Ten Rules for Making an Official ApologyWhen politicians, public officials or celebrities get caught making outrageous comments, I find myself wondering about the anonymous machiavels who sit in the shadows and craft their boilerplate unapologetic apologies – which, as we all know, accomplish nothing except add fuel to the fire.
I wonder: is it a lucrative occupation, writing the same formulaic nonsense that never works over and over? (Maybe I’m in the wrong profession.) Do these people, who specialize in writing official apologies, actually heed public opinion, seeing as they are supposed to be Public Relations experts? Do they sincerely believe any of their tired semantic tricks for deflecting blame actually work? Do people really pay them for their “services”?
The latest victim of incompetent PR is Arkansas judge Mike Maggio, who was outed a couple of weeks ago as a prolific author of certain message board comments that contained a FUCKTON of misogyny, with a twist of racism and homophobia for good measure. You know, the usual stuff you’d hear from a God-fearing conservative who’s just “speaking the truth” and “expressing his faith”. Oh, and he also revealed confidential details of Charlize Theron’s adoption (she earned his disdain for adopting a black toddler). Oh, and although he did not post under his real name, he did not hesitate to convey that he was a judge, and that his comments – which included, among other things, that college education makes women promiscuous, that wives should tolerate cheating, that women are gold-digging bitches who divorce “good providers” for “emotional” reasons, and that men don’t need no stinking relationships, except to the extent that they provide them with a hot meal and an available orifice – were based on his experience as such. Oh, and he’s married, with five children. (Congratulations, Mrs. Maggio, your husband is quite a catch.) Oh, and at least one of those five children is a girl. Update: And he’s corrupt as fuck.
Jesus. It probably warms your heart to learn that he has presided over divorce cases, among other matters.
Once doxxed, Maggio suddenly realized it was wrong for him to have said all that garbage. He rushed to tell the world that he doesn’t actually believe any of that stuff he posted, that he’s really just the nicest guy in “real” life (just ask his own personal cook/fuckhole! he totes respects her positive opinion of him), that he’s ashamed to have behaved LIKE A LIBRUL, because we all know it’s libruls who like to rail against college-educated women and make racist and homophobic statements, and pox be upon libruls’ houses for personally destroying good guy Mike Maggio by attributing all those statements made by Mike Maggio to Mike Maggio. Bastards. No, really. Here is the text of his “apology”/withdrawal from appellate judge race:
I take full responsibility for the comments that have been attributed to me. I apologize deeply for my lapse in personal judgment and for that, I have no excuse. The comments posted were not acceptable. These comments are not a reflection of who I am.
During my life, I have prided myself in treating all fairly and with respect, both personally and professionally. My friends, family and colleagues know me and can appropriately attest to how I have treated others. I stand by their opinion and regret letting them down. I ask for both yours and God’s forgiveness. My actions are not indicative or illustrative of the conservative political philosophy of which I hold dear.
It is a shame that the politics of personal destruction take precedence along with the win at all costs mentality that results in the disjunction.
At this time, in light of the pain I have caused to my family, friends, supporters, the Judicial Branch, and the public, I have requested that the Secretary of State remove me from the ballot.
I would ask you to respect my family’s need for privacy so we can being the healing process of forgiveness.
Now, I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on public relations. Still, I have my doubts the above will rehabilitate Maggio’s image in the eyes of people who actually disagree with the comments he made as “geauxjudge”. And so, to all nice people like Mike Maggio, who find themselves in hot water thanks to evil machinations of political rivals , I offer admittedly unsolicited, but heartfelt – and free! – piece of advice on how to craft an effective apology. It’s no secret that the usual face-saving apology doesn’t work (just check out the comments in the last link I posted). Maybe THIS will.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN WRITING THAT APOLOGY
When faced with a firestorm of bad publicity, you first have to decide whether to apologize at all. I am firmly convinced that one must either own one’s beliefs, or, if too embarrassed to own them, engage in some serious introspection. If your comments offend someone, there are only three possible courses of action:
(i) dismiss the outrage;
(ii) apologize; or
(iii) defend your comments.
There is no possible middle ground between (ii) and (iii). You cannot apologize for your comments while simultaneously claiming that it was wrong for anyone to perceive them as offensive. If there is nothing wrong with your comments, then there is no reason to apologize. If you cannot, in fact, defend your comments, consider that proof that a sincere apology is in order. Some examples of right and wrong responses to such a situation:
RIGHT: “Anyone offended by my comments may kiss my ass.”
RIGHT: “My comments were quoted out of context and/or misinterpreted. Here is what I really said: […]”
WRONG: “I apologize for expressing my heartfelt beliefs.”
WRONG: “I apologize for not using different language to say what I said.”
Assuming you picked the third option, proceed to the next step.
RULES FOR CRAFTING A REAL APOLOGY
Rule #1. You must assume that those to whom you are apologizing possess enough intelligence to distinguish between an apology and an insult. In other words, don’t be a fucking hypocrite.
Rule #2. An apology may not contain qualifiers. Any qualifying language completely invalidates an apology. Example:
RIGHT: “I apologize.”
WRONG: “I apologize if I offended anyone.”
WRONG: “I apologize to those offended.”
WRONG: “I apologize for any hurt my comments may have caused.”
WRONG: “I apologize for my comments being insensitive.”
Rule #3. If you apologize, you must unequivocally take responsibility for your actions. That means, don’t try to shift the blame onto those who caught you with your pants down. Examples:
RIGHT: “My comments were inexcusable, and I am sorry.”
WRONG: “I’m sorry I got caught.”
WRONG: “I’m sorry we live in a world where certain people with an agenda are so mean, they won’t hesitate to attack me by quoting my comments verbatim!”
Rule #4. Any self-praise, self-pity or claims that your freely expressed views don’t reflect who you are invalidate an apology. If your comments were out of line, you deserve flak. Your sincerely expressed views — even if they were expressed privately, hell, especially if they were expressed privately — do in fact reflect who you are. Either publicly embrace your inner asshole, or take the punishment and change for the better . Incidentally, change comes at the moment when you stop feeling sorry for yourself and start feeling ashamed of what you’ve done.
Rule #5. Your intent is irrelevant. Certain actions have readily foreseeable consequences. Not intending the foreseeable does not absolve you of responsibility. If you explode a bomb in a crowded place, it is almost certain somebody will die. No one cares if you acted without any personal malice towards specific victims. Examples:
RIGHT: “I apologize.”
WRONG: “When I said women are gold-digging bitches, I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”
Rule #6. Do not shift the blame to anonymous forces outside of yourself. Example:
RIGHT: “I’m sorry I shot the victim.”
WRONG: “I’m sorry the shooting happened.”
WRONG: “I’m sorry the victim lost his life.”
Rule #7. Do not bring your family into your apology. For some unfathomable reason, it is considered wise to mention seeking the forgiveness of one’s family, regardless of the act being apologized for. I suppose the rationale is that people will go “Aww! A family man. So I guess he’s not just some asshole, he is caring, loving asshole. “ This is an exercise in blatant hypocrisy, and most people see right through it.
There are two possibilities as far as the apologizer’s family is concerned. One possibility is that they aren’t among those directly affected by the comments, in which case they simply aren’t in a position to forgive. Oh, sure, they may be embarrassed by the publicity, but that inconvenience pales in comparison to the damage caused to others. The family has no standing to receive an apology for such a wrong, nor does it have standing to forgive on behalf of countless strangers.
The other possibility is that one’s family IS among those affected — such as when a prominent man has been in the habit of making jaw-droppingly misogynistic comments, and his family includes, you know, women. In this case, a public apology to his own family only underscores the fact that there are women who have to put up with his porcine behavior and retrograde views on a daily basis; who have to endure being pitied and their personal lives speculated about; who, owing to an antiquated and thoroughly sexist political convention, must be paraded in front of cameras and submit to the vicious judgment of millions of troglodytes discussing ad nauseam whether these women are pretty enough, thin enough, sexy enough, young enough to expect basic decency from their husband and father; and who, despite all this, are perceived to have a moral obligation to stand by and support the miserable piece o’shit who’s just thoroughly humiliated them. Perhaps it’s not such a good idea to draw the public’s attention to all that. Just sayin’.
Rule #8. Do not attempt to distinguish between words and actions. Words are actions. Words have real consequences in the world. They shape people’s perceptions. They motivate, normalize or challenge behavior. If you are a judge, and you express blatant biases with regard to race and gender, your being a judge gives that bigotry an imprimatur of validity or normality. Because you are in a position of authority, you validate other bigots — and don’t try to convince anyone, including yourself, that bigotry is just harmless banter that never inspires abuse, oppression or murder. And with respect to people who aren’t bigots, you are undermining their belief in the justice system. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never gone on an explicitly misogynistic rant inside your courtroom, on the record, or that you sincerely believe you are always fair in your treatment of those you clearly consider subhuman garbage. Women and racial minorities — both lawyers and litigants — reading your screeds will reasonably assume that they would be at an automatic disadvantage in your courtroom. Having repeatedly validated hatred, you don’t have any moral ground to congratulate yourself for not actually taking a battle axe to anyone.
Rule #9. Don’t tell us what a good person you supposedly are. Such a blanket characterization does not apply to real life. Being a good person, or a bad person — it’s a choice you make every single day. And guess what? Every time you fail to be a good person, you are being a bad one. Otherwise, what would stop someone from arguing that a particular murderer is really a great guy, except for that ONE time he did a tiny little homicide that’s totally not representative of who he really is? Oh, forget it, people have actually done that.
Rule #10. Don’t try to draw attention away from your actions by claiming your ideological enemies are even worse. Without addressing whether that’s true, what measure are you using to set the bar for your own behavior? Racism is either bad or it’s not; you cannot take the position that yes, it’s bad, but it’s okay to be a racist because these other people are bigger racists. After all, it’s not the people who agree with your ridiculous comments that you need to win over, it’s all those who are disgusted by them. And chances are pretty good those people who are disgusted by your comments tend to be pulled in the opposite direction on the ideological spectrum. You are not going to reach them by saying “I apologize for statements attributed to me to the effect that women should stay illiterate, barefoot and pregnant, and black people are all criminals, and race mixing is an abomination in the eyes of God, but it’s not as bad as that time a liberal monster said someone should shit into Sarah Palin’s mouth, and he didn’t even get fired until TWO WEEKS LATER, and there still hasn’t been a Congressional investigation of this worst thing that ever happened, ever, and he’s not even in jail, oh look, Elvis!” Your apology should be about YOU and YOUR actions, no one else.
And incidentally, Martin Bashir — whose comment about shitting into Sarah Palin’s mouth was vile and unnecessary — made a proper apology. Consider it to be an example of how it’s done.