Lies, Apologies, and Internet Rule #4

As I mentioned in my last post, there were two high-profile apologies this past week.  I want to start with Tracy Morgan’s, because it showcases what not to do during an apology.  For those who live in a cave, Mr. Morgan, during a comedy club monologue, said he would stab his son if his son were gay.

He later made the following apology (h/t Joe. My. God.):

“I want to apologize to my fans and the gay & lesbian community for my choice of words at my recent stand-up act in Nashville. I’m not a hateful person and don’t condone any kind of violence against others. While I am an equal opportunity jokester, and my friends know what is in my heart, even in a comedy club this clearly went too far and was not funny in any context.”

I have been a fan of Mr. Morgan’s since his days on SNL, but this apology shows three of the biggest mistakes an apology can make.

1) “I want to apologize … for my choice of words…”  Note that at no point did Mr. Morgan actually apologize for the horrible things he said, but instead for how he expressed them. Also, there is no need for “I want to apologize”.  It weakens the force of the apology, because at no point is there an apology.  There is merely the stated desire to make one.

2) “I’m not a hateful person” and “While I am an equal-opportunity jokester, and my friends know what is in my heart…” Many people do not seem to understand that “what is in your heart” is immaterial.  This is identical to when Michael Richards insisted “I’m not a racist” after his crazy rant at a comedy club. It does not matter that Tracy Jordan considers himself an “equal-opportunity jokester” or that Michael Richards does not consider himself a racist. What is “in your heart” does not matter.  No one else can read your heart, and frankly no one cares to.  Instead, the only thing that matters is your actions.  Therefore, it is essential that you apologize for your actions and not try to use “what’s in your heart” to cover for it.

3) Look at what is missing.  At no point in his apology does he express what he did wrong. He does say that he “does not condone violence”, but he never shows that he understands what he did wrong or why it was wrong. This also means (much like in the case of Psychology Today) there is no self-punishment and no measures being taken to show that it will not reoccur.

These three problems come together to make the apology little more than “It was just a joke; geez, I didn’t mean to hurt anyone”. It is strictly pro forma, and showcases little real emotion.

As for the other major scandal right now, I have little to say about Anthony Weiner’s apology.  This is partially because I cannot find a good copy of it. (Seriously: This is the only version of the text I can find quickly.)  I am not a fan of “I take responsibility”, because it responsibility implies action, but its boiler-plate these days.  Partially, however, its because it seems a decent enough apology.  I also have little to say about the actual offense, other than:

1) it was a truly stupid violation of the Internet Rule #1 (and its corollary) and Internet Rule #2 and

2) the fact that the pictures were not sent to “consenting” adults makes much of the commentary around it infuriating.

Instead, I want to point out why the lies that led up to it are so damaging. Several people around Washington had defended Weiner prior to this apology, sincerely believing Weiner’s story about his Twitter being hacked.  (It helped that the one making the allegations had low credibility due to his own hand in several earlier false stories and the fact that there was weird activity on the Twitter account.) However, now, they all look like fools.  They now have less incentive to support and defend Weiner in the future.

It is increasingly difficult to keep a simple lie from being picked apart by the internet.  In this case, the technical aspects of Tweet seen around the world did not match with the story of someone other than Weiner using the Twitter account. While it is obvious that some people will believe the most obviously incredible things, it is no longer possible to fool the majority of the country for long with a simple, demonstrable lie.  Instead, you will merely feed your opponents and demoralize your supporters. Moreover, any evidence that is on the internet (including previous versions of your statements, emails/DMs/etc. you have sent to other parties, etc.) will always surface, as is it did in this case.

Internet Rule #4: Avoid bald-faced lying.  It never works for long, and always bites you in the end.

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