... And his right to put his foot in his mouth

Mustering up some levity, a key politico on Thursday publicly exonerated “Politically Incorrect” host Bill Maher for comments that the irreverent latenight gabber made earlier in the week about the country’s military.

Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.), chair of the powerful House Commerce Committee, said his office has reviewed show transcripts and that “Bill’s safe.” Tauzin’s panel oversees the broadcast biz.

Maher rankled some among the viewing public — as well as top advertisers — when stating during Monday’s show that it’s “cowardly” for the U.S. military to lob “cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away.” Continuing, he said there was nothing cowardly about “staying in the airplane when it hits the building” — a reference to hijackers in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“While we don’t agree with what he said originally, we will continue to defend his First Amendment right to stick his foot in his mouth,” top Tauzin aide Ken Johnson said. “We don’t intend to launch any cruise missiles at him from 2,000 miles away.”

On Wednesday, Maher apologized in a statement, saying he didn’t mean to suggest that anyone in uniform is “anything but courageous and valiant.” He had tried to explain himself on Tuesday night’s show, but that didn’t stop Federal Express and Sears, Roebuck and Co. from pulling their ads from “Politically Incorrect” on Wednesday.

Tauzin’s office said now is the time for everyone to be a bit forgiving.

“Seriously, though, it’s an emotional time, and all of us to some extent are struggling to express ourselves. Chairman Tauzin has been on ‘Politically Incorrect’ and he certainly accepts Bill’s explanation,” Johnson said.

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