Talk about shooting the messenger.
Last week, ABC's Jeffrey Kofman, formerly of CBC's The National, took a direct hit — from the White House it seems, via the scurrilous Drudge Report.
That's because Kofman, a Toronto native now based in Miami, gave voice to American troops stationed in Iraq who spoke out against the war — or rather the "peace" — while calling for U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation.
Ostensibly incensed over Kofman's World News Tonight report Tuesday, which was repeated on Wednesday's Good Morning America, the White House had a dirty trickster tip gossip monger Matt Drudge to how the reporter was (Up against the wall!) "openly gay" and (No blindfold! No last cigarette!) Canadian.
And so, on Wednesday, for eight minutes, Drudge's headline screamed "ABC News Reporter Who Filed Troops Complaint Story — Openly Gay Canadian," before being edited to read "ABC News Reporter Who Filed Troops Complaint Story Is Canadian."
But neither headline linked to Kofman's online story, describing how the boys (and, presumably, the girly-men) of the U.S. army's 3rd Infantry want to go home, how they feel "Kicked in the gut" by the repeated extensions of their tours of duty, how they couldn't care less about the Iraqi people.
Kofman related how several pointed accusatory fingers at President George W. Bush, Rumsfeld and members of their posse, saying their faces also belong in the Pentagon's infamous deck of cards featuring the Iraqi most wanted.
"If Donald Rumsfeld was here, I'd ask him for his resignation," volunteered Spc. Clinton Deitz, in the online story and on the TV report.
But does Drudge get into any of that?
Or why it is the 148,000 troops in Iraq — who have seen 85 of their number killed and who knows how many wounded since a Top Gun-outfitted Bush declared the war over on May 1 — would feel so aggrieved?
Nope. Click on his links and you'll land on a 2001 story from The Advocate, the venerable gay and lesbian newsmagazine, which profiles Kofman, mentioning his Canadian roots, his insistence on being "openly gay," his part in establishing a gay and lesbian journalists association in Toronto and his thoughts on being "a role model."
Of course! So how can Kofman be trusted? He's a traitor, not one of us, and a sissy boy, too. A Canadian, from the land which ran away when the real men went to play in Iraq — and where homosexuals can get hitched.
"Now my `secret' is out," Kofman joked yesterday, after logging another 18-hour day in Baghdad.
According to yesterday's Washington Post, Drudge blamed his sliming of Kofman on brand new White House spokesperson Scott McClellan, who inherited his flack jacket from Ari Fleischer just last week.
"The White House press office is under new management and has become slightly more aggressive about contacting reporters," Drudge told the Post, which reported that the White House denied having anything to do with the leak.
"This story," added Drudge, "has certainly become talk radio fodder about the cultural wars-slash-liberal bias in the media."
Well maybe. But it doesn't explain Drudge's picking on Kofman, since other reporters, probably all Red-White-and-True-Blue Americans, have covered the same dusty ground, well before he did.
Imagine the fallout if ABC's Canadian-born anchor Peter Jennings hadn't let it be known this month that he had recently pledged his allegiance to the Stars and Stripes. And, while I'm digressing, Drudge has some nerve, since he's a gay man himself.)
"For some reason, my report seems to have had an impact,"' Kofman told me.
Perhaps this speaks to the power of television.
Seeing those boys, in their full misery, on newscasts that reach millions and millions, has an effect that no amount of printed words can match.
This could explain why, only on Wednesday, did a reporter question new CentCom commander Gen. John Abizaid about the morale problems raised by Kofman.
"None of us that wear this uniform are free to say anything disparaging about the secretary of defence or the president of the United States," Abizaid non-answered. "We're not free to do that. It's our professional code. Whatever action may be taken, whether it's a verbal reprimand or something more stringent, is up to the commanders on the scene, and it's not for me to comment."
What will happen to the soldiers — whether they get a slap on the wrist or a court-martial — is a matter of debate.
But isn't it ironic that, for a country that purports to be about freedom, the kids serving in the name of that freedom don't have the freedom to express themselves?
As for Kofman, "I'm covering a very big story here.
"It's not hard to keep focused on what the real story is and what my work is meant to be."
Copyright 1996-2003. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited