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Dead Tree Alert: In Defense of the Fake Apology

Why public contrition can be useful, even if the apologizer doesn't really mean it.

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Last week, Ted Nugent went on the radio and sorta-maybe-not-necessarily apologized to President Obama for calling him a “subhuman mongrel.” In this week’s New York magazine, Alec Baldwin, having apologized previously for outbursts offensive to gay people, now says he’s quitting public life and complains about being ganged up on by the “Gay Department of Justice.” Phil Robertson said sorry, Paula Deen said sorry, Martin Bashir said sorry, politicians and corporations and ABC’s Bachelor have said sorry.

Or: sorry if you were offended. Or sorry I got caught. As I write in my newest TIME print column, we are in the midst of a Cirque du Désolé of ritual apologies. Some of them may be sincere; it’s hard to believe all of them are. Which raises the question: does an unconvincing, forced, and maybe entirely insincere fauxapology do anyone any good?

I argue yes: not for the apologizer, or maybe even the apologiz-ee, but for everyone else who sees the message that there was something to apologize for. I’m sorry that my column is behind a paywall, and I’m sorry that I can only offer a snippet here:

Public apologies are different from, well, real ones. A real apology, between actual private humans, needs to demonstrate true remorse and learning on the part of the offender and needs to make the injured party feel better. But in a public apology, the apologizer, and maybe even the apologizee, is beside the point. The real point is the rest of us–the larger society, asserting the norms and changing boundaries of acceptable behavior… A calculated, self-interested apology at least tells the rest of the audience someone did something wrong, while the apologizer figures that out in his or her own time, if ever.

TIME subscribers can read the rest in full. By the way, I want to thank the many followers on Twitter who responded last week when I asked for their own thoughts about fauxpologies as I was cogitating on this topic. And if you think I got this one wrong, I sincerely–well, you know the drill.

To read the full column, subscribe to TIME (print and digital for just $30/year).

7 comments
Allen750
Allen750

I'm sorry, I can't read the rest of your article. #ironywelldone

karin11
karin11

The magazine list Chris Christi as one who has apologized for Fort Lee. He has never apologized for any of it. 

He has claimed he had no knowledge but has not yet said that he was sorry that it happened.

yippeeK
yippeeK

And they say there's no Lame Stream bias.  This guy is a top journalist?  What a laugh. He left out the all time biggest sources of non-apologies of the past half century.  Carter, Clinton, Clinton and of course Ohbummer himself and that's not even digging very deep.

perdikus3
perdikus3

"Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson was sorry for remarks about homosexuality" does not = “I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together,” says the duck hunter.

Robertson goes on, “However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”

anon76
anon76

I'm pretty sure there's a tongue-in-cheek country song to be made out of the fauxpology phenomenon- I recommend you take your crowdsourced tweets and turn them into lyrics.  Best part- if one of your tweet-donors complains about lack of royalties, you can just sing them the song!

anon76
anon76

"… I'm sorry I might have implied

you were a subhuman mongrel.

Now that I've spoke to my publicist

I realize that was wrong-le."

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

@anon76I need add no more. Can barely type for laughing anyway.