Apology #2. Fergie gets caught taking bribes.

4 06 2010

A few days ago, like newspapers all around the world, The Australian (June 2, 2010) reported the sting that exposed Sarah Ferguson accepting a bribe from a supposed businessman (in fact, a journalist)  for the favour of “opening doors”  – getting access to Prince Andrew.  Not long afterwards,  she flew to USA and recorded an interview with Oprah (for which  one assumes she was paid ) in which she blamed alcohol and economic distress for her “serious lapse in judgment”.

I’m interested in the apology. Specifically, in applying to it my 5-point apology test.

Here, in case it helps, is a sample apology that fulfils all 5 criteria.  “Sorry for how I spoke to you in front of the boss yesterday (naming behaviour). I was totally out of line (accepting responsibility). It had been a very hard day (explaining) but it shouldn’t have happened (not justifying). Please accept my apology (asking forgiveness) and if there’s anything I can do to make up for it, please say so” (offering to make amends).

So how does Fergie’s rate?

  1. Is the behaviour being apologized for named?

Assesssment: No.   She doesn’t directly say she was taking bribes or acting corruptly. She refers to “the situation” or “this” and is uncomfortable about alluding to the event in more specific and transparent terms

2. Is responsibility accepted?

Assessment:  No. She does not deny the facts of the scandal, but her emphasis is on how being caught on film affected her (“devastated”). She confesses it was a “serious lapse in judgment”, but note the choice of the word “lapse”  (“error” would have been stronger) which means a slip or a fall or a letting go. Overtones of a happening that is both minor and possibly accidental. We “let a subscription lapse” – something you do passively by not actually doing something else (i.e re-subscribing) . It almost suggests that the lapse was something that happened to her, even despite her, but certainly not because of her.

3. Is the account more than a justification?

Assessment: No.  She attributes blame for her actions outside herself:  to alcohol (“ I was drinking”) and economic distress (“I was in the gutter”). Again, these factors are cited as if they happened to her (someone made me drink; someone took all my money).

4. Is forgiveness sought?

Assessment:  She says she is “very sorry”. But what she seems most to regret is not trusting her instinct that warned her that the business might be a journalist. N o doubt, she is very sorry for having got caught. This is not the same as seeking forgiveness from those whom she has harmed.

5. Are amends being offered?

Assessment: No. While it is difficult to know what amends may be possible, given that a reputation (Prince Andrew’s) cannot easily be repaired or restored or salvaged. There is no sense that after she’s finished licking her wounds, she might seek help with her issues and try to stay out of the spotlight – for a while, at least.

I scored her apology a grim 0/5.  I confess I’m no royal supporter. In my view, royalty is as antiquated and iniquitous as feudalism. But I have nonetheless tried to be fair in assessing the components of  Fergie’s apology.

Have I been fair? Tell me what you think!



5 responses

5 06 2010
mark c

Well I think according to the criteria you present as associated with each of the 5 elements involved in her transgression – her apology is pretty damn weak.

However this assessment only holds as long as we assume that Fergie agrees with us regarding all aspects of what is required by a royal in the context of a public apology. I’m not sure we can be confident that this is the case.

Of course if that’s what I’d be expected to produce if I behaved badly in public then I think its only fair that she’d have to as well. And if that’s the case – she has come up well short. Still I cant help wondering whether she secretly harbors a different set of behaviors solely because she is a royal.

5 06 2010

Good points. And they got me thinking. In fact, while she seems to be apologizing to the public, in fact she’s indirectly apologizing to the royal family, which would include her ex-husband, Andrew. It’s a weird participation framework, in Goffmanian terms. She may or may not speak directly to the royals (probably not as I think she’s persona non grata at Buck Palace). But she needs to at least be seen to be trying to apologize to them, so when it comes out, it’s being performed as if the audience were the public. Yet in fact, if we ask ourselves, of whom is she asking forgiveness (not that she does, but in theory she is)? Answer – it’s of the queen and her ex-husband. Still a pretty poor showing, whatever way we look at it. She does suffer badly from foot-in-mouth disease. This is not the first time and probably not the last.

As to whether she has different rules in her head than we ordinary mortals do, no doubt. That however does not let her off my hook!

7 06 2010
mark c

I agree with you Ruth – she is not off the hook. Rather – I would argue for the opposite. She is well and truly still on it.

But I doubt that (because of her twisted sense of entitlement ) she really ever thought she was governed by the same rules that the rest of us need to keep our eye on . . . Like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet here was a heroine who believed she was special because she breathed different stuff

So in as much as this is true – your thesis that Fergie needs to be seen to be trying to apologize to the Royals rather than actually doing so is precisely what half holds this tabloid tale together. . . Its all rather sad and of course – very royal . . .

8 06 2010

I tend to agree that her outrageous sense of entitlement seems to block any basic intelligence. Still, I’m actually not at all interested in what makes her tick, as an individual, even a royal individual. I’m fascinated by the social circumstances that shape and constrain any apology that might pass through her lips. The thing is, all such public representations have no monopoly on sincerity. Quite the contrary. Like conventional politeness, one has to appear to be sincere, not actually be sincere. After all, there’s no easy test for the latter; but there is, sort of, for the former. I think that’s what I’m trying to achieve by setting up my 5-point apology litmus test – abbreviated to 5PALT !

9 06 2010
mark c


I like the idea of a 5-point apology litmus test.

And I particularly like the abbreviation – 5PALT.

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