Apologies sure ain’t what they used to be

042707gibson.jpgSomebody really needs to apologize for the sorry state of apologies in this country.

Arguably, we’ve never had a more apologetic period, yet acts of public contrition now seem to be just that — mere acts, with polished insincerity emanating from celebrities, politicians, sports figures and other famously infamous folks, seeking absolution for any number of transgressions.

The latest twist? The mea culpas often are punctuated by suggested stints in rehab because (fill in the addiction/illness/mental lapse here) caused your Mel Gibsons, Isaiah Washingtons, Mark Foleys and Michael Richardses to say or do the horrible things they said or did.

Of course, shock jock Don Imus, the latest celebrity apologist, didn’t play the I’m-going-to-therapy card when apologizing for his racist remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. But his halfhearted effort didn’t save his job at CBS Radio, either.

Others often ride the contrition train back to respectability. As Paul Slansky and Arleen Sorkin point out in their new book, “My Bad: 25 Years of Public Apologies” (Bloomsbury, $15.95, 248 pages), “the public apology has come to provide forgiveness for its author without the discomfort of disgrace. It’s like going bankrupt and getting to keep the credit cards.”

Which could be why half the apologies we hear these days are conditional statements devoid of responsibility. To wit, the ever-popular: “If I offended anyone …”

But even that’s better than another troubling trend, the blatant non-apology.

Take the case of Rock Hill, S.C., Councilman Curwood Chappel, who earlier this month opened a public meeting by “apologizing” to other council members for an expletive-laced tirade the week before. Actually, he started out with one type of apology and ended with another:

“I apologize to whoever it may have offended,” Chappell said. “But I’m not immune to doing it again.”

Gee, straight from the heart.

But as the creators of the Web site www.perfectapology.com say, “Most public apologies almost never completely succeed, for a simple reason: You can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

You can, though, offend most of the people most of the time. And when you do, here’s a guide of what not to say, featuring some people who have already said the worst, the silliest or just the most confusing things in the name of making amends.

My mistake

  • “I acknowledge that mistakes were made here.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys
  • “He’s right, mistakes were made, and I’m frankly not happy about it.” President Bush, after Gonzales’ remarks
  • “Obviously, some mistakes were made.” John Sununu, President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff, in 1991 after his use of military aircraft for ski trips came to light
  • “Mistakes were made here by people who either did it deliberately or inadvertently.” President Bill Clinton, after the 1993 withdrawal of Zoe Baird’s nomination as attorney general

If I offended…

  • If I said anything that might have been insensitive or sexist in any way, then I apologize, because she worked extremely hard to get where she is now, end of quote.” Boston Celtics broadcaster Cedric Maxwell in February, after saying that NBA referee Violet Palmer should “get back in the kitchen
  • If my comments brought pain to anyone, I certainly did not intend for this to happen and apologize for any such reaction.” Radio host Michael Savage after saying on the air to a caller in 2003, “You should only get AIDS and die, you pig
  • “I am really sorry if I offended anyone. That was truly not my intention.” Janet Jackson in 2004, after her “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl halftime show

Old-fashioned groveling

  • “This is possibly the most shameful situation I’ve ever gotten myself in my life, and I’ve done some pretty dumb things in my life. So to actually make a new No. 1 is spectacularly stupid.” Russell Crowe in 2005, after throwing a cell phone at a New York hotel employee
  • “I was a real jerk. I was greedy and stupid. I want to apologize to anyone who ever did business with me.” Michael C. Barton, a Virginia travel agent, after being convicted in 1995 of defrauding customers of nearly $1 million

Not from the heart

  • “My analysis was wrong. … What do you want me to do? Go over and kiss the camera?” Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly in 2004, after previously saying he would apologize to the nation if no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq
  • “I’m not as bad as everyone has made me out to be. It’s as if I’m another O.J. Simpson. Yes, I was wrong, but I didn’t kill anybody.” Then-basketball player Latrell Sprewell in 1998, after trying to strangle his coach

Non-apology apologies

  • I said things that ended up hurting Oprah Winfrey’s feelings, and far too late, it was pointed out to me that this was happening.” Novelist Jonathan Franzen in 2001, after he criticized Oprah’s Book Club as declasse after the talk-show host selected his novel “The Corrections
  • It was an unfortunate remark that, once it’s in print, it looks a lot worse than it actually is.” Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey in 1996, after saying that President Clinton is “an unusually good liar

Apology with rehab

  • “I can … no longer deny to myself that there are issues I obviously need to examine within my own soul, and I have asked for help. I have begun counseling.” “Grey’s Anatomy” star Isaiah Washington in January, after uttering a gay slur and before he checked into a center for psychological counseling
  • “There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it my whole adult life.” Evangelist Ted Haggard in November, after admitting to paying a male prostitute for sex and drugs, and before going into spiritual rehab
  • “I have begun an ongoing program of recovery. … I am in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from during that drunken display, and I am asking the Jewish community … to help me on my journey through recovery.” Mel Gibson in August, after his anti-Semitic remarks and before checking into alcohol rehab

–SAM McMANIS
Sacramento Bee

2 Responses to "Apologies sure ain’t what they used to be"

  1. geyser  April 28, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    The non-Apologies are just that. They HAVE to say something for one reason or another but, in reality, they don’t mean a Word of it.
    “If I offended anyone” what kind of apology is that? Of Course you Offended someone, that’s why your’re supposed to apologize. It is really stupid to say that if the offense was directed at one person.
    The apology should be made face to face to the person or persons offended. Then you can go on National Television and do all the Blubbering you want.
    The majority of people do not like to admit they were wrong. It is more embarressing to them to apologize then the offense made.
    I believe it starts in the home, at young ages. The child is taught to apologize and then everything is okay. There is no meaning attached. If the child accidently breaks a Window or Hits another child with a Bat on purpose, saying “I’m Sorry” is all they are made to do. No punishment is attached, to either. As they get older, they’re never taught what should really be done. They become heartless and the victim starts to hate, knowing it wasn’t meaningful.
    If you’re going to non-Apologize, don’t even bother. Unless you are truly sorry, then make sure your words mean something.

    Taking One Day at a Time

  2. Bill Jonke  April 29, 2007 at 11:50 am

    But that’s what punishment is all about. It isn’t supposed to be a way of torture, as most “new age” parentwimps are wont to believe, but it’s a method of making kids realize the impact of what they did and maybe think about not doing it again.

    In the public sector these days though, it seems that all the administration transgressors were brought up by parentwimps, or they’re parentwimps themselves, practicing what they preach.

    Public figures don’t care anymore about what they say, and they’ll most likely do the same thing again, over and over.

    Useless…

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