A Canadian-born journalist for ABC News is the target of a smear campaign after he broadcast a report about the plummeting morale among U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq.
Internet gossip Matt Drudge told The Washington Post yesterday that he had received a phone call from the White House communications department tipping him to the fact that reporter Jeffrey Kofman is not only gay, but also Canadian. The White House denied making the call.
Under the winking headline "ABC News reporter who filed troop complaint story is Canadian," the Drudge Report Web site provided a link to a profile of Mr. Kofman in The Advocate, a gay-issues magazine.
Mr. Kofman, who is openly gay, filed a report on ABC World News Tonight on Tuesday noting that morale among U.S. troops stationed in Iraq is plunging.
His report from Fallujah included comments from soldiers in the Second Brigade, Third Infantry Division, who are upset about the White House's decision to delay their return to the United States, the third time their return home has been postponed.
One soldier said the changes "pretty much makes me lose faith in the army. I mean, I don't really believe anything they tell me."
Another said, "If Donald Rumsfeld was here, I'd ask him for his resignation," referring to the U.S. Secretary of Defence.
After the report aired, the military said the soldiers who had spoken out would be disciplined.
"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," General John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, told ABC News.
Reports suggested the six men Mr. Kofman interviewed might face the end of their military careers because of their comments.
The news broadcast and the revelations on the Drudge Report also became fodder for right-wing pundits, who slammed Mr. Kofman as disloyal and untrustworthy because of his sexual orientation and citizenship.
"When you take a job in the United States in the public eye, that goes with the territory," Mr. Kofman said. "I tried to hide the Canadian-ness. I guess the old O-U-T word caught up with me," he joked yesterday from the ABC News bureau in Baghdad, referring to the tell-tale pronunciation of words such as "about" that often give away Canadians in the United States, not the fact that he is out as a gay man.
"My darkest secret has been revealed," he said, chuckling.
Mr. Kofman said he was willing to believe the White House's denial of involvement in the incident. "I'm going to take the White House at face value and accept the comments that they made, which is that this is the first that they've heard of it and if it did happen then it was totally inappropriate."
He added that he doesn't worry about being suspected as disloyal because he's Canadian. "I think people look at all the Canadians at the three networks and scratch their heads at times and say, 'What is it about you Canadians?' " he said. "I think what it is, is that the CBC is a terrific news organization, and we all got terrific training, so we had this incredible leg up."
Mr. Kofman worked at the CBC for 11 years before moving to CBS News in 1997 and then ABC. Like other U.S. networks, ABC has employed many Canadian journalists, including Gillian Findlay and its star anchorman, Peter Jennings.
Despite announcing this month that he had taken U.S. citizenship, Mr. Jennings is still criticized in some quarters as disloyal, particularly after the terrorist attacks of September, 2001, made Americans more sensitive to criticism.
"It's not a journalist's responsibility to be patriotic," said Joe Angotti, chairman of the broadcast department at the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago. "Somehow things in this country have gotten all turned around, where we're at the point that if a journalist asks tough questions, he's considered to be unpatriotic or disloyal. It's a dangerous trend."
ABC News stood by Mr. Kofman's report.
"Jeffrey is an excellent reporter and has done great work for us in Baghdad," spokeswoman Cathie Levine said. "It's unfortunate that when people feel wounded by a truthful report they attempt to shoot the messenger."
Mr. Kofman is one of the best-known, openly gay journalists in the United States. His partner of 17 years is the Canadian opera and theatre designer Michael Levine.
When Mr. Kofman was hired by CBS News, he pushed for the network to grant full benefits to the partners of homosexual staff. Though he says he has never felt under attack because of his sexual orientation, some fundamentalist religious advocates have criticized him and his membership in the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.