Oh say, can you see Bill Maher? - Broadcasting & Cable

Oh say, can you see Bill Maher?

Late night show host, news executives criticized for seeming unpatriotic
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Three weeks after the terrorist strike in New York and Washington evidence was mounting that the war on terrorism has spawned a separate battle stateside between those demanding to say their piece, no matter how unpopular, and those rebuking them. Indeed, after last week, maybe PC now stands for patriotically correct.

There were debates in TV newsrooms across the country as to how appropriate it was for on-air people to display signs of patriotism. One public station—KOMU-TV Columbia, Mo., received threats from Republican legislators that funds would be withdrawn after its decision keeping ribbons, pins and flags off the on-air staff.

And there was further fallout for ABC's popular late night show Politically Incorrect
whose host Bill Maher made a comment after the attack that some said implied the U.S. military was cowardly compared to the terrorists. (See page 20)

General Motors, the show's biggest advertiser confirmed its displeasure. "We took our ads off," said GM spokeswoman Peg Holmes. "With the current situation it really didn't mesh with our corporate beliefs so we pulled our ads," indefinitely.

According to Competitive Media Reporting, the New York ad tracker, GM was the show's biggest advertiser in 2000, spending $6.3 million out of a total $46.6 million for the year. Two weeks ago, Sears and FedEx confirmed pulling ads off the show, and Friday, drug maker Schering-Plough, the show's third biggest advertiser, pulled out too.

Maher and his show also took heat from affiliates and the White House last week. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Maher's comments were "a terrible thing to say. ... .This is not a time for remarks like that, there never is."

ABC confirmed that 17 affiliates had yanked the show off the air, including Allbritton-owned WJLA-TV Washington. By Friday, Sept. 21, Nielsen figures showed the program's U.S. coverage had dropped to 91% from 98% earlier in the week.

There were reports that Disney was considering canceling the show. ABC did not return several calls.

One story also had the White House expresssing dismay that NBC aired an interview with former President Bill Clinton. The story, by Salon.com, the online magazine, reported that White House communications staffers were angry that NBC put a "spotlight" on Clinton and that that was not helpful to President Bush's efforts to rally the nation against terrorism. However, both NBC and the White House strongly denied any contact. Nevertheless, Salon stood by its story.

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