February 26, 2009

Time to Reject the Non-Apology Apology

"I'm sorry." Why is that such a difficult thing to say? It used to be that "I'm sorry" meant that the speaker was remorseful, that he or she regretted something. An apology used to involve taking responsibility for something one had done or said. Granted, we have always questioned the sincerity of many high-profile public apologies, but having to question whether what we heard was actually an apology is a recent phenomenon. As far as this author is concerned, it is also a phenomenon which needs to end.

I see no need to pick on Rupert Murdoch right now. I already have a very low opinion of the man, and the saga of the New York Post cartoon does little to make it any worse. Besides, Murdoch is not the only one do give the non-apology apology; he's simply the latest in a long list of public figures.

Remember, Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago), the anti-atheist bigot who berated activist Rob Sherman on the floor of the Illinois legislature? She too gave a non-apology apology. The media, and even Mr. Sherman, allowed her to get away with it.

Saying that one is sorry if someone was offended is not an apology. It externalizes responsibility for one's behavior and places it on the audience. The person making such an apology is essentially saying, "It is too bad that you are upset." This may be a nice sentiment, but it is not an apology.

As long as we allow public figures to get away with the non-apology apology, they will continue to do so. This is why I hope we do not let Murdoch get away with it.

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