The co-host of Channel Ten program The Circle has publicly apologised for making a sexist and disrespectful comment about Victoria Cross winner Ben Roberts-Smith, saying she had never met the Australian war hero and ‘‘felt sick’’ at the angry backlash she had received after branding him brainless.
Yumi Stynes admitted she did not know much about Corporal Roberts-Smith when she commented on a photograph of the shirtless war hero in a swimming pool yesterday, saying: ‘‘He’s going to dive down to the bottom of the pool to see if his brain is there’’.
Stynes’ guest co-host and veteran journalist George Negus had then quipped: "I’m sure he’s a really good guy, nothing about poor old Ben. But that sort of bloke, and what if they’re not up to it in the sack?"
Another host questioned whether Negus was suggesting "that he could be a dud root?", to laughter from the audience.
But their flippant treatment of Corporal Roberts-Smith - who single-handedly stormed an enemy machine gun position in Afghanistan in 2010 - angered relatives of decorated war veterans as well as viewers, who flooded the television show’s Facebook page with furious comments.
The show’s treatment of Corporal Roberts-Smith also came under fire after the soldier revealed in a candid interview on Channel Seven’s Sunday Night that he and his wife had conceived their twin daughters through IVF treatment.
Stynes said on air today that she did not know much about Corporal Roberts-Smith or the Australian Defence Force, and merely saw a ‘‘very handsome guy’’.
‘‘So I made a joke, because how could anybody possibly be so perfect?,’’ Stymes said.
‘‘What I didn’t estimate was how much my joke was not appreciated. I sort of intimated that maybe he wasn’t very smart, because how could you be that buff and spend that much time in a gym and be smart as well? And people have been a bit angry and I’ve been getting a lot of angry messages.
‘‘And I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to offend anybody and I have total respect for people that work in the the defence forces, and I’ve never met Ben but I’m sure he’s lovely and he does seem like a big family man.’’
The former Channel [V] host said she felt sick after the backlash, and that ‘‘I think most people know that I’m good hearted’’.
The Circle’s Facebook page was flooded with angry comments, while a relative of another decorated war veteran contacted The Age to call for the Stynes and Negus to be sacked.
‘‘Their comments are disgusting, bird-brained, and an insult to the ADF,’’ said Frances Butcher.
‘‘As the great niece of Captain George Milne, awarded a Military Cross for his bravery in France in 1918, I advocate that all involved in the shameless performance be made to give a proper apology - as well as being dismissed.’’
One viewer on The Circle’s Facebook page wrote: "Shame shame shame you idiots its disgusting.
‘‘My neighbor is a ww2 vetran at kokoda you have tarnished the whole aussie defence force , IDIOTS."
Another said he could not "believe they would speak so trashy about a guy who would do anything for our country".
One viewer complained: "An Australian who has been honoured as a V.C. recipient deserves all the accolades we can lavish on him - He’s the epitome of a great Aussie bloke! What a disgusting comment by this bird brain ’Yumi’ Who is she?? and even more surprising and disappointing is the derogatory comment from George Negus - A journalist I’ve had great respect for in the past."
Some called for Yumi to be sacked from the show, however others claimed that the comments were light-hearted and people had overreacted.
"Where’s your Australian sense of humor! I guarantee he [Corporal Roberts-Smith] wasn’t even offended! (unless of course what she said is actually true!)," wrote one woman.
In response to the backlash, The Circle posted an apology on its Facebook page late yesterday to anyone who had been offended.
"Gotta love live T.V.!," the apology read.
"What started out as an innocent admiration of one of Australia’s heroes today unfortunately ended up changing direction.
"I hope you all know us well enough by now to know that we would never set out to upset anyone.
"Your feedback is very important to us and we appreciate your input on a daily basis.
"So sorry if we offended any of you today."
Corporal Roberts-Smith was awarded the VC for extraordinary heroism in bitter fighting as members of the Special Operations Task Group assaulted a Taliban stronghold in Kandahar Province on June 11, 2010.
At great risk to himself, Corporal Roberts-Smith drew fire away from his fellow Diggers by making himself an easy shot before single-handedly silencing two Taliban machinegun posts.
That enabled his unit to go on and clear a village of Taliban.