Maher sorry for politically incorrect comment

Bill Maher

, the irreverent host of late-night talk show "Politically Incorrect," apologized on Wednesday for saying some

U.S. military

actions were "cowardly," a remark many said was not only politically incorrect but offensive.

His televised comments Monday night prompted retailer

Sears, Roebuck and Co.

and delivery giant

FedEx Corp.

to cancel their advertising on the program, citing complaints they had received from angry viewers. The show is broadcast on


, a unit of

Walt Disney Co.

In a statement issued through his publicist, Maher said 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.

According to a transcript on


, Maher made the reference while discussing past U.S. military campaigns.

"We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away," he said. "That’s cowardly."

Maher contrasted the U.S. military actions to those taken by attackers who flew hijacked commercial airliners into the World Trade Center and the


last week.

President Bush

has called the attacks "cowardly acts."

"Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly," Maher said.

In his statement Wednesday, Maher said his criticism of U.S. military actions "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." 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 Hoffman Estates-based 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 said. "However, we have the right to air our broadcast advertising where we feel it’s appropriate to reach out to our customers."