I’m hereby announcing the immediate formation of the Committee to Defend Benjamin James Johnson. Johnson, of course, is the Fox News Channel satellite-truck engineer who was caught last week attempting to bring a dozen paintings—including portraits of Saddam Hussein and his boy Uday, and, as the New York Post reported, a “painting of an Arab gladiator being restrained by a kneeling woman”—into the U.S. from Iraq. Johnson was formally charged by Customs. Even worse, he was fired by the suits at Fox.
Other news organizations have stood by their souvenir-hunting staffers—the Boston Herald, for instance, defended reporter Jules Crittenden when he declared a bunch of Iraqi booty, including portraits of Hussein, at Customs. But Johnson—who told the Feds he was planning to give one of the paintings to Fox News—got kicked to the curb.
First of all, this wasn’t really smuggling. It’s not like Johnson rolled up a Saddam canvas, stuck it in a balloon, and shoved it up his butt; he was guilelessly lugging the loot in a large cardboard box through Dulles airport. Poor clueless bastard didn’t know he was doing anything wrong.
But more to the point, the guy was only doing his job! In fact, he was doing exactly what his network bosses taught him to do: Think of Iraq as fertile territory for crowd-pleasing, high-camp high jinks. (Remember G.I. Joe wannabe Geraldo Rivera drawing war maps in the sand?) Johnson’s opportunistic view of his Iraqi tour as a kitschfest is absolutely in keeping with his employer’s POV and editorial philosophy. This is the network, after all, that has both Oliver North and Pat Sajak on the payroll.
Johnson could be facing five years in the slammer and a quarter mil in fines. I’d say that’s downright un-American. As hundreds of like-minded opportunists have realized by listing thousands of Saddam-related items on eBay, our job as Americans is to monetize the vanquished. A friend of mine recently took a sublet at Red Square, that building on East Houston that has a statue of Lenin on the roof. (Ha ha ha!) Mustachioed despots are funny once they’re dead. Saddam in corpse form is a marketing opportunity. My fellow Americans, let us rise up together and merchandise him!
The really galling thing is that if those Customs stiffs didn’t get all bent out of shape, right about now over at Fox’s Sixth Avenue HQ there’d be a giddy unveiling ceremony of Johnson’s gift to his bosses. Think of how nice that gladiator-bondage painting would have looked above the couch in Bill O’Reilly’s office.
Fox News’s top-rated war reporting was itself war kitsch of the highest order. Irony is the privilege of the victors; earnestness is for losers, baby.