Apology #4. D’Amato to Judge Ito in the O.J. Trial

15 07 2010

Marsha Wagner of Columbia University explains what makes an apology good and warns that a bad apology can make a difficult relationship even worse. For more details, see   httpwww.colorado.eduOmbudsApologies1.pdf . The example she gives is as follows:

In 1995 on a radio talk show, Senator D’Amato used an exaggerated, stereotyped Japanese accent to mock Judge Ito, who was presiding at the O.J. Simpson trial. After receiving considerable criticism, the Senator’s office issued the following press release: “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry. I was making fun of the pomposity of the judge and the manner in which he’s dragging the trial out.”

This dismissive and inadequate apology created vehement objections from colleagues, citizens, journalists, and Asian-American groups. The next day, the Senator personally read a better prepared statement in the Senate record: “I’m here on the Senate floor to give a statement as it related to that episode. It was a sorry episode. As an Italian-American, I have a special responsibility to be sensitive to ethnic stereotypes. I fully recognize the insensitivity of my remarks about Judge Ito. My remarks were totally wrong and inappropriate. I know better. What I did was a poor attempt at humor. I am deeply sorry for the pain that I have caused Judge Ito and others. I offer my sincere apologies.”

#2 is certainly better than #1. Here, for the sake of reference,  is my model 5-point apology:

“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)

In the D’Amato case, the Senator names the behaviour and accepts his responsibility. He explains (“a poor attempt at humour”) without seeking to justify. He acknowledges that his actions have caused pain. He stops short of asking for forgiveness as such, nor does he offer to make amends.

Apology #2, in my view, scores 3 out of 5, while Apology #1 scores a big fat zero.


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