumping of them at the Democratic and Republican national conventions, was politically convenient, as was the timing: two days after the Sept. 11 anniversary.

The DVD contains images of wreckage from terrorist bombings interspersed with footage of angry Muslims tearing the American flag, Muslims praying at Mecca (Who knew worship was so radical? Perhaps we should ask Sarah Palin), and the obligatory talking heads, such as Daniel Pipes, himself an anti-Islamic extremist, spreading their fear-mongering and hatred.

This message was brought to you by The Clarion Fund, whose euphemistic motto is “National Security Through Education,” although the nonprofit group does not want to educate the public on its board of directors, donors or tax filings, which it does not disclose.

Obsession‘s shady backers are fishing for a captive audience, and The N&O, apparently desperate for any ad dollar, took the baitin the name of free speech, of course. Publisher Orage Quarles wrote in a statement that the newspaper tends “to shy away from censorship … and if we err, we tend to do so on the side of freedom of speech.”

That is a specious argument. The Bill of Rights prohibits government, not private enterprise, from abridging free speech. While the media fights for the freedom to speak without government interference, as an industry, weincluding the Indyreserve the right to reject advertising based on its content. The Indy does not accept tobacco advertising, which is also not allowed on television. That ban has met constitutional muster.

The N&O could have said no to Obsession; The News & Record in Greensboro, did. Editor & Publisher reported that the N&R publisher called it “divisive” and the DVD “served no educational purpose.”

The Clarion Fund’s motivations are suspect, yet laughably transparent: Scare the American people into voting for John McCain, whom, in a possible violation of its nonprofit status, the Clarion Fund has supported on its Web site. (Under fire, their site manager removed the laudatory article.)

By accepting the DVD, The N&O has set an unsavory precedent: The KKK could ask to insert a DVD purporting blacks are inherently less intelligent than whites, using data from the “credible” book The Bell Curve. Holocaust deniers could produce a flick claiming the story of 6 million Jews killed in concentration camps is science fiction.

The toothpaste is out of the tube, Mr. Quarles: Now how do you say no?