Remember all of those sad and tragic stories about the looting of Baghdad? Now it turns out that some American journalists were among the looters. But they had enough good sense not to parade their stolen goods in front of their own television cameras. And they didn’t take tires or refrigerators. Jerry Seper of the Washington Times says the case is so big that an official probe called Operation Iraqi Heritage has been launched.
An affidavit in the case against Benjamin James Johnson, a Fox News engineer, describes how he was nervous and his hand was shaking as customs inspectors questioned him at Dulles International Airport about what he had brought back from Baghdad. Inspectors found 12 Iraqi paintings, 40 Iraqi monetary bonds and an identification badge from the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait in Johnson’s bags. He had declared he had no items other than $20 worth of cigarettes when he arrived. When inspectors asked to examine a big cardboard box in Johnson’s possession and asked where the paintings in the box came from, Johnson “stepped back and proceeded to sweat profusely.”
Fox News immediately fired Johnson. “This is an unfortunate incident and his supervisor took the appropriate action for this transgression,” the network said. USA Today says that a half-dozen journalists have reportedly been caught with items from Iraq. Johnson reportedly tipped Customs officials that Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden also had several items. Media reporter Mark Jurkowitz of the Boston Globe said that, “When Crittenden arrived at Logan Airport he was carrying a painting and ornamental kitchen items.” But Herald editor Andrew Costello said that Crittenden won’t be disciplined because the items “were clearly souvenirs and he declared them.”
Ironically, Crittenden had written about the looting by others. One of his articles from Baghdad went like this: “There was the clanking ride through Saddam’s rose gardens; the gleeful looting by Baghdadis as their city descended into anarchy and the souvenir-scrounging by soldiers; the cheering of Iraqis who showed every sign that they welcomed this violent change and the disgust of others appalled by it.” Crittenden had also achieved notoriety for a story on how he called out Iraqi positions as his unit rolled through Baghdad, helping to kill three Iraqi soldiers.
Some reports claimed the stolen items weren’t worth that much, and that journalists traveling with military units were given no specific guidelines on taking Iraqi property. The Associated Press noted that, “None of the items displayed at a news conference were priceless antiquities looted from Iraqi museums.” But that’s still no excuse for stealing.
The thievery is a black eye for journalists, coming after there was almost universal praise for the work of journalists who were embedded with our troops and reported on the war. Some risked their lives to bring us the truth. Two American journalists, David Bloom and Michael Kelly, died during the conflict. Now we learn that some of their embedded colleagues came back with embedded loot.