LOS ANGELES -- FedEx Corp. and Sears, Roebuck and Co. pulled out as sponsor of "Politically Incorrect" on Walt Disney Co.'s ABC after host Bill Maher called past U.S. military actions "cowardly."
He said Wednesday his comments were aimed at political leaders, not soldiers, and he defended his right to offer criticism in difficult times.
"I should have been more specific," Mr. Maher added. "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 said during a phone interview.
FedEx (FDX) reviewed the show's Monday edition after receiving complaints, spokeswoman Carla Richards said. The company's 30-second spot, which aired during the show, has been pulled indefinitely.
Sears (S) also said Wednesday it canceled its advertising on the show after customer complaints.
"Customers voiced a concern for bashing our leaders, our military and the country," said spokeswoman Lee Antonio. "Sears is very entrenched in the communities where we do business ... and very sensitive to where we place our advertising." She added that Sears recognizes that freedom of speech is critical to America and that "Bill and his guests can say whatever they want to."
On the show's first broadcast since last week's terrorist attacks, guest Dinesh D'Souza took exception to descriptions of the terrorist hijackers as 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," said Mr. D'Souza, an author.
Mr. Maher concurred, saying, "We 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."
During the 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.
Mr. Maher said Wednesday that some of his critics were willfully misrepresenting his remarks. "I understand people have a lot of anger and hate," he noted. "They should direct it toward the terrorists and not me. It's amazing that I should have to point out I find [the attacks] despicably evil."
ABC issued a statement supporting Mr. Maher, saying, "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."
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