Monday, November 5, 2007

Clinton Video Attacks the Accusers

Hillary Rodham Clinton is increasingly coming under attack by fellow Democratic candidates, who are hoping to gain ground in the coming weeks. At the October 30th debate, the criticism reached its highest point yet, as candidate after candidate targeted Clinton and her policies. The next day, the Clinton campaign answered back. Not from the podium, but instead through a cleverly edited video delivered via the Internet.

The video was placed on Clinton’s website, as well as on Set to Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” it shows rivals John Edwards, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd directing their answers and criticism at Clinton--one after the other, in quick succession. It ends with a snip-it of Clinton stating "I seem to be the topic of great conversation and great consternation and that's for a reason." Finally, as the video fades to black, the words "The Politics of Pile-On" appear on the screen.

In terms of apologia, the Clinton video relies on new media to deliver what William Benoit refers to as a strategy of “attacking the accuser.” Such a strategy is aimed at reducing the effectiveness of a criticisms by attacking the accusers and, essentially, undermining the creditability of their claims. In this case, it is used to dismiss the criticisms raised against Clinton as mere pile-on politics, rather than valid claims worthy of consideration by voters.

This example of political apologia also emphasizes the need for future research on how new media apologiae are employed in political campaigns today.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Australia Unwilling to Apologize

As a step toward reconciliation with indigenous people, Australian Prime Minister John Howard announced that he is committed to formally recognizing the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders as citizens in the Australian Constitution.

In his remarks, Howard stated that he has "always supported reconciliation but not of the apologetic, shame-laden, guilt-ridden type." He went on to say that millions of Australians "don't believe there is anything to apologize for. They are sorry for past mistreatment, but that is different from assuming responsibility for it."

Australia’s indigenous leaders appear to welcome Howard's gesture, but some say that without an apology there will always be "unfinished business."

Howard, however, disagrees. “So much of the dialogue in the past has been based on apologies and shame and guilt, and it won’t work if people see that as the way forward,” said Howard. “That is the old paradigm, that is the old order.”

In reality, Howard’s approach may not be the way forward. In fact, according to Aaron Lazare, “where there are no apologies, reconciliation is unlikely.”

Moreover, Jason Edwards argues that true reconciliation involves an apologia process of remembrance, reconciliation (identifying the victims and pledging to make amends), mortification (expressing remorse and asking for forgiveness), and atonement (or some form of corrective action).

Based on this, it appears that Howard is actually willing to acknowledge the past wrongdoing, identify indigenous people as victims, and even take corrective action by finally recognizing them as rightful citizens of Australia. However, he is unwilling to express remorse or even consider asking for forgiveness.

It makes one wonder why a person or group would acknowledge a wrong and take corrective action, if in fact they really "don't believe there is anything to apologize for.”

Friday, October 5, 2007

Ahmadinejad Cloaks Comments in Values

In remarks made to a Columbia University audience, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad relied on denial and transcendence strategies to discuss his controversial views.

For instance, when challenged about the brutal treatment of women and homosexuals by the Iranian government, Ahmadinejad denied the accusations by saying that "Women in Iran enjoy the highest levels of freedom" and "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country."

Conversely, Ahmadinejad did not deny his past comments regarding whether the Holocaust happened or whether Israel should exist. Both statements, however, were repositioned as appeals to popular American values. For example, he referred to his stance on the Holocaust as a call for research from multiple perspectives.

In addition, Ahmadinejad refused to answer "yes" or "no" when asked if he sought the destruction of Israel. Instead, he said the status of Israel should be determined by a free election.

"Let the people of Palestine freely choose what they want for their future," he said.

Such statements shift the focus away from Ahmadinejad’s past remarks and policies of hate by appealing to the larger, abstract values that are viewed favorably by Americans, but are often left undefined and unexplored.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Southwest's Apology Mocks Customer, Situation

Earlier this month, a Southwest Airlines employee pulled 23-year-old Kyla Ebbert aside to tell her she was dressed too provocatively to board a flight. Ebbert was kept off the plane until she adjusted her mini-skirt and was only allowed to board by agreeing to cover her skirt and legs with a blanket.

After widespread news and talk show coverage, Southwest Airlines issued an apology and reparations. Both strategies, however, were at best insincere—and, at worst, a mockery of the situation and demeaning to Ebbert as well as other women offended by the airline's actions.

In the apology released by Southwest, the airline states:

"From a Company who really loves PR, touché to you Kyla! Some have said we've gone from wearing our famous hot pants to having hot flashes at Southwest, but nothing could be further from the truth. As we both know, this story has great legs, but the true issue here is that you are a valued Customer, and you did not get an adequate apology. Kyla, we could have handled this better, and on behalf of Southwest Airlines, I am truly sorry…. It was never our intention to treat you unfairly and again, we apologize."

The insincerity continued when Southwest announced it was reducing fares as a gesture of reparations:

"The publicity caught us with our pants down, quite frankly. The story has such great legs, but we have an even better sense of humor, so we're going to jump out there and lower our fares to match the mini skirts we've all been hearing so much about."

Inappropriate phrases such as “has great legs,” “caught us with our pants down,” and “lower our fares to match the mini skirts” overshadow any attempt at contrition. Simply saying “we apologize” does not an apology make. Add to that the statement “we have an even better sense of humor” and it’s no wonder why Ebbert and her attorney felt slighted by the airline’s remarks.

In the end, the question is: why mock the situation or the woman’s feelings? Would it have been so difficult for the airline to simply say--with humility and remorse--that this situation could have been handled better, and that they are truly sorry for the feelings of embarrassment that the airline's actions and the situation have caused?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mattel Apologizes to Chinese Manufacturers

Just weeks after recalling (and apologizing for the production of) unsafe toys, Mattel has issued an apology for implying that the problems were the fault of Chinese manufacturers.

This time the toy maker sent a top executive to personally take responsibility for the recalled products and to express regret for any harm or hurt feelings the incident has caused Chinese workers and officials.

"Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people, and all of our customers who received the toys," said Thomas Debrowski, Mattel's executive vice president for worldwide operations.

Debrowski added: “We understand and appreciate deeply the issues that this has caused for the reputation of Chinese manufacturers."

The apology may be seen by some as a calculated move to simply avoid inflaming Chinese officials who can make it difficult for Mattel to produce their toys inexpensively (and, ultimately, hurt their earnings and stock price).

Regardless, the act of contrition marks an important gesture from a large U.S. producer to the Chinese people and factories that help it earn such high profits.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Mormon Church Apologizes for Massacre

As the Fancher-Baker wagon train passed through Utah in 1857, 120 men, women, and children in its party were brutally murdered by a group of men dressed in Native American clothing. New research shows that leaders of the local Mormon church were, in fact, responsible for recruiting Paiute Indians to participate--alongside Mormon militia members--in the horrific killings.

At the 150th anniversary memorial service held this month, Mormon Elder Henry B. Eyring, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, offered a groundbreaking statement of contrition and accountability for the church's role in the massacre.

"What was done here long ago by members of our church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct," said Eyring. "We cannot change what happened, but we can remember and honor those who were killed here."

Although the statement was intended as an apology to descendants of the victims and survivors, it did not include the word “sorry” nor did it take full responsibility for the church’s role in carrying out (not just planning or recruiting people for) the massacre.

Historian Will Bagley felt the church avoided its culpability. ''I don't think shoving it off on local [Mormon] leadership is an apology,'' he said. ''Did you hear an 'I'm sorry?'” Priscilla Dickson, a descendant of one of the victims, added: ''Simply saying 'I'm sorry,' would go a long way.'"

After the ceremony, Richard Turley Jr., the church's managing director of family and church history, insisted that the statement was offered as an apology, adding: ''[The church] is deeply, deeply sorry. What happened here was horrific.''

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Lewis Offers Pseudo-Apology

Jerry Lewis released an apology for using an anti-gay slur during his annual Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In his statement, Lewis said:

"I made a joking comment to a member of my production staff. I apologize to anyone offended….That something like this would distract from the true purpose of the Telethon pains me deeply. The success of the show and all the good that will come of it shouldn't be lost because of one unfortunate word. I accept responsibility for what I said. There are no excuses. I am sorry."

Although Lewis says he accepts responsibility, the regret in his statement is related to the negative shadow cast on the telethon, as opposed to regretting the pain or hurt feelings he caused other people.

According to apology scholar Aaron Lazare, such failed or pseudo-apologies contain “a conditional acknowledgement of the offense” indicating that the offender “may not even believe an offense was committed.”

Moreover, Lewis’s statements “I made a joking comment” and “I apologize to anyone offended” sounds much like a dismissive “If you were hurt, I am sorry” type remark--implying that the root of the problem is the audience’s over-sensitivity, not the anti-gay remark itself.

Mattel Emphasizes Corrective Action

The largest manufacturer of children’s toys, Mattel, issued a voluntary recall of several toy lines due to small digestible magnets and indications of lead-based paint.

Although the official recall notices issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are not intended as instances of apologies, they do include “remedy” sections that focus on corrective action.

Furthermore, in the video posted by Mattel on its website, chairman and chief executive officer Robert Eckert offers an apology, but focuses more on corrective action. In the video, he says:

“We apologize again to everyone affected and promise that we will continue to focus on ensuring the safety and quality of our toys.”

In addition, the video and the news release by Mattel both emphasize a “3-stage safety check” that will be used to ensure safety going forward.

The approach by Mattel highlights the need for future studies of the differences between official recall notices that offer accounts and corrective action (but not apologies) versus damage control recall strategies employed in new media and press releases that offer an obligatory “apology” while focusing mostly on the corrective action.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Malaysian Student Apologizes

Wee Meng Chee, a Malaysian student currently attending college in Taiwan, apologized for making and posting a rap video on YouTube that featured the Malaysian national anthem Negaraku as background music.

The entire episode raises questions in Malaysia about the issues of creativity and expression versus the government’s “national interest” regulations.

Using a strategy of evasion of responsibility based on good intentions, Meng Chee stated that the controversy has taught him “a lesson about the spirit of nationalism and race relations.” He added, “As a Malaysian, I did not intend to shame the country or ridicule any religion.”

Meng Chee also announced that he is taking corrective action to help end the controversy: “I will remove the video clip from my blog and I hope other bloggers will stop distributing the video clip.”

The Malaysian Information Minister, Datuk Zainuddin Maidin, urged Malaysians to accept Meng Chee’s apology. Cabinet Minister Nazri, however, argues that Meng Chee “committed an offence against the nation and no one, not the Cabinet or political parties, are in the position to forgive him.”

Instead, the matter will be turned over to the Attorney General to determine if Meng Wee should be charged under the Sedition Act for insulting a symbol of the nation.

“In Britain, you can insult the Queen or the flag, I don’t care, but in this country we have laws and we cannot create a precedent where you commit an offence, apologize and get away with it,” said Nazri.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Anti-Apartheid Activists Call for Apology

Thirteen former anti-Apartheid activists sought an apology today for their unjust imprisonment by returning to the same South African courtroom where they were tried and sentenced twenty years ago.

In the early 1990s, Apartheid was finally dismantled--and the dream of democracy became a reality for anti-Apartheid activists throughout South Africa with the elections of 1994. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established a year later to record crimes against human rights and, in some cases, grant amnesty to the perpetrators of those crimes.

In the twelve years since the TRC’s establishment, however, no judges have made submissions to the commission. Instead, law experts have attempted to transcend the specific details of complaints by appealing to the abstract value of enforcing laws as they are written at the time of sentencing. According to this reasoning, judges who presided over cases during Apartheid had the responsibility to interpret and enforce the law as it stood then.

Such an account gets to the heart of the activists’ call, which is not only an apology from a court authority, but more importantly an acknowledgement of pain, suffering, and wrongdoing by a now democratic system that claims to value reconciliation for past injustices.

As Quentin Michels, one of the activists who was sentenced to 12 years, said: "It would mean that for all those times and troubles that we've gone through it was something that we can say it was worthwhile."

Friday, July 13, 2007

McCain Accepts Campaign Blame

Using mortification and corrective action strategies, Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain accepted the blame for his recent campaign woes, which include two major staff shake-ups in a week.

During an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio, McCain stated "We've made mistakes.” He went on to say “The responsibility is mine. I'm the candidate."

McCain also accepted responsibility for spending too much money early in the campaign, rather than saving up to pay for costly television advertisements down the stretch. "We didn't use the money in the most effective way," he said.

"It's difficult times right now," McCain admitted as he vowed to press on with his presidential bid.

Recently, McCain named the chief executive officer, Rick Davis, as his campaign manager as he seeks to correct his troubled campaign. In addition, in early July, he laid off more than half of his staff and cut salaries in an attempt to control costs.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Cameron Diaz Apologizes for Bag

Cameron Diaz recently apologized for appearing in Peru while carrying a bag that evoked painful memories for the local citizens.

The olive green bag featured a red star along and the words “Serve the People” written in Chinese. The saying (made famous by Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong) evoked memories of the Maoist insurgency in Peru during the 1980s and 1990s that led to the deaths of nearly 70,000 people.

In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press, Diaz used a balance of evasion of responsibility (by classifying the act as an accident) and mortification.

"I sincerely apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently offended. The bag was a purchase I made as a tourist in China and I did not realize the potentially hurtful nature of the slogan printed on it."

Diaz went on to say: "I'm sorry for any people's pain and suffering and it was certainly never my intention to reopen what I now know is a painful wound in this country's history."

Diaz also mentioned the beauty and warmth of the Peruvian people, and said she wished "for their continued healing."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Edwards Defends Nonprofit Connection

Speaking to reporters in Reno, Nevada, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards denied accusations that the Center for Promise and Opportunity has been used to promote his presidential campaign.

Using a strategy of transcendence, Edwards stated that his work on behalf of the nonprofit organization was aimed at raising the minimum wage in states, helping low-income students attend college, organizing workers into unions, and engaging young people in the fight against poverty.

"All of this was an effort to try to deal with the issue of poverty in America, which is the cause of my life," he said. "What I've been doing is not only significant and there's nothing wrong with it, it's something I'm very proud of. Everything we did was not only completely legal but we did a lot of good."

According to Kenneth Burke, William Benoit, and Ware and Linkugel, the rhetorical appeal of such transcendental remarks is that they shift the focus away from the particulars of the situation and, instead, position a person’s actions in relation to larger, abstract ideals that society views favorably.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Jones Accepts Responsibility

Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones issued a statement that he is dropping his appeal of a yearlong suspension and is pledging to repair his image as the poster child for NFL misconduct.

Jones was suspended after 10 encounters with police and five arrests since he was drafted in 2005. His suspension was the most severe of those handed down last spring as part of commissioner Roger Goodell’s crackdown on player misbehavior.

In his announcement, Jones employed a mortification strategy by acknowledging wrongdoing, accepting responsibility, and taking steps to make amends in the future.

"I understand my responsibilities to my teammates, the Titans and my fans, and I am committed to turning my life around and being a positive member of the NFL," said Jones through a statement delivered by agent Michael Huyghue.

In reference to his meeting with the commissioner, Jones said that he told Goodell "about the steps I have taken to change my life since being suspended by the NFL. I accept the discipline that's been imposed on me and I am withdrawing my appeal."

Jones is also planning to use the time away from football to go back to school; he’ll reportedly take courses online from West Virginia University, where he played.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Duke Prosecutor Resigns

North Carolina District Attorney Mike Nifong resigned and admitted that he got “carried away” during the prosecution of three Duke lacrosse players for allegedly raping a stripper at a team party in March 2006.

Using aspects of the mortification strategy described by Benoit, Nifong said he regretted making improper statements about the players.

"Whatever mistakes I made in this case were my mistakes. But they're not all the ones that the bar says I made, but they are my mistakes," Nifong said.

In addition to mortification, Nifong used a strategy that Goffman describes as a variation of denial—that is, admitting that the act occurred, but that he isn’t ultimately responsible for the negative outcome because it wasn’t foreseeable or intentional.

In response to claims that he withheld DNA test results from the defense, Nifong said that he didn't know additional DNA information was missing at first. However, months later, he realized the mistake.

"My first reaction was a variation of 'Oh crap. I didn't give them this?"' Nifong said.

The missing DNA results indicated that no evidence was found from any lacrosse player. Despite knowing these results, Nifong pressed ahead and won indictments against Seligmann, Evans and Finnerty.

State prosecutors later concluded that the three players were not only innocent, but were also victims of Nifong’s "tragic rush to accuse."

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Privacy International Responds

The London-based advocacy group Privacy International (PI) issued an “Open Letter to Google” in response to Google’s alleged accusation that PI has a conflict of interest regarding Microsoft.

In the letter PI employs the apologia strategy that can be described in Erving Goffman’s terms as denying that an act occurred. According to PI, “Privacy International is a fiercely independent organization that has never shown fear nor favour. Again for the record, we have been fierce and relentless critics of Microsoft since our inception as a watchdog.”

In addition, PI Director Simon Davies, responded in kind to Google with his own attack of the attacker strategy: “Can I be so bold as to suggest that your company's actions stem from sour grapes that you achieved the lowest ranking amongst the Internet giants?”

Perhaps this isn’t the last we hear of this public battle of accusations and apologiae.

Google Attacks Attacker

Google is in the news again. This time, as the worst Internet-based company at protecting consumer privacy, according to a report issued by the London-based advocacy group Privacy International. The report by Privacy International (PI) explains the ranking in part because the group believes it has “witnessed an attitude to privacy within Google that at its most blatant is hostile, and at its most benign is ambivalent.”

This report ultimately served as a kategoria (or an accusation, as described by apologia scholar Halford Ross Ryan). Google allegedly fired back, by contacting journalists and claiming that PI did not name Microsoft as the worst company because it has a conflict of interest with the software giant.

This alleged tactic can be described in apologia terms as: condemnation of the condemners (Sykes and Matza 1975, Scott and Lyman 1968), shortcomings or misdeeds of accuser (Schonback 1980), or attacking the accuser (Benoit 1995). As Benoit explains, the rhetorical power of this strategy is that if the credibility of one’s attacker (in this case, PI) can be reduced, the damage to the accused’s image (that is, Google’s image) can be reduced as well.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

"Scooter" to Serve 30 Months

Former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby is back in the spotlight after being sentenced to 30 months in prison for lying and obstructing the investigation of a CIA leak.

Libby’s case is particularly interesting because his apologia was handled largely by third-party participants. For instance, one of his attorneys, William Jeffress, is offering a denial defense by stating that the obstruction charge hasn’t been proven. "No one was ever charged. Nobody ever pleaded guilty," Jeffress said. "The government did not establish the existence of an offense."

In addition, another one of Libby’s defense attorneys, Theodore Wells, offered a bolstering strategy by asking the judge to consider Libby's career service to the country. A number of prominent figures have also added to this strategy, including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who said: "My hope and prayer is that his outstanding record, his many contributions to our country and his value as a citizen, will be considered carefully."

As for Libby’s direct contribution to his apologia strategy, he offered only brief remarks that hinted at the bolstering strategy already established. “It is respectfully my hope that the court will consider, along with the jury verdict, my whole life,” said Libby.

Based on the sentencing given by the judge, the apologia strategies offered by the third parties failed to diminish the offensive of Libby’s actions enough to escape jail time.

According to Hugh Keefe, a Connecticut defense attorney who teaches trial advocacy at Yale University, that’s not surprising. “The only thing any sentencing judge wants to hear is remorse, and if they don't think it comes from the heart or they think they're only sorry for getting caught, for losing their job, or for going to jail, it doesn't count,” said Keefe.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Andrew Speaker Apologizes

Andrew Speaker, the Atlanta attorney quarantined with a dangerous strain of tuberculosis, apologized to his fellow airline passengers in an interview on Good Morning America.

If we understand that the underlying assumption of an apology is the accusation that a social value has been broken, then we must ask ourselves, first, what value Speaker is accused of breaking and, second, whether he adequately responds to that accusation. In reading public sentiment about the situation, it seems clear that Speaker is accused of selfishly placing his own health and wellbeing over his fellow airline passengers. That is, for breaking the maxim: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

In response to that accusation, Speaker employed a combination of strategies as described by William Benoit, including “mortification,” “defeasibility,” “good intentions,” and “scapegoating” strategies.

To begin with, it’s important to note that Speaker acknowledged wrongful behavior and asked for forgiveness (mortification): "In hindsight, maybe it wasn't the best decision,” said Speaker. "I am very sorry for any grief or pain that I have caused anyone." And later “I just hope they can forgive me."

Despite this mortification, Speaker’s apologia relied largely upon “defeasibility,” and “good intention” strategies.

For instance, Speaker insisted that he didn’t know he was contagious and, therefore, is not to blame (defeasibility). "I never would have put my family at risk, and my daughter at risk. I repeatedly asked my doctors, 'Is my family at risk? Is anybody at risk of this?'" Speaker said. "They told me I wasn't contagious and I wasn't dangerous."

The issue, however, is not so much Speaker’s initial trip to Europe, but his return trip to the U.S. Speaker was contacted by the CDC while in Europe and told to turn himself in immediately at a clinic there.

"He was told in no uncertain terms not to take a flight back," said Dr. Martin Cetron, Director of the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine.

In response to criticism for his return flight, Speaker suggested that he acted with only good intentions, to save his life. For instance, Speaker stated "I thought that if I went [to the clinic in Europe], if I waited until they showed up, that meant I was going to die" and "it's very real that I could have died there." In addition, Speaker solidified his good intentions strategy by saying "I don't expect for people to ever forgive me. I just hope that they understand that I truly never meant to put them in harm."

Finally, Speaker grounded his apologia in a strategy of scapegoating. According to statements made by Speaker and his wife, the reason he had to risk the return trip was because he felt that the CDC "abandoned him," adding that he and his wife were “scared out of our minds." In addition, his wife offered the following narrative: "Imagine sitting in a foreign country with your husband and your government saying they were going to leave you there."

Whether Speaker’s apologia is ultimately accepted is up to the society as a whole. Judging by some public sentiments, it may not be.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Britney Spears' Blog to Fans

Britney Spears recently posted a letter on her site to fans. In it, Spears employs a number of apologiae strategies to explain recent stories about her behavior.

One of the most prominent strategies used by Spears in her defense is the strategy of "defeasibility," which is used to evade responsibility. For example, early in her letter, Spears states "I was like a bad kid running around with ADD" followed by "after I got my divorce... I was so overwhelmed, I think that I was in a little shock too" and, finally, she confesses "I was so lost." The rhetorical force of these statements implicitly suggests that Spears should not be judged too harshly nor held responsible for her actions. Instead, lack of control is actually to blame.

In addition to "defeasibility," Spears also employs a "bolstering" strategy (for example, "I just want the same things in life that you want...and that is to be happy") and an "attacking the accuser" strategy (such as "It's so funny how many stories are put out there about people" and "I used to be angry at the tabloids for printing horrible things about me"). These comments attempt to reduce the offensiveness of Spears' wrongful acts by identifying with the public while, at the same time, shifting the focus from her own actions to the possibly unethical actions of her accusers.

One has to wonder, however, why Spears chose to leave the provocative image adjacent to her defense.

Hearit's Three-Act Play and Ideal Apologia

In "Crisis Management by Apology," Keith Michael Hearit argues that an apologetic exchange can be viewed as a three-act play or ritual consisting of: an act, a charge of wrongdoing, and a defense. A critical element of this three-act play is the idea of guilt. In essence, the charge of wrongdoing is an assertion that an individual or organization has violated “some cherished social value” and, therefore, must purge the guilt of this violation and seek restoration into the community in the final act: the apologia.

Hearit also lays out a method for ethically judging the apologetic decisions of individuals and organizations. This method is based on two aspects of apologetic discourse: (1) the manner and (2) the content. In terms of the manner, Hearit asserts that, ideally, an ethical apologia is truthful, sincere, timely, and voluntary. It also addresses all stakeholders and is performed in an appropriate context (p. 64). However, in terms of the content, an ethical apologia should acknowledge wrongdoing, accept responsibility, express regret, identify with the victims, ask for forgiveness, seek reconciliation, disclose relevant information, provide an explanation that addresses the victims’ questions and concerns, and offer corrective actions and compensation.

It is worth noting that these characteristics describe the ideal or paradigm case of an ethical apologia. Therefore, an apologia that fails to meet one or several aspects is not necessarily unethical. Rather, it may be less ethical than the ideal, but still judged “ethically acceptable.” Moreover, there are at least five circumstances “that could justify departures from the paradigm case while still retaining the essential ethical character of an apologia.” These circumstances include: catastrophic financial losses, grave liability issues, a “moral learning curve,” questions over full-disclosure, and even situations where confidentiality or discretion are expected.

Benoit's Five Major Strategies

Based on the work done by Ware and Linkugel, William Benoit introduced perhaps the most comprehensive account of apologetic strategies in his book "Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies." Benoit's theory consists of five major strategies used by speakers: denial, evading responsibility, reducing offensiveness, corrective action, and mortification. In addition, Benoit offers subcategories for each.

The first strategy—denial—consists of two forms: 1) simple denial, in which the speaker denies the act or, at least, denies taking part in it; and 2) shifting the blame, which is also known as scapegoating.

The second strategy—evasion of responsibility—consists of: 1) provocation, suggesting that the accused responded after being provoked; 2) defeasibility, suggesting that a lack of either information or control is actually to blame; 3) accidents, suggesting it was an accident; and 4) good intentions, suggesting that the accused performed the act with good intentions, despite the negative outcome.

The third strategy details how apologists attempt to reduce the offensiveness of their wrongful acts by using: 1) bolstering, such as describing the positive attributes and qualities of a person; 2) minimization, attempting to decrease the audience’s negative view of the situation; 3) differentiation, focusing on how a particular situation differs from similar, yet much worse acts; 4) transcendence, discussing the act in terms of abstract values and group loyalties; 5) attacking the accuser to undermine his or her credibility; and 6) offering compensation to the victims.

The fourth strategy—corrective action—describes how apologists offer to repair damages caused by their actions, as well as take steps to prevent the event from happening again.

Finally, the fifth strategy—mortification—is based on Burke’s discussion of mortification in which the accused “admits wrongful behavior, asks for forgiveness, and apologizes.”

Ware and Linkugel: Four Factors

B.L Ware and Wil A. Linkugel draw on Robert Abelson’s theory of belief-dilemma resolution to describe four factors that apologists use when caught in a wrong: denial, bolstering, differentiation, and transcendence (275).

According to Ware and Linkugel, the first two factors—denial and bolstering—are reformative in the sense that in neither case does the speaker “totally invent the identification” (277) nor does the speaker attempt to “change the audience’s meaning” (275) of the issue or idea being discussed. The act of denying allegations and facts is useful in apologetic discourse in that (as long as the truth is not distorted) it allows the apologist to respond to charges in a way that does not conflict with the values and beliefs of the audience (Ware and Linkugel 275). In contrast to denial, bolstering takes place when an apologist “attempts to identify himself with something viewed favorably by the audience” (Ware and Linkugel 277).

While denial and bolstering are reformative, the second and third factors—differentiation and transcendence—are transformative. Differentiation is described as a discussion of the individual aspects that make up a larger action or accusation; in doing so, speakers attempt to redefine situations or cast their actions in a new, more detailed, and positive light (Ware and Linkugel 278-279). In contrast to differentiation, the fourth factor—transcendence—describes strategies shift the focus away from the particulars of a situation to the larger, conceptual ideals that the audience views favorably (Ware and Linkugel 280).

In short, the four factors consist of two reformative factors (denial which involves negation and bolstering which involves the opposite, identification) that do not attempt to change the meaning of the issue being discussed, and two transformative factors (differentiation, which focuses the audience’s attention on the particular, and transcendence which focuses on the abstract). Ware and Linkugel also combine one transformative factor with one reformative to construct four rhetorical postures often used by apologists: absolution (which consists of denial and differentiation), vindication (denial and transcendence), explanation (bolstering and differentiation), and justification (bolstering and transcendence) (282-283).

Erving Goffman's Remedial Strategies

In his 1971 book Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order, Erving Goffman explores the “remedial” strategies available to the accused. By focusing on “remedial work,” Goffman explicitly states that the goal of the accused is to transform or reposition the “meaning” of the act of wrongdoing—in an attempt to re-position an act that at first seems offensive into a socially acceptable one (109).

To achieve such a remediation, an accused person must either offer an account, an apology, or a request (Goffman 115). Accoding to Goffman, an account may include such strategies as denying that the act occurred or an admittance that the act occurred, but that the accused isn’t responsible for or couldn’t foresee the negative outcome (109-112). The second remedial strategy consists of an apology, in which the accused, essentially, splits himself into two parts: the guilty side and the side that “stands back and sympathizes with the blame giving, and, by implication, is worthy of being brought back into the fold” (Goffman 113). Finally, the accused can defend his or her actions by noting that the victim granted a request prior to the act and, therefore, is partly, if not, solely responsible for the outcome. For example, before violating someone’s privacy, a person may ask: “Can I ask you something personal?” (Goffman 115).

Regardless of whether a person uses an account, apology, or request, Goffman states that often two distinct processes actually occur in remedial work. One is restitutive, in which the victim receives some form of compensation. The other, which is more relevant to our discussion, is ritualistic. By ritualistic, Goffman means that the accused performs a ritual whereby he or she acknowledges the social rules, norms, or values that have been broken and realigns with or reaccepts that social order. This aspect is critical because it establishes wrongful acts as breaks from a society’s values; moreover, it establishes the remedial work as a public ritual in which those values are reaccepted. In other words, as Keith Michael Hearit notes, the goal is not actually forgiveness, but rather the repair of an “image-based social relationship” through a ritualistic acknowledgement and acceptance of values (Crisis Management 17).

Consequently, individuals or organizations offer not merely a defense, but a defense that seeks “restoration into the community” (Hearit Crisis Management 36). As we can see, then, whether the accused relies on an account, an apology, or a request, reacceptance into the community hinges on whether the accused accepts the social order and values that are believed to have been violated (Goffman 165).

Apologia Versus Apology

Although the terms "apologia" and "apology" seem similar, there is actually an important point of distinction between the commonly heard term apology and the lesser-known term apologia. The term apology is used when a person or corporation acknowledges guilt and expresses regret (Hearit Crisis Management 4). Apologia, on the other hand, is a Greek term that can be defined more broadly as any speech that is given in defense of an accusation (Ryan 255-256). It’s worth noting that apologia need not be presented as a “speech,” in the strict sense of the word. Rather, an apologia may be delivered in a variety of forms, including such materials as “an autobiography, a press release, a pamphlet, a play, or a novel” (Kruse 282).

Finally, it is important to understand that although these two terms are distinct, the broader term apologia may in fact contain an apology or an acknowledgement of responsibility (Hearit “Apologies and Public Relations” 115). Conversely, an apologia may offer “a compelling, counter description of organizational actions” without any acknowledgement of wrongdoing (Hearit “Apologies and Public Relations” 115). For example, if a newspaper reports that a product is hazardous, the manufacturer of that product may issue a statement denying the charge, and citing test results that demonstrate the safety of the product. In doing so, the company may explicitly refuse to accept responsibility for an action or undesirable situation. Although such a response would not be considered an apology, it does fit within the category of apologia.

By situating the discussion around apologiae rather than apologies, critics are able to focus not merely on instances in which organizations offer an admission of guilt, but more broadly on all situations in which an individual or organization has been accused of wrong-doing and offers some form of defense in response.