As predictable as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West, it seems we can count on two things on a daily basis: a powerful man being accused of sexual harassment, and a subsequent public apology.
Certainly, the details of the alleged incidents are unique in their circumstances (Matt Lauer’s under-the-desk button) at the same time they exhibit similar themes — person uses power to intimidate and manipulate.
The apologies, too, share traits: Most are, well, a sorry excuse.
There was Harvey Weinstein’s statement, which started by saying he “came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.” Comedian Louis C.K. admitted to exposing himself, but the rest of his apology was strangely self-absorbed. And ex-CBS Host Charlie Rose “deeply” apologized, but also said he felt he “was pursuing shared feelings.”
Clearly, besides their inability to know what is acceptable behavior, some men need help in the mea culpa department. Psychologist Harriet Lerner, author of Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts, said the public statements on the whole have been “absolutely dreadful.”
“They’re sleazy, self-serving, vague, mind-bending, gaslighting,” she said. “There’s no accountability, and they make every apology mistake that one could make.”
Indeed, there are dos and don’ts of saying you’re sorry, according to Lerner and Edwin Battistella, a professor of linguistics at Southern Oregon University and the author of Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology:
- Use the word “apologize”
- Clearly state what you did wrong
- Keep it short
- Offer some form of reparations
- Use the conditional (if this happened; what I might have done)
- Use the word “but”
- Ask for the victim to do something (i.e. forgive you)
- Emphasize how much you respect women
- Note that things used to be different
- Say you thought what you were doing was fine
- Note that you don’t do that thing anymore
- Place blame elsewhere
So who actually got it right? We examined 30 public statements made by powerful men accused of sexual harassment or assault since October, and discovered four categories: Of 30 we examined, nine were out-right denials. There were 11 in which the men admitted, for the most part, transgressions and apologized. Nine statements were somewhere in between. And Garrison Keillor deserves his own category.
Then, with the help of our experts, we annotated 12 of them. (To see the annotations on the right side of your screen, click on the highlighted text.)
Producer Harvey Weinstein
Accused of: Sexually assaulting and harassing dozens of women
Apology: “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.
“I have since learned it’s not an excuse, in the office — or out of it. To anyone.
“I realized some time ago that I needed to be a better person, and my interactions with the people I work with have changed.
“I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.
“Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go. That is my commitment. My journey now will be to learn about myself and conquer my demons. Over the last year, I’ve asked Lisa Bloom to tutor me, and she’s put together a team of people. I’ve brought on therapists, and I plan to take a leave of absence from my company and to deal with this issue head on. I so respect all women, and regret what happened. I hope that my actions will speak louder than words and that one day we will all be able to earn their trust and sit down together with Lisa to learn more. Jay Z wrote in 4:44 “I’m not the man I thought I was, and I better be that man for my children.” The same is true for me. I want a second chance in the community, but I know I’ve got work to do to earn it. I have goals that are now priorities. Trust me, this isn’t an overnight process. I’ve been trying to do this for 10 years, and this is a wake-up call. I cannot be more remorseful about the people I hurt, and I plan to do right by all of them.
“I am going to need a place to channel that anger, so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention. I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party. I’m going to do it at the same place I had my Bar Mitzvah. I’m making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party. One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC. While this might seem coincidental, it has been in the works for a year. It will be named after my mom, and I won’t disappoint her.”
Former CBS Host Charlie Rose
Accused of: Sexually harassing eight women
Apology: “In my 45 years in journalism, I have prided myself on being an advocate for the careers of the women with whom I have worked. Nevertheless, in the past few days, claims have been made about my behavior toward some former female colleagues.
“It is essential that these women know I hear them and that I deeply apologize for my inappropriate behavior. I am greatly embarrassed. I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.
“I have learned a great deal as a result of these events, and I hope others will too. All of us, including me, are coming to a newer and deeper recognition of the pain caused by conduct in the past, and have come to a profound new respect for women and their lives.”
Former Today Show anchor Matt Lauer
Accused of: Sexually harassing three women
Apology: “There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.
“Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.
“Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I’m committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by the people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.”
Actor Dustin Hoffman
Accused of: Sexually harassing one woman
Apology: “I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation. I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am.”
U.S. Sen. Al Franken
Accused of: Sexually harassing two women
Apology: “The first thing I want to do is apologize: to [TV host and sports broadcaster] Leeann [Tweeden], to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There’s more I want to say, but the first and most important thing — and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine — is: I’m sorry.
“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.
“But I want to say something else, too. Over the last few months, all of us — including and especially men who respect women — have been forced to take a good, hard look at our own actions and think (perhaps, shamefully, for the first time) about how those actions have affected women.
“For instance, that picture. I don’t know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn’t matter. There’s no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn’t funny. It’s completely inappropriate. It’s obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture. And, what’s more, I can see how millions of other women would feel violated by it — women who have had similar experiences in their own lives, women who fear having those experiences, women who look up to me, women who have counted on me.
“Coming from the world of comedy, I’ve told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny but later came to realize were just plain offensive. But the intentions behind my actions aren’t the point at all. It’s the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come to terms with that.
“While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.
“I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate.
“And the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.”
Comedian Louis C.K.
Accused of: Sexually harassing five women
Apology: “I want to address the stories told to The New York Times by five women named Abby, Rebecca, Dana, Julia who felt able to name themselves and one who did not.
“These stories are true. At the time, I said to myself that what I did was OK because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true. But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly. I have been remorseful of my actions. And I’ve tried to learn from them. And run from them. Now I’m aware of the extent of the impact of my actions. I learned yesterday the extent to which I left these women who admired me feeling badly about themselves and cautious around other men who would never have put them in that position. I also took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community, which disabled them from sharing their story and brought hardship to them when they tried because people who look up to me didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t think that I was doing any of that because my position allowed me not to think about it. There is nothing about this that I forgive myself for. And I have to reconcile it with who I am. Which is nothing compared to the task I left them with. I wish I had reacted to their admiration of me by being a good example to them as a man and given them some guidance as a comedian, including because I admired their work.
“The hardest regret to live with is what you’ve done to hurt someone else. And I can hardly wrap my head around the scope of hurt I brought on them. I’d be remiss to exclude the hurt that I’ve brought on people who I work with and have worked with whose professional and personal lives have been impacted by all of this, including projects currently in production: the cast and crew of ‘Better Things,’ ‘Baskets,’ ‘The Cops,’ ‘One Mississippi,’ and ‘I Love You, Daddy.’ I deeply regret that this has brought negative attention to my manager Dave Becky who only tried to mediate a situation that I caused. I’ve brought anguish and hardship to the people at FX… I’ve brought pain to my family, my friends, my children and their mother.
“I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen. Thank you for reading.”
President George H.W. Bush
Accused of: Sexually harassing four women
Apology, made by a spokesman: “At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures. To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”
Journalist and author Mark Halperin
Accused of: Sexually harassing five women
Apology: “I am profoundly sorry for the pain and anguish I have caused by my past actions. I apologize sincerely to the women I mistreated.
“The world is now publicly acknowledging what so many women have long known: Men harm women in the workplace. That new awareness is, of course, a positive development. For a long time at ABC News, I was part of the problem. I acknowledge that, and I deeply regret it. As I said earlier in the week, my behavior was wrong. It caused fear and anxiety for women who were only seeking to do their jobs.
“In recent days I have closely read the accounts of women with whom I worked at ABC News. I have not read these accounts looking for discrepancies or inconsistencies. Instead, in almost every case, I have recognized conduct for which I feel profound guilt and responsibility, some involving junior ABC News personnel and women just starting out in the news business.
“Many of the accounts conveyed by journalists working on stories about me or that I have read after publication have not been particularly detailed (and many were anonymous) making it difficult for me to address certain specifics. But make no mistake: I fully acknowledge and apologize for conduct that was often aggressive and crude.
“Towards the end of my time at ABC News, I recognized I had a problem…”
Actor Kevin Spacey
Accused of: Sexually assaulting 15 men
Apology: “I have a lot of respect and admiration for Anthony Rapp as an actor. I’m beyond horrified to hear his story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate, drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.
“This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life. I know that there are stories out there about me and that some have been fueled by the fact that I have been protective of my privacy. As those closest to me know, in my life I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.”
Former Minnesota Public Radio Host Garrison Keillor
Accused of: Sexually harassing one woman
Apology: “I’m doing fine. Getting fired is a real distinction in broadcasting and I’ve waited 50 years for the honor. All of my heroes got fired. I only wish it could’ve been for something more heroic. I put my hand on a woman’s bare back. I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called. Anyone who ever was around my show can tell you that I was the least physically affection person in the building. Actors hug, musicians hug, people were embracing every Saturday night left and right, and I stood off in the corner like a stone statue. If I had a dollar for every woman who asked to take a selfie with me and who slipped an arm around me and let it drift down below the beltline, I’d have at least a hundred dollars. So this is poetic irony of a high order. But I’m just fine. I had a good long run and am grateful for it and for everything else.”
Producer Russell Simmons
Accused of: Sexually assaulting two women
Apology: “I have been informed with great anguish of [screenwriter] Jenny Lumet’s recollection about our night together in 1991. I know Jenny and her family and have seen her several times over the years since the evening she described. While her memory of that evening is very different from mine, it is now clear to me that her feelings of fear and intimidation are real. While I have never been violent, I have been thoughtless and insensitive in some of my relationships over many decades and I sincerely and humbly apologize.
“This is a time of great transition. The voices of the voiceless, those who have been hurt or shamed, deserve and need to be heard. As the corridors of power inevitably make way for a new generation, I don’t want to be a distraction so I am removing myself from the businesses that I founded. The companies will now be run by a new and diverse generation of extraordinary executives who are moving the culture and consciousness forward. I will convert the studio for yogic science into a not-for-profit center of learning and healing. As for me, I will step aside and commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening.”
Actor Ben Affleck
Accused of: Sexually harassing two women
Apology (tweeted): “I acted inappropriately toward Ms. Burton and I sincerely apologize”