September 20, 2001 -- Politically Incorrect host Bill Maher more than lived up to his show's title this week with remarks that some of the United States' past military actions have been "cowardly."
The frequently sarcastic host made the comment on his ABC show Monday, prompting both Sears and FedEx to pull their ads from the show, citing complaints from angry viewers. A contrite Maher issued an apology yesterday through his publicist, saying that his views "should have been expressed differently."
"In no way was I intending to say, nor have I ever thought, that the men and women who defend our nation in uniform are anything but courageous and valiant, and I offer my apologies to anyone who took it wrong," Maher said in his statement.
The televised comments that sparked the controversy: "We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly."
Maher may have further enraged viewers when he contrasted the action of the U.S. military with the hijackers who died along with their victims when they crashed commercial airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11. "Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly," said the host.
Maher now says his "cowardly" comments were directed not at soldiers, but at "the government, the elected officials, [and] the people who want to put up a giant missile shield, when plainly that's not where the threat is from."
In a statement supporting Maher, ABC said his program is "a show that celebrates freedom of speech and encourages the animated exchange of ideas and opinions. While we remain sensitive to the current climate following last week's tragedy … there needs to remain a forum for the expression of our nation's diverse opinions."
A spokeswoman for Sears, the nation's fourth-largest retailer, said the company stood by its position.
"Bill and his guests have every right to voice their freedom of speech, and we applaud that," Sears spokeswoman Lee Antonio told Reuters. "However, we have the right to air our broadcast advertising where we feel it's appropriate to reach out to our customers."
Maher's publicist, Cece York, said Maher would address the issue again on his show Wednesday night. "Nerves are really raw right now, and Bill is sensitive to that," she said. "It's a very sensitive time for everyone right now." Mr. Showbiz and ABC are both owned by the Walt Disney Co. Reuters contributed to this story.