Just for the record, if you say something stupid and false in public, the correct tone of an apology is this: "I said something stupid and false. Thank you for pointing it out. I'm humbly sorry, and will try to do better in the future." Use alternate wording, if you want. Embellish with explanations and (perhaps) excuses, if you want. You may grit your teeth while you are uttering your apology, if you want. But if you include those basic ideas, you will be making a real, and at least semi-gracious, apology.

Note that phraseology like "I'm sorry if people were offended" or "I made a poor choice of words to express myself" or "I never intended to say … " are the trademarks of a weasel: someone who wants to sound as if they're apologizing but lacks the spine to either stand by their original words, or to disavow them.

And if, during your "apology", you spend any time at all attacking the people that publicized your stupid and false remarks, you get major points off. Because that strongly implies that what you're really saying is "I'm sorry … that I got caught."

Similarly bad form: trying the "My words were taken out of context" or "misconstrued" excuse. You're pointing fingers elsewhere at the stupid lying people who just didn't (or didn't want to) "get it". If people misunderstood, or were misled about, what you said, fine: you're standing by your words and you don't need to apologize. Good luck with that. But if you're apologizing, don't waste time blabbing about context or understanding. It's your fault, and you need to clearly admit that without mitigation or obfuscation.

And finally, attempting to stonewall and delay usually doesn't help. Get it over with ASAP.

I realize that for most normal people, this is all just belaboring the obvious.

But I am, like most normal people, neither a Senator, nor the president of a union, nor a leading executive of a major corporation. And I assume one wouldn't make it to any of those positions without a large helping of ego: "I can do this job, and better than my competitors." So it's probably understandable that people in those positions would have a harder time with apologies than less exalted folk.

Let's look at recent apology hall-of-shame examples:

  • Senator Richard ("Dick") Durbin (D-Illinois). Made a speech where he likened the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to the behavior of the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge, and the Soviets. See Mark Steyn for eloquent comments on that. And that's just one example of the pointed commentary on the Senator's idiotic and disgraceful comparisons. The only thing more sobering than Durbin's remarks is that only a few of his fellow Dems were willing to rebuke him for making them. Nevertheless, when Chicago's Mayor Daley and the ADL weighed in with negative reactions, apparently Durbin decided he could no longer "stand by his remarks".

    An AP story reporting Durbin's apology on the Senate floor is here. It was widely derided as a non-apology of the "sorry … if you were offended" variety. I won't presume to offer further analysis than the charitable Dr. Shackleford here or the less charitable Ms. Malkin (here) and Mr. Hewitt (here). (Also see their links.) I'll give Durbin a C-, because he cried during his apology; I'm a sucker for that.

  • Linda Foley, president of the Newspaper Guild. Made a speech where she asserted that the US military had deliberately killed journalists in Iraq. No evidence provided was provided for this slander, of course. This prompted Hiawatha Bray (a Newspaper Guild member) to set up a special-purpose blog to hold Foley's feet to the fire on this issue. (He links to a video of Foley's remarks as a well as a transcript.) Also see the Foley Gate blog.

    Foley's effort at apology is here. Her headline is "Confronting right-wing hysteria", so you can tell this is going to be a blame-others effort. (Sure, she makes wild charges without proof—but it's everyone else who's hysterical.) Entertaining apology analysis from Ginny at Chicago Boyz here. Foley gets a mercy D. Blame grade inflation.

  • Indra Nooyi, President and CFO of PepsiCo. Gave a graduation speech at Columbia Business School where she likened the USA to the middle finger of one's hand (you can read that here, strongly implying that the US was guilty of giving the half-a-peace-sign salute to the rest of the world. Samples of the outraged post-speech analysis: Roger Kimball of The New Criterion and Scott "Power Line" Johnson at the Weekly Standard.

    Nooyi's effort at apology is here. Devastating analysis of that "apology" can be found at Power Line. Nooyi gets a B-.

Left as exercises for the reader: Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, Howard Dean, Amnesty International, …

And perhaps the most eloquent point on this topic was made by Joel Achenbach:

We live in an apology culture; unless you say something that later will require an apology you won't be heard to begin with. [A personal note: I would like to apologize for comparing Guantanamo Bay to Chesapeake Bay. That was a huge exaggeration.]

Last Modified 2012-10-26 12:03 PM EDT