Read it on Salon
Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Ah, the non-apology apology. It’s a classic. But leave it to Geraldo Rivera to take it to a whole new level.
In a gesture of appeasement after the outcry over his stunning assertion last week that “Trayvon Martin’s hoodie killed him as surely as George Zimmerman did,” the mustachioed Fox pundit sent an email to Politico in which he offered a “sincere and heartfelt apology” for his words. On his radio show, he added that his “own family and friends believe I have obscured or diverted attention from the principal fact, which is that an unarmed 17-year-old was shot dead by a man who was never seriously investigated by local police.” And then he went and threw in, “And if that is true, I apologize.” If it’s not, suck on it, I guess.
But the best line in Rivera’s mea culpa was his explanation that “I apologize to anyone offended by what one prominent black conservative called my ‘very practical and potentially life-saving campaign urging black and Hispanic parents not to let their children go around wearing hoodies.’” See that? Geraldo is sorry if you, a no doubt hoodie-wearing tiny brain, were offended by Mr. Rivera’s AWESOMENESS. But an actual black person was not, so, maybe it’s on you.
The old, “I’m sorry you feel that way” (a variation of “but it’s your fault anyway”) is familiar to anyone who’s ever wiped the bootprints of passive-aggressiveness off his or her face. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Oh, I’m sorry if you can’t take a joke/didn’t understand/were bothered by me just being me.”
Last year, Kobe Bryant explained that “What I said last night should not be taken literally” after he called a referee a “faggot.” He then went on to say, “The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.” After throwing a tantrum on the set of “Good Morning America” last year, Chris Brown explained that “I got very emotional, and I apologize for acting like that.” He also felt the need to add that he felt the appearance was calculated to “exploit” him and that “I took it very, very hard. When I got back, I just let off steam in the back.” See? He was just letting off steam.
Remember Scott Adams, who, after declaring that “society is organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal while the natural instincts of women are mostly legal and acceptable,” graciously apologized “for any lack of clarity on my part that was deemed offensive” – an apology he extended, by the way, solely “to the women who are not batshit crazy.” And then there was Michigan mayor Janice Daniels, who after declaring she was tossing her “I love NY” tote bag “now that queers can get married there,” said that she was sorry but it “was meant to be a joke, silly, a funny thing.”
The backpedaled apology has been getting quite a workout just this week. Tuesday, Red Sox pitcher John Lackey apologized for tossing off the word “retarded” in a Boston Globe interview, explaining that he was sorry and “I meant no harm.” And after accusing Rep. Carolyn Maloney of “an outright lie” when she asked, “Where are the women? When I look at this panel, I don’t see one, single woman,” about last month’s contraception hearing, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa sent a letter saying, “I regret that my choice of words … did not reflect the collegial relationship and open communication you and I have long enjoyed.” Calling someone an outright liar: It’s just a choice of words, yo.
So how do you do an apology right? Take a tip from the liquored-up folks. After running a rape-promoting Facebook ad featuring a man in what looks like mid-assault of a frightened woman last week, Belvedere vodka hastily withdrew it, officially saying, “We sincerely apologize to any of our fans who were offended by our recent post and related comments. As always, we continue to be an advocate of safe and responsible drinking.” But then the company’s president Charles Gibb did one better. “I would like to personally apologize for the offensive post that recently appeared on our Facebook page,” he wrote. “It should never have happened. I am currently investigating the matter to determine how this happened and to be sure it never does so again. The content is contrary to our values and we deeply regret this lapse. As an expression of our regret over this matter we have made a donation to RAINN (America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization).”
Clear. Concise. The word “if” appears nowhere in the statement. Instead, there’s a gesture of atonement. You wouldn’t necessarily expect something like that from Ego Gone Wild Geraldo Rivera, but it’s a good template for anyone who’s planning on screwing up and saying something stupid ever again in life. Just say you’re sorry. Don’t say that you were provoked or that other people thought you were right.
Say you’re sorry. And then shut up.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)