THERE MUST BE 50 WAYS TO SAY THEY’RE SORRY….
….and we’ve heard just about everyone of them in the past several years.
Media-driven apologies from celebrities, businesses leaders and politicians are so commonplace now they’ve basically become meaningless much like the 43rd repetition of “your call is important to us” when you’ve been sitting on the phone for 20 minutes. Frequency has bred cynicism, mostly because these convincing apologies are so often preceded by equally convincing denials of any wrongdoing. Think of the various sin-atoning tele-evangislists over the years. Or Olympic runner Marion Jones. All very impassioned apologies played back-to-back in the media against very impassioned denials. And because not all apologies are the same, it’s getting harder to even recognize when one is issued. Like the recent U.S. Air Force “Unacceptable mistake” apology for flying live nuclear warheads over our homeland. Is that a real mea culpa or more a faux-culpa? Confusing.
We need a Sorry Guide to the various apology life forms alive in the media. Many of them seem to fall into a set of basic categories. Call them Sorry Buckets. For example:
The House Number Bucket, so named because it’s the default mode, the obvious choice, the safest and the most soul-baring. It sounds something like. “I was wrong. I failed. I let (fill in the blanks) down. I’m so sorry.” No ambiguity here. It’s got guilt, remorse. Unspoken: can we, please, move on now? Think Hugh Grant’s hooker apology with Jay Leno.
The Gonzales Bucket, named after the former U.S. Attorney General. “Mistakes were made,” is the most common mantra. Rumsfeld used it a lot. Now the Air Force. It’s deterministic. It acknowledges screw-ups but says it is out of our humble hands – “stuff happens,”
The Pseudo Sorry Bucket. “Sorry if I’ve offended or inconvenienced anyone,” “I regret if it was mis-construed.” Sounds like an apology but it’s really saying “I stand by what I did/said but I acknowledge that others might not like it. Unspoken: my so-called misstep is open to interpretation.
The Media-Did-It Bucket. This is the Offense-Defense. Blame it on those biased news vampires. “It was blown way out of proportion, taken out of context,” “……the facts have been manipulated,” Use of buzz-killer words helps here such as blaming it on a vast right-wing conspiracy or MoveOn.org.
The Pete Rose Bucket. This is the non-apology apology. “I said I did it. What else do you want from me.” Unspoken: “Deal with it.”
The Devil Made-Me-Do-It Bucket. Always effective. Drugs, alcohol, caffeine, incredible stress are the real culprits. This has a wide range of users from Paris Hilton to Larry Craig. A spiritual epiphany coupled with a few months in rehab, or a Larry King appearance, often follows this bucket.
The Jesse Jackson Bucket. After uttering a racial epithet about Jews a while back he apologized saying “If there were occasions when my grape turned into a raisin and my joy bell lost its resonance, please forgive me.” This is an apology whose eloquence almost makes you forget the insult. Almost.
With all the sorry buckets outlined here and more still to be identified, it’s no wonder why so many of us have a hard time recognizing the real thing when it comes along. So
here’s a suggested standard by which we might apply our judgment: An apology is genuine when it is freely given, not because of a bathroom arrest or when the drug test comes back negative. Putting partisanship aside, a genuine apology might be former Senator John Edwards’s apologies for his Iraq war vote, or his stand on gay marriages. He didn’t have to. He could have tiptoed between the raindrops on both these issues like some of his primary opponents. While there may be 50 ways to say they’re sorry, leaders and celebrities might do well to consider a new bucket: The Sincere Bucket. By-pass the denial, go straight to acknowledgement and apology before anyone even asks about it.