Most Americans don't know the name Joe Francis. But many are familiar with his gold mine. It's "Girls Gone Wild," the odious racket of DVDs huckstered on late-night cable shows and the Internet in which Francis and his jolly cast of soft-porn exploiters charm, badger, or hornswoggle often-drunk young college-age girls into flashing their breasts for the camera on Spring Break.
This creep claims that college girls see this long-lasting video embarrassment as a "rite of passage." But as time passes, and these girls become mothers, how will their children deal with the possibility that Mom was flashing her nudity across the country in her intoxicated youth? For that matter, how do these young girls feel the morning after, sober and hung over? The footage can live on and on for decades in YouTube or its spinoffs.
Joe Francis is now sitting in a jail cell in Reno, Nevada, where he's facing federal charges of tax evasion for claiming millions of dollars in false business deductions and making mysterious offshore banking transactions. But his legal troubles started on spring break in Panama City, Florida, where one of his cameramen offered increasing amounts of money and pressure to two 17-year-old girls in a shower to commit sex acts for dirty old men. Francis and his sleazy filmmakers claimed they didn't know the girls were 17, since they always go through the motions of asking their victims for their ages.
Now he's on a media crusade. Meet Joe Francis, Victim.
On Fox News, he suggested he should have never been charged in the Florida underage-porn scam: "So they came up with this ridiculous theory that because I am the owner of the company, I'm an aider and abetter to the sexual performance of a child." It's a "ridiculous" theory that Francis's sleazy soft-porn squad operates on his orders.
Francis was taken into custody in Florida, where he tells a hellish story of being mistreated like he was in Abu Ghraib. Then he told Greta van Susteren about being taunted by other inmates there. He says the chaplain asked, "Son, have you thought about Jesus Christ?" Francis quickly says Yes. Since he's just like Jesus: "Every day! Because this is what they did to him."
Panama City's aggressive piling of legal complaints - he was originally charged with 71 counts, most of which were dismissed by a judge - has Francis feeling sorry for himself: "I always thought that if you are a good person and you didn't commit a crime, you don't go to jail." He sees himself as a historic victim: incarceration is "one of the greatest miscarriages of justice ever."
Nazi holocaust, Stalinist purges, Khmer Rouge massacres? Move over.
That mind-boggling sense of persecuted righteousness is suffusing the Francis media tour. His appearance on ABC's "Nightline" was amazing. Their online headline was his assertion "The only criminals are those persecuting me." When Panama City prosecutor Steve Meadows showed ABC's Martin Bashir the film of the two 17-year-olds, Francis and his lawyers tried to argue that it was Mr. Meadows who was now distributing child porn.
ABC's interview with Francis didn't feature any video of the two underage girls interacting on camera, but Bashir explained to viewers that the camera operator asked the girls to perform sex acts and offering from $50 to $400 for the scenes. The girls said they were uncomfortable and refused.
At the segment's beginning, Bashir asked Francis if he was making porn. No, he said. "You know what I like to call it?" he said. "European television. It's naked girls having fun."
But when Bashir asked about his minions and their sickening financial inducements to the unwilling 17-year-old girls, Francis compared himself to Steven Spielberg: "Just like Steven Spielberg pays an actor to be in a movie. Yes, 'Girls Gone Wild' pays some of its performers to be in their movies."
That crash you heard was Stephen Spielberg throwing a plastic "E.T." figurine across his living room.
Without any pause for giggles, Bashir pressed on: Do you pay more for more adventurous performances? Francis replied: "Just like Playboy would pay more for a more adventurous performer, probably, you know 'Girls Gone Wild' would, too." So much for his product not being pornography.
It's too bad these TV interviewers didn't mention Francis assaulting Los Angeles Times reporter Claire Hoffman last year, pressing her face into the hood of a car, twisting her arms behind her back, shouting "This is what they did to me in Panama City!" Hoffman wrote: "I'm thinking he's about to break my left arm. My eyes start to stream tears."
Stories like that caused one Internet wag to really aim low. Joe Francis, he wrote, is no gentlemanly porn merchant, like Hugh Hefner. He's just scum.
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