"Wallowing in Apology"

I'm sorry. I made a mistake.

Don't ask me which one; I haven't decided. But confessing to mistakes is the best way to get attention these days.

Last week commentators had a field day over President George W. Bush's confessing to Iraq related-mistakes for the first time.

No one seemed to notice, however, that the president owned up to errors of diction - choice of words - such as "bring it on" and "dead or alive." For a president who has never claimed to be a wordsmith that is not exactly a soul-baring acknowledgement of error.

The Democrats, of course, have been after him to apologize for going to war in Iraq, for cutting taxes and for practically everything else he has done, including accepting the presidency from the hands of the Supreme Court in 2000.

Such demands are routine political ploys, but the media play along just as they did during the Clinton years when the president was called on to apologize for everything from lying about sex to sending the troops after Somali warlords.

Clinton's favorite apologies were somewhat less than contrite. He tended to say "Yes, mistakes were made." That, of course, is a long way from saying "I messed up."

It leaves the impression that this or that idiot in the president's office or family made the mistake and the president, as the person at whose desk the buck stops, is nobly shouldering the blame.

An even more striking example of the new obsession with apology is the case of the current (June 5) issue of Newsweek magazine, whose cover shouts "Rethinking the Marriage Crunch." The cover story amounts to a retraction of "The Marriage Crunch" in the June 2, 1986, issue of that magazine.

"Newsweek" editors and writers have been on every possible television venue from CNN and Fox and ABC to Dr. Phil - and, for all I know, ESPN and cooking shows - explaining repetitiously why their predecessors two decades ago were wrong.

In case you have been in a coma for the past couple of weeks, the gist of the matter is that the 1986 story sensationalized an academic study saying that "white, college-educated women who fail to marry in their 20s face long odds against ever marrying." (Current figures show that, if anything, the reverse is true.)

And, just to provide a piece of errant diction to really be sorry about, some underling had added to the 1986 story an intendedly humorous aside that a 40-year-old single woman "was more likely to be killed by a terrorist" than marry.

Certainly, looking back from a post-9/11 perspective, the comparison is in the worst possible taste, besides being a wild statistical exaggeration. But now this piece of errant diction has to be apologized for over and over and over, as does the fact that the demographic prediction at the core of the story was wrong.

I suppose that in the end all the groveling will benefit the Newsweek bottom line. But if we had to wallow in apology for every prediction that has gone wrong because the world or society has changed, we'd be doing nothing else.

Imagine your favorite TV meteorologist having to apologize every time it didn't rain when it was supposed to, or did when it wasn't. Suppose a minister had to apologize every time a couple he married filed for divorce? Or an economist had to apologize for being wrong about the next recession? Or a teacher for giving a slightly better or worse grade than a student deserved on a quiz?

Even worse, suppose all of us over-40s had to apologize for mistakes we made 20 years ago?

As Elbert Hubbard said, "The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing that you will make one." The second worst, according to Ed Corson, is to overdose on either apology or denial.
(Article by Ed Corson, The Telegraph,US Newspaper delivered across 32 counties)


Post a Comment

<< Home