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'Politically Incorrect' comments cost show 2 sponsors

By staff,
The Associated Press


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'Politically Incorrect' host Bill Maher gestures during taping of controversial show on Sept. 17 in Los Angeles. Producers kept one guest chair empty, seen at right, in honor of conservative commentator Barbara Olson, who died in a Sept. 11 terrorist attack. She was originally scheduled to be a guest on the program last week. Guests included columnist Arianna Huffington, back left, author/conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza, right, and Alan Meenan, head pastor at Hollywood's First Presbyterian Church, front left.

LOS ANGELES — Two major advertisers have pulled their sponsorship of "Politically Incorrect" after host Bill Maher called past U.S. military actions "cowardly" in his first late-night TV appearance after the terrorist attacks.

In a phone interview yesterday with the Associated Press, Maher said his comments on the Sept. 17 show had been aimed at political leaders, not soldiers. He also defended his right to offer criticism in difficult times.

"I should have been more specific," Maher said. "I never meant to imply nor have I ever thought that our actual servicemen are cowardly. ... It's our government, it's our politicians, who have been cowardly in not letting the military do their job."

"If we don't face our problems realistically, we won't overcome them," he added.

But in another statement yesterday, this one reported on Broadcasting & Cable magazine's Web site, Maher also apologized for his remarks.

"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," he said.

ABC issued a statement of support for the program, according to the Web site and AP.

"At its core, 'Politically Incorrect' is a show that celebrates freedom of speech and encourages the animated exchange of ideas and opinions," ABC said. "While we remain sensitive to the current climate following last week's tragedy, and continue to do our part to help viewers cope with unfolding events, there needs to remain a forum for the expression of our nation's diverse opinions."

FedEx reviewed the show after receiving complaints the next day, spokeswoman Carla Richards said. The company's 30-second spot for its delivery service, which aired during the show, has been pulled indefinitely.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. also said yesterday that it canceled its advertising on the show after customer complaints prompted it to review the program.

"Customers voiced a concern for bashing our leaders, our military and the country," said Sears spokeswoman Lee Antonio. "Sears is very entrenched in the communities where we do business ... and very sensitive to where we place our advertising."

However, Antonio added, Sears recognizes that freedom of speech is critical to America and that "Bill and his guests can say whatever they want to."

During the show, panelist Dinesh D'Souza, an author, disagreed with President George W. Bush's reference to the suicide hijackers being "cowards."

"These are warriors, and we have to realize that the principles of our way of life are in conflict with people in the world," D'Souza said.

Maher responded by saying, "We (the U.S.) have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."

In Houston, KSEV talk show host Dan Patrick said he was "appalled" by the comments and told listeners to urge their ABC station to drop the show, the Houston Chronicle reported yesterday.

"When you call our men in the (armed forces) cowards and our military policy cowardly, and when you call these hijackers 'warriors,' that should not be tolerated," said Patrick, who is also the station's general manager, according to AP.

During the "Politically Incorrect" show, a chair was left empty in honor of frequent guest Barbara Olson, a commentator who was aboard the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

Last night, Maher opened the show with a response to viewer concerns, according to the Broadcasting & Cable report. "I was as devastated as anyone was (by the terrorist attacks) and I feel it, but I also feel a responsibility for this show to be what it has always been — a place where people can come and express their ideas openly in a way they can't in many other places," he said.

In the AP interview, Maher took issue with his critics, who he said were willfully misrepresenting his remarks. "I understand people have a lot of anger and hate. They should direct it toward the terrorists and not me," he said.


Politically correct speech
By Ken Paulson This is clearly the wrong time to say the wrong thing.  10.07.01