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The other day, a prominent left-wing blogger posted a Photoshopped image of Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) in black minstrel makeup and garb. I won't recap the details here, because my Wizbang boss Kevin Aylward did a superb job already. Rather, I'm going to look at Jane Hamsher's apology for posting the picture.

Hamsher devotes the opening paragraph of her posting to apologizing, then spends the rest of it defending the gist of the graphic, discussing the role of race in the Lieberman/Lamont race in Connecticut for the Democratic nomination for Lieberman's Senate seat. The full text of Hamsher's apology is here:

I sincerely apologize to anyone who was genuinely offended by the choice of images accompanying my blog post today on the Huffington Post. It’s also important to note that I do not, nor have I ever worked for Ned Lamont’s campaign. However, at their request, I removed the image earlier today.

To my way of thinking, that's not much of an apology.

Perhaps it's a product of my upbringing in rural northern New Hampshire. Or, perhaps, having read too many comic books as a child, back when heroes were actually noble and heroic. But I have a very clear image of what constitutes a true apology.

First, the offender must acknowledge that the action was wrong. There must be a clear admission of error, and that the action was indeed offensive.

Second, the offender must make it clear that they regret the action itself, and not merely its consequences.

Third, the offender must clearly demonstrate they understand precisely why the action was wrong.

Fourth, the offender should make a commitment to learn from the error and strive to make certain the error is not repeated.

Hamsher's non-apology meets none of these criteria. Rather, it is far too typical of what are becoming the de facto standard for apologies these days: "I'm sorry if you were offended." It's a slightly politer version of saying "while I was fully justified in my actions and you are wrong for taking offense, but I will apologize anyway for the sake of civility." There is not a single element of what I was taught makes up a true apology.

I find myself speculating what might have led to this sorry state of affairs. My first notion is that it is an outgrowth of the toxic "self esteem" movement, where the notion that one's own image of oneself is the predominant determining factor, and must be protected at all costs. Under this model, admitting fault is admitting error, and that is damaging to one's ego. Whether or not it is justified, it should not happen.

The danger here is that we are all human, and we all make mistakes. To continually postpone the confrontation between ourselves and reality is to make that inevitability even more disastrous. The sooner we learn how to accept our own failures and shortcomings and move beyond them, the better off we are.

Another is that apologizing has come to be seen as a sign of weakness. Some people may fear that to admit error in one instance can call into question their judgment in other cases, and can be brought back time and again in the future. "Joe, remember how wrong you were on the Greenfield matter? How can you be sure you're right this time?"

I have had some success against that tactic. I simply say "As you point out, I was wrong on that one. And I admitted it. I have no problem admitting when I am wrong on something. This time, I'm not. Where's your proof that you're correct, and you're not just running on ego?"

Whatever the reason, the decline of the simple, sincere, heartfelt apology in today's society is a bad sign. It enhances the coarseness, the toxicity, the venom of modern discourse. And in these times, we need to get beyond that and try to settle our differences in a more civil fashion.

Posted by Jay Tea · 5 August 2006 06:00 AM


Another great idea with regard to apologies is the use the word "but" following your apology. It pretty much wipes out the apology, as in "I'm sorry I smacked you, but you wouldn't shut up."

Posted by: Candy at August 5, 2006 09:11 AM

so sorry.... I meant to AVOID the use of the word "but"....

Posted by: Candy at August 5, 2006 09:12 AM

I'm sorry I made that error, but you people at WILLisms don't have spelling & grammar check.

Posted by: Candy at August 5, 2006 09:13 AM

Candy, that comment does not make your but look big, so forget it.

Posted by: epador at August 5, 2006 10:28 AM

That apology reminds me of the Dan Rather situation at CBS. "The memo is a fake but the facts are correct." Doesn't seem that much different than "I was wrong, but it's your fault."

Posted by: USMC Pilot at August 5, 2006 11:39 AM

But...I was in Lamont's limo on the day it was posted. True.

Posted by: bird dog at August 5, 2006 02:01 PM

Butt, Butt if WILLisms.com only would apologize for not having spell check. I wouldn't not have made a mistake! AND that is the bottom line. Thank You...

Posted by: Zsa Zsa at August 5, 2006 02:50 PM

it's a photoshop thing on the internet who cares? a hundred a day are dying in Iraq

Posted by: lester at August 5, 2006 03:01 PM


And who is killing them?

Posted by: USMC Pilot at August 5, 2006 05:39 PM

Yeah, so call someone a "nigger" or show someone in black face and see if the Rev.'s Jackson and Sharpton say "but there are hundreds of people per day dying in Iraq". You don't use racial slurs or imply them in a political race and for the most part don't use them at all.

Remember what happened to Trent Lott over the Strom Thurmond comments. Again, it is the double standard for racism that only Republicans can be racist. Showing someone in blackface is OK if you are a Democrat. Hell Robert Byrd was a freakin' Klansman.

But I like it. I just wish that Jackson, Sharpton, and the rest of the race baiters would follow your advice there Lester. What about the people dying in Darfur, Lebanon, Nigeria of Aids, in the US of cancer, in China from pollution, in nursing homes? So people dying somehow has something to do with racism now? That is what the race is about? This is about a political race between two candidates and what Lester says is that anything Lamont or his campaign or their assiciates does is OK because he wants to prevent people from dying in Iraq?

End justifies the means, right?

Posted by: Justin B. at August 5, 2006 06:08 PM

Notice the "genuinely offended." It rather implies that she believes that most people were faux offended.

I wasn't offended. I just judged that she was a typically oblivious leftist racist. You know, the sort who never examine their own prejudices because they know they don't have any, but who have an excessively fine tuned offense meter when it comes to what other people do.

The fact that the black-face was in response to just such an "offense" committed by Leiberman sort of proves it.

Posted by: Synova at August 5, 2006 08:39 PM

this is just so much political correctness

Posted by: lester at August 6, 2006 11:04 AM