“I’m Sorry You Were Offended” by Barton Swaim. The Wall Street Journal, 6/17/2014.
How many times have we heard a bureaucrat, usually a member of the President’s cabinet, say, “I take full responsibility for . . . [the momentous screw up that cost the taxpayers billions]?” But there is no personal cost for the mistake. They are not fired or even demoted. And we are not surprised. They are clearly taking the fall for someone higher up and will no doubt be quietly rewarded for their humiliation.
If we drive through a stop sign and smack into another car, taking full responsibility means we are going to pay, and pay a lot. But almost every week we see in the media people taking full responsibility with no consequences. I am glad others have now recognized this, too.
The Wall Street Journal article is a review of the book, “Sorry About That” by Edwin Battistella, that I have not read, but I love the examples quoted.
Often, Battistella notes, the apology uses wording that distances the speaker from the act. Senator Bob Packwood in 1992 apologized for sexual harassment by saying, “If any of my comments or actions have indeed been unwelcome or I have conducted myself in any way that caused any individual discomfort or embarrassment, for that I am sincerely sorry.” “If” is the cop-out word. He is only apologizing for offending, not for his actions. Those not offended get no apology.
The apologizer often avoids directly mentioning the culpable action. Embezzling funds is “a lapse in judgment,” adultery is “a poor decision I deeply regret.” A poor decision? Adultery involves a whole pattern of poor decisions! One politician used the obfuscating phrase, “that which has caused the stir that it has.”
When Hillary Clinton’s health care reform failed, she apologized by saying, “I regret very much that the efforts on health care were badly misunderstood, taken out of context and used politically against the Administration. I take full responsibility for that, and I am very sorry for that.” Obviously she is not apologizing at all, but slamming her detractors. What does it mean to “take full responsibility” if she blames everything on others? She was really saying, “Don’t blame Bill—it’s all the Republicans’ fault.” We only think we heard an apology.
Jane Fonda said, “I regret the angry remark I made when the POWs returned home that enabled apologists for the war to orchestrate the myth of Hanoi Jane.” Oops, did I miss the apology? Oh yes, she is sorry she got angry for such a righteous cause.
If you ever have to make a public apology, do it right and it will not be an admission of anything. You are really a wonderful person whose innocent purity enabled all of those rotten detractors.
I love that this spin technique is out in the open, and watching for it will make the future news much more entertaining.