By ALEXANDER PANETTA, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — They bashed the Canadian military but an American TV host and his guest were forced into a strategic retreat Monday in the face of a national uproar.
A Fox News host issued an apology over a talk-show segment described by the Canadian government as “despicable” and “disgusting.”
And one of his fellow jokesters — a comedian who quipped that he wasn’t even aware Canadian troops were in Afghanistan — was forced to cancel scheduled gigs in Edmonton.
Comedian Doug Benson had been slated to appear April 2 to 5 in Edmonton, which is home to a Canadian Forces base, but the venue owner asked him to stay away.
Irate viewers flooded websites with thousands of comments, there were calls for a boycott of Fox advertisers, and several new Facebook groups popped up, including one titled “Greg Gutfeld Can Rot in Hell.”
Gutfeld, the host of the controversial segment on Fox’s Red Eye show, said he never intended to make light of Canadian military efforts in Afghanistan.
“However, I realize that my words may have been misunderstood,” Gutfeld said in a statement released by Fox News.
“It was not my intent to disrespect the brave men, women and families of the Canadian military, and for that I apologize.
“Red Eye is a satirical take on the news, in which all topics are addressed in a lighthearted, humorous and ridiculous manner.”
The recent talk-show segment was taped just before four more Canadian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, and it featured a group of pundits taking turns trashing Canada and its reliability as an ally.
They were spurred by comments from Canada’s army chief that the military would need a year’s hiatus to regroup and refurbish after its Kandahar mission ends in 2011.
In the Fox News segment, widely accessed on the Internet, Gutfeld said the Canadian military “wants to take a breather to do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white capri pants.”
“Isn’t this the perfect time to invade this ridiculous country?” he said. “They have no army.”
That opening crack from Gutfeld prompted his comedian guest, Benson, to chime in: “I didn’t even know that they were in the war,” he said.
“I thought that’s where you go if you don’t want to fight — go chill in Canada. I guess that’ll be their tourism selling point: We’re not in the war for a year. So come on by while we nap.”
Swept up the backlash over that little wisecrack was a comedy club in West Edmonton Mall. Benson had been scheduled to perform there next week.
But the owner of the Comedy Strip said he received too many angry messages — including from friends and relatives of soldiers — to guarantee Benson’s safety. One person promised to buy a ticket just so that he could throw a beer at Benson.
“We were inundated with emails and phone calls that were bordering on threatening,” said club owner Rick Bronson.
“Unfortunately, (Benson) touched a nerve.”
The owner’s wife called Benson’s agent and informed him that the show couldn’t go on. The comedian apparently explained that the segment had only been meant as a joke and that he respected Canada’s military.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay wasn’t laughing.
He requested an apology Monday just before leaving for Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont., where he attended a homecoming ceremony with the families of the latest soldiers killed.
“It’s crass, it’s insensitive, it’s in fact disgusting, given the timing,” MacKay told CTV News.
“There should be an apology — to the families in particular, and to the Canadian Forces and to Canada generally — given the sacrifice and the commitment that we’ve demonstrated in Afghanistan.”
He said later that he was satisfied with the apology.
Canadian soldiers have been fighting in Afghanistan for eight years and have spent the last four in the country’s most violent region. Canada has lost 116 soldiers in Afghanistan, the highest casualty rate among allied countries fighting there.
Earlier Monday, a spokesman stressed that the Canadian government specifically wanted an apology from the panellists who made the wisecracks — and not just from the Fox network at large.
“These are despicable, hurtful and ignorant comments,” said Dan Dugas, a spokesman for MacKay.
“I think that so-called comedian should stare in the camera at his first opportunity and apologize to all of the families of people he’s hurt with these despicable comments.
“And he’s got to say, ’I was misinformed. I was ignorant of the truth and the contribution of the Canadian Forces to the war on terror, and I want to take it back. I know as a comedian that I can fail sometimes; I failed miserably at this so-called comedy.’
“And his panellists should say the same.”
Canada says it will withdraw most of its 2,500 troops from Kandahar when its current combat mission expires in 2011.
The Fox News program aired after Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, the Canadian army chief of staff, said the military would need a one-year break from operations once the long and difficult mission in Afghanistan winds down.
The segment was posted online under the title, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate Countries”.
By Monday afternoon, more than 9,400 people had posted responses to the clip, which also makes fun of RCMP officers and their traditional red uniforms.
Among the myriad online comments were a number of calls for a boycott of Fox advertisers.
“I’m just disgusted,” said Toronto resident Gabby Herczeg, 55, after seeing the clip.
“Quite frankly, it’s Canadians who’ve been protecting American lives by fighting in the most dangerous part of Afghanistan.
“I am going to actively find out who Fox had advertising and I’m just going to avoid buying any sort of products from them. It’s just a disgusting performance.”
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In: Afghanistan, News
Tags: Military, slamming, U.S., comic, dumped, Edmonton, show
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (load item map)
Marked as: approved
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