WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The company that syndicates Rush Limbaugh's radio program defended the talk-show host Wednesday over his controversial "phony soldiers" remark, saying it's "unfair" to assume the comment was directed at combat troops opposing the Iraq war.
Rush Limbaugh has called criticism of his "phony soldiers" comment part of a "smear."
Mark Mays, CEO of Clear Channel Communications Inc., wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, saying, "Over the years Mr. Limbaugh has repeatedly praised the dedication and valor of our brave men and women in uniform.
"Given Mr. Limbaugh's history of support for our soldiers, it would be unfair for me to assume his statements were intended to personally indict combat soldiers simply because they didn't share his own beliefs regarding the war in Iraq."
Mays was responding to a letter Reid sent Tuesday calling on Clear Channel to repudiate Limbaugh's comment. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, leading candidates for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, were among the 41 Democratic senators who signed the letter. Watch CNN's Jack Cafferty ask if Congress is losing focus »
Limbaugh's remark came on a September 26 program as he and a caller were discussing critics of the Iraq war.
"What's really funny is, they [Iraq war critics] never talk to real soldiers," the caller said. "They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media."
Limbaugh responded, "The phony soldiers."
Liberal media watchdog group MediaMatters.org and several Democrats quickly condemned the remark. In a speech on the Senate floor Monday, Reid called the comment "so beyond the pale of decency that it cannot be left alone."
Responding to his critics on Friday's show, Limbaugh said he was "taken out of context," adding he was referring to one soldier specifically -- Jesse MacBeth, a war critic who falsely claimed to be an Iraq veteran.
"The effort here is simply to discredit people that they consider effective and powerful on the right ginning up, leading up into the '08 elections," the conservative talk-show host said.
Also this week, the anti-war veterans group VoteVets.org launched a TV ad attacking Limbaugh. The ad features Purple Heart recipient Brian McGough, who suffered a brain injury in the Iraq war.
"Rush, the shrapnel I took to my head was real," McGough says in the ad. "My traumatic brain injury was real. And my belief that we are on the wrong course in Iraq is real. Until you have the guts to call me a 'phony soldier' to my face, stop telling lies about my service."
The controversy over Limbaugh's statement comes after the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org accused the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, in a full-page ad last month in the New York Times of "cooking the books for the White House" before his testimony to Congress.
Last week, the House of Representatives voted 341-79 to condemn the group's newspaper ad that was titled titled "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" The Senate also approved a resolution condemning the ad 72-25.
MoveOn.org said it stands by the ad. E-mail to a friend