Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sorry Excuses

First off, let me say I'm sorry if you have been insulted or angered by anything I have written.
If I offended anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, school afflilation, shirt color, hat size, lipstick shade or soft drink preference, I'm truly sorry.
But at least I didn't end up in a new book called "My Bad: 25 Years of Public Apologies and the Appalling Behavior That Inspired Them" by Paul Slansky and Arleen Sorkin.
The authors say one of the reasons American culture is in decline is that "any misdeed, no matter how egregious, can now be immediately negated by a bleat of casual contrition."
Not surprisingly, politicians or those making pronouncements about politics make up a great deal of this book. You can't beat our elected representatives when it comes to foot-in-mouth disease (See Bill Clinton).
But running a close second are sports figures and show business types. most of whom have never understood that having a pretty face or turning a double play doesn't provide you with unique insights into the human condition. (See Tom Cruise).
Apologies shared by the authors include this all-encompassing classic from Ted Turner: "I really, from the very bottom of my heart, want to apologize. At one time or another, I've offended almost every group. I'm sure I'll be apologizing again."
Or, "If I did the things that they say I did, am I sorry, do I apologize? Yes." That beauty was from Bob Packwood, after announcing his resignation from the Senate following years of apologizing for decades of unwanted sexual advances toward various women, or as he once put it, "for the conduct that it was alleged I did." You can also mull over these mea culpas:
"Well, my analysis was wrong and I'm sorry. What do you want me to do? Go over and kiss the camera? What do you want me to do?" -Bill O'Reilly, after being confronted on "Good Morning America" with videotape of him saying that if no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, "I will apologize to the nation and I will not trust the Bush administration again."
"I'm sorry if she felt she was harmed." -Sportscaster Marv Albert, in court on sexual assault charges for biting a woman on the back more than a dozen times.
"The comment was not meant to be a regional slur. To the extent that it was misinterpreted to be one, I apologize." -Lawyer Kenneth Taylor, after referring to people living in the mountains of Kentucky as "illiterate cave dwellers."
"If my comments brought pain to anyone, I certainly did not intend for this to happen and apologize for any such reaction." -MSNBC talk show host Michael Savage, after telling a caller, "Oh, you're one of the Sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig."
And last but not least, this one cited by the authors as a classic but which was uttered too late to be included in the book:
"My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week." -Texas lawyer Harry Whittington, expressing his remorse for having stuck his face in front of Dick Cheney's shotgun.
In the interest of fairness, I should point out that newspapers make mistakes and crank out corrections by the bushelbasket full every year in this country.
They run the gamut from the sublime ("It has come to the editor's attention that the paper neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission," from the Lexington Herald Leader) to the ridiculous ("Norma Adams-Wade's June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite." from the Dallas Morning News).
The Guardian once apologized, "In our...cover story about Hunter S Thompson yesterday, we mistakenly attributed to Richard Nixon the view that Thompson represented "that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character". On the contrary, it was what Thompson said of Nixon.
Even the stately New York Times once wrote: "An article in Business Day about Brendon Loy, the Notre Dame student who was one of the earliest to sound the alarm about the potential threat to New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, misstated the name of Mr. Loy's dog. It is Robbie, not Becky (which is his fiance's name)."
From Us Weekly magazine, this correction is funny only if it didn't happen to you: "In our feature "Why She Left Him" ...the woman identified in the photograph as former adult film star Ginger Lynn Allen is neither Ms. Allen nor an adult film actress..."
Maybe comedian/musician Tom Lehrer was on to something when he said, "I wish people who have trouble communicating would just shut up."
Robert Rector, a former editor with the Pasadena Star-News and Los Angeles Times, is a freelance writer.

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