March 13, 2010
Americans hate a hypocrite, especially a rich and powerful one who holds himself up as a public symbol of morality.
Former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer rose to prominence exposing and prosecuting corrupt corporate criminals and call girl rings. That’s why his total fall from power took less than 24 hours after we learned that he was a regular customer of New York’s most elite call girl ring.
Media people are talking a lot these days among themselves about why some public apologies work and others don’t, why some people are forgiven and others not. It comes down to a few basic elements that also apply to us in our business and personal relationships:
1. You have to be truly sorry. You can’t fake it, in person or on TV. Apologize for what you did, not for getting caught or offending someone. Say what you did was wrong. Don’t slide through it, or try to be vague. Don’t try to shift responsibility, and accept the consequences.
2. Don’t drag your humiliated wife in front of everybody like Spitzer, Gary Hart, and the governor of New Jersey did. Forcing the primary victim to stand by her man on TV further exploits and victimizes the victim. TV cameras show how hurt she really is.
3. Show that you’re really sorry by doing something. There are lots of worthwhile Jewish charities Mel Gibson could have supported, but even that would not have worked for him because he apologized IF he offended anyone. He avoided taking responsibility for attacking Jews, and saying Jew-hatred is wrong. Donating to charity would have looked like he was trying to buy forgiveness.
We all remember the pathetic Rev. Jimmy Swaggert crying on TV about how he sinned with a prostitute, and Rev. Jim Bakker, the TV minister who had some hanky-panky with a secretary, and stole a fortune from people who supported his ministry. Then there was that blond haired, blue-eyed evangelical minister who had a regular business-only relationship with a male prostitute.
After lying about his affair with M0nica Lewinsky, a White House intern, President Bill Clinton went on TV, confessed, and said he did it because he could. “That is the most morally reprehensible thing a person can do – to do something you know is wrong because you can.”
Then there are the movie stars who apologize publicly for behaving boorishly. Don Imus and Mel Gibson come to mind. I hated what Imus said, but he regretted it, apologized in person to the basketball players he insulted, apologized to the rest of us, showed that he knew he did wrong, had a long record of charitable work in the past, and accepted suspension from his radio show as an act of contrition.
I’ll never forgive Mel Gibson, who trashed the Jewish people and then apologized IF he offended anyone. He did not say anti-Semitism is wrong. His father was a professional Holocaust denier, and his movie about the Passion of Christ depicted the most anti-Semitic interpretation of the New Testament, that most Christian leaders today no longer teach, that Pope John Paul II publicly disavowed. So I’m not sure to this day if Gibson knows that anti-Semitism is wrong. For all I know, he feels victimized by some Jewish conspiracy he imagines.
The main principle is, don’t say you’re sorry unless you really are.