Sunday, May 28, 2006

Op-Quiz: Mistakes Were Made

The New York Times
Op-Quiz: Mistakes Were Made

For fans of public apologies, May has been a good month. We’ve had Clear Channel Communications apologizing for an obscene rant by a New York hip-hop radio shock jock, Kaiser Permanente apologizing for ignoring voluminous complaints from patients about its new kidney transplant center in San Francisco and Hillary Clinton apologizing for saying that today’s college graduates “think work is a four-letter word.” (Isn’t it?)

The chief executive of Raytheon was sorry that a company-produced booklet he wrote plagiarized a book published in 1944, a Missouri high school teacher was sorry for asking students to write about whom they would kill and how they would go about doing it and Hideki Matsui of the Yankees was sorry for breaking his wrist while diving for a ball.

Perhaps most delightfully, Alphonso Jackson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, expressed regret for telling a group of Dallas businessmen that he had rescinded a contract after the contractor made negative comments about President Bush. “Why should I reward someone who doesn’t like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president?” Mr. Jackson said. “Logic says they don’t get the contract. That’s the way I believe.” Two weeks later — and under fire — Mr. Jackson explained that his remarks were merely “anecdotal,” with no basis in truth.

But then, every month seems to bring a spate of coerced contrition. The public apology has established itself as a staple of our national discourse, a required ritual to be endured by anyone caught saying or doing something inappropriate. And while the numbers of these apologies seem to be increasing almost exponentially, the reality is that the supposedly penitent have been entertaining us for many years now.

How many of these do you remember?

Paul Slansky and Arleen Sorkin are the authors of “My Bad: 25 Years of Public Apologies and the Appalling Behavior That Inspired Them.” Helicopter is a design firm in New York.