Allow Bill Maher to rephrase: It's the politicians who are cowards, not the American military.

That sums up an apology Wednesday by Maher, the normally unrepentant, sporadically funny and always outspoken host of ABC's Politically Incorrect, who angered some viewers and advertisers Monday by condemning past U.S. military actions as "cowardly."

Both Federal Express and Sears, Roebuck and Company have pulled their ads from the late-night political forum after Maher condemned recent U.S. missile attacks, during his first episode since last week's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

"We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away," he said. "That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."

On Tuesday night, ABC and Maher defended the show as one that "celebrates freedom of speech." But by Wednesday, after both FedEx and Sears pulled their ads, Maher apologized and sought to clarify.

"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 a statement. "My criticism was meant for politicians who, fearing public reaction, have not allowed our military to do the job they are obviously ready, willing and able to do and who now will, I'm certain, as they always have, get it done."

As its title already warns, Politically Incorrect isn't usually brimming with touchy-feely conversation, nor is it even careful about who it offends. But following last week's tragedy, the country remains on edge. The show itself left one of its guest chairs empty this week in honor of frequent guest Barbara Olson, the conservative commentator who was on the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

Maher said Tuesday that he had received positive feedback about his comments. But both FedEx and Sears said they decided to cancel its advertising after receiving complaints from their customers.

The host's comments stemmed from a discussion sparked by author Dinesh D'Souza, who countered President George W. Bush's comments that the hijackers were "cowards." (A full transcript of Monday's show is available on ABC's Website.)

"Although I think Bush has been doing a great job, one of the themes we hear constantly is that the people who did this are cowards," D'Souza told Maher. "Not true. Look at what they did. First of all, you have a whole bunch of guys who are willing to give their life. None of 'em backed out. All of them slammed themselves into pieces of concrete.

"These are warriors," he added. "And we have to realize that the principles of our way of life are in conflict with people in the world."

At the time, Maher concurred, then turning the "coward" label on previous U.S. actions. But on Wednesday, he told the Associated Press that "I should have been more specific."

"It's our government, it's our politicians, who have been cowardly in not letting the military do their job," he said.

Maher then blamed his critics for taking out their frustration on the show. "I understand people have a lot of anger and hate," he said. "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."

This, of course, isn't the first time the P.I. ringleader has landed in hot water. In 1998, Maher angered the son of Ronald Reagan when he referred to the Alzheimer's-afflicted former president as "nuts."

Maher later insisted he was referring to Reagan during his tenure in office--not his illness.

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