Terrible Apologies

A Tumblr of Poorly-Crafted Apologies
Posts tagged "media"

Cross-posted at my blog:

Serena Williams on Wednesday offered a slightly new twist on the classic non-apology apology after she was quoted by Rolling Stone delivering shockingly insensitive remarks about the Steubenville rape case, in which a 16-year-old girl was raped by two high school football players. Here’s her full statement from today (emphasis added):

“What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved – that of the rape victim and of the accused. I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written – what I supposedly said – is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.

“I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields – anything I could do to support women I have done. My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen year old child.”

And here’s the original quote as published by Rolling Stone in its profile of Williams. You’ll see why it didn’t take a leap for many to read the remarks as a version of the “she was asking for it” defense. (To say nothing of the fact that Williams decided to discuss the teen’s virginity.):

“Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you—don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.”

It’s best not to say something terrible in the first place. But when you do, it’s best to apologize for saying that terrible thing, rather than apologizing that it was printed in a magazine and then implying that you might not actually have said the terrible thing in the first place. Better still, just instruct your publicist to draft a compelling apology … unless this is what the publicist thought was a compelling apology, in which case fire your publicist.

HT: Ian McDonald.

“Our cover illustration last week got strong reactions, which we regret,” Josh Tyrangiel, the magazine’s editor, wrote in a statement sent to POLITICO. “Our intention was not to incite or offend. If we had to do it over again we’d do it differently.” 

This one’s a particularly terrible apology.

First of all, there’s no apology; there’s simply a statement of regret. But the editor seems to suggest his regret is that the cover illustration “got strong reactions” rather than that the cover was overtly racist. And since he claims that the “intention was not to incite or offend,” he further implies that the strong reactions might have simply been the result of a misunderstanding, rather than the natural result of his decision to publish an offensive cover illustration.

Awful magazine cover, awful apology. Just awful.

HT: Drew Taub.

(Cross posted with my blog)

And that, friends, is an example of a good apology.

It contains three simple things: An understanding of the offense, no excuses offered, and a promise to do better in the future.

On occasion I have failed to provide appropriate verbal attributions on my radio broadcast, Richard Land Live!, and for that I sincerely apologize.

That’s Richard Land, the Southern Baptist Convention’s top public policy ethicist.

Here’s the reason for the apology:

The plagiarism came to light when Baptist blogger and Baylor University Ph.D. student Aaron Weaver posted a partial transcript from one of Land’s shows on his blog, TheBigDaddyWeave.com. The unattributed remarks were made on Land’s March 31 show about media, race and Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black Florida teenager who was shot and killed by a neighborhood security guard.

Weaver discovered that more than half the material for Land’s short segment was quoted nearly verbatim from Jeffrey Kuhner’s March 29 Washington Times Op-Ed, “Obama foments racial division.”

After that discovery, Weaver listened to the third hour of the same program and discovered that Land again used unattributed material, this time from an article in “Investor’s Business Daily.” He discovered a third example in Land’s Feb. 4 show in which Land quoted from a Washington Examiner editorial.

Here’s some context for the remarks, as well as some info on what you’re missing if you don’t regularly tune in to Land’s show:

In his radio show, Land described activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as “racial ambulance chasers” who, along with fringe groups like the Black Panthers, are fomenting a “mob mentality” in the Trayvon Martin case that is akin to what the Ku Klux Klan used to do to blacks in the South.

More here (HT: Laura Seay).

So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox, if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act.

Classic Limbaugh, from 2006, as reported by the Washington Post:

To Rush Limbaugh on Monday, Michael J. Fox looked like a faker. The actor, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, has done a series of political ads supporting candidates who favor stem cell research, including Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, who is running against Republican Michael Steele for the Senate seat being vacated by Paul Sarbanes.

"He is exaggerating the effects of the disease," Limbaugh told listeners. "He’s moving all around and shaking and it’s purely an act… . This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn’t take his medication or he’s acting."

As John Gruber points out, Limbaugh clearly didn’t mean to apologize, as he did an almost-immediate about-face: “I stand by what I said. I take back none of what I said. I wouldn’t rephrase it any differently. It is what I believe; it is what I think. It is what I have found to be true.”

More at the Washington Post and at ThinkProgress.

HT: Michael Tofias.

Geraldo Rivera apologizes again … this time, to Trayvon Martin’s parents.

This apology is certainly better than the last one — which wasn’t an apology at all — but it’s still a contingent apology; he’s still apologizing if he hurt anyone’s feelings or added to anyone’s misery, two things he clearly must know at this point that he did.

He’s still not apologizing for what he said about the hoodie being as sure a cause of Martin’s death as George Zimmerman, who actually shot him.

HT: PoliticalProf.

In response to his ouster from Current TV, Olbermann released the following statement:

I’d like to apologize to my viewers and my staff for the failure of Current TV.

Editorially, Countdown had never been better. But for more than a year I have been imploring Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to resolve our issues internally, while I’ve been not publicizing my complaints, and keeping the show alive for the sake of its loyal viewers and even more loyal staff. Nevertheless, Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt, instead of abiding by their promises and obligations and investing in a quality news program, finally thought it was more economical to try to get out of my contract.

It goes almost without saying that the claims against me implied in Current’s statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently. To understand Mr. Hyatt’s “values of respect, openness, collegiality and loyalty,” I encourage you to read of a previous occasion Mr. Hyatt found himself in court for having unjustly fired an employee. That employee’s name was Clarence B. Cain

In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt will come out. For now, it is important only to again acknowledge that joining them was a sincere and well-intentioned gesture on my part, but in retrospect a foolish one. That lack of judgment is mine and mine alone, and I apologize again for it.”

— @KeithOlbermann

In other words, this whole project would have worked out really, really well … if some other people hadn’t been unethical jerks. But, since they clearly are, sorry that things didn’t work.

(via Kateoplis)

(via brooklynmutt)

Both the Terrible Apologies blog and Ari Kohen — one of the blog’s founders — make an appearance in the Christian Science Monitor’s piece on public apology:

Public apologies are so common these days that multiple websites have sprung up just to keep track of who is asking forgiveness of whom. Effectiveapologies.com, for instance, has a running “apology of the week,” and the just-launched terribleapologies.tumblr.com ranks the worst of them.

Here’s what Kohen has to say on the topic in the piece:

The 24/7 media culture is partly responsible for the explosion of apologies, says Ari Kohen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

A hyper-connected online culture means more and more opportunities to say or do something offensive, he notes. This also means that “more and more people are watching, listening, and most importantly ‘sharing’ the offensive thing that someone has said or done,” he says via e-mail, adding, “so we’re seeing the offensive statement or action more than perhaps we would have, which yields more calls for apology, which in turn yields more and more terrible apologies.”

Professor Kohen and a student launched the terribleapologies blog two days ago in response to Rivera’s apology quagmire, with the intent of studying just how bad an apology can be, he says.

“It’s tempting to think that these bad apologies don’t matter for the people who make them,” he says, citing both Rivera and conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh, who issued what many dubbed a non-apology after calling a Georgetown University law student a “slut” and a “prostitute.” 

“That must be what Rush Limbaugh and Geraldo Rivera are hoping – but I think that the public won’t be so fast to forget. Indeed, with social networking, my sense is that a bad public apology can hang around for a really long time and can have fairly serious adverse effects (like the campaign targeting Limbaugh’s sponsors, for example). Indeed, there’s more interest in bad apologies right now than I might have thought,” he says.

Read the whole piece, which also features very interesting comments on apology and forgiveness from Aaron Lazare — whose excellent book, On Apology, Kohen teaches in his class on public apology and reconciliation — and from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

"I apologize to anyone offended by what one prominent black conservative called my ‘very practical and potentially life-saving campaign urging black and Hispanic parents not to let their children go around wearing hoodies,’" Rivera wrote in an email to Politico.

(via The Atlantic Wire, March 27, 2012)

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

More commentary here, from March 3, 2012.