Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada wins battle against U.S. TV host

Comics take shots at our military, find selves facing U.S government

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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.

Ripples were felt in Washington too.

"Both President (Barack) Obama and Secretary (Hillary) Clinton have expressed the U.S.'s gratitude for the commitment and sacrifice of the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan. Canada has been a steadfast and capable partner on the ground in Afghanistan since 2002, and we are grateful for its contributions toward achieving security in that country," the U.S. State Department said in a statement Monday that was issued in response to the Fox broadcast.

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.

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."

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.

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.

-- The Canadian Press, with file from Canwest News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2009 A10

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