With everyone's every deed made public on the Internet these days, we've suddenly all developed a lot more to apologize for. But we haven't actually gotten any sorrier, so all that means is that the number of fake apologies have gone up. And we've started to develop some pretty universal techniques for "apologizing" without really apologizing.
Here's some of the most common offenders.
#6. "I Deeply Regret"
One of the popular go-to phrases is "I deeply regret ..." It's such a useful tool in the unapologetic person's arsenal because it doesn't require you to admit you did anything wrong. I don't know if it's technically correct, but it's common to send "regrets" to a friend whose loved one has just died, and nobody takes it as an admission that you were responsible for their uncle's death.
Chairman Steven H. Davis made use of the phrase to sound vaguely sorry after causing the collapse of his law firm, while claiming he had nothing to do with said collapse. "A dispassionate and disinterested review of the facts will confirm that I have not engaged in any misconduct," he said. "I did my best to navigate the firm through challenging and turbulent times, and I deeply regret our current situation." He doesn't know how the company ended up going down the drain; he is just shaking his head sadly with the rest of you in sympathy, like if your uncle had died.
Deep regrets also often go hand-in-hand with the good old "if," where you totally would be sorry if you had, hypothetically, done something bad (but you didn't). The mayor of Sunland Park, New Mexico, apologized by saying, "If I ever let [the citizens of Sunland Park] down in any way, I deeply regret it." Which is, to be fair, a big if, because all he's really admitted to was being so drunk while signing city contracts that he didn't know what they were, which he apparently thought would be a clever excuse to avoid paying the company he signed the contract with.
"If I tell them I was passing-out drunk, they'll have to let me keep all this! It's foolproof!"
So the guy either has a serious alcohol problem that interferes with his work, or he's retarded, or, more likely, both. Does this constitute "letting the voters down"? Who knows? Let's throw an "if" in there to be safe. And if he has completely deflated some voters' faith in their civic government? Is he sorry for what he's done? Ouch, that's a little strong. Best to go with "deeply regret."
People who deeply regret things often are pretty hazy on the specifics of what they did. When the U.S. General Services Administration got called on the carpet for spending over $800,000 on a Vegas trip, agency head Martha Johnson personally apologized to "the American people" for "the entire situation," which could technically refer to anything from the recession to global warming.
Or the Miami Heat forming a superteam?
Then she pulled out the old "deeply regret," deeply regretting that "the exceedingly good work of the GSA has been besmirched," and that she lost her job, ignoring that anyone upset enough to want an apology probably didn't give two shits about the good name of the GSA or her losing her job. Maybe something along the lines of "I'm sorry I spent your taxes on a mind reader, that was pretty dumb" would have gone over better.
#5. "Mistakes Were Made"
For those who feel that "deeply regret" is admitting too much responsibility, they can upgrade to "mistakes were made," the highest level of non-apology, used at the highest levels of government. Presidents as diverse as Reagan and Clinton have used the phrase, which one-ups "deeply regret" by not only leaving it open whether they are actually the culprit but existentially questioning whether there even is one.
"If a mistake was made in a forest, with no one around ..."
All agree that mistakes were made, but by whom? God? The universe? Can we ever really know? Isn't it a waste of taxpayer dollars to launch a special investigation into something that can never really be answered? Shouldn't we leave it up to the philosophers?
What's next, appointing a special counsel to discover what happened to the wonder of childhood?
When Reagan acknowledges that "mistakes were made" in the Iran-Contra affair, he takes the extra step of vowing that he will "get to the bottom of this" and "take whatever action is called for," which is eerily similar to O.J.'s vow to find the real murderer.
Some people like to frame this as a trend of our modern culture shifting away from accepting responsibility, but it's worth noting that the phrase is at least as old as Ulysses S. Grant, who said in his 1876 State of the Union address that "Mistakes have been made, as all can see and I admit," but also that "It is not necessarily evidence of blunder on the part of the Executive."
And I wouldn't be surprised if Adam and Eve told God that "Apples were eaten," or if Cain had shrugged and said, "Brothers get killed." Hey, it does happen.
#4. Apologizing for Someone Else
I wouldn't think I would have to explain this, but apparently some people require it: You can only apologize for yourself. Maybe there are some gray areas, like apologizing symbolically for a group you are part of, but you sure as hell should not be apologizing for the person you are apologizing to.
"I'm genuinely sorry that you are such a possessive bitch."
This happens all the time, often in a fairly harmless attempt to save a little face, like in a sports discussion. "Jeff, I think a lot of folks misunderstood that statement, and for that I apologize." Maybe he really meant that folks misunderstood because "I worded things badly" or "I shouldn't have said X" and thought it would be implied, but he never actually takes anything back, so I don't know.
But that's just a bit of language hedging we're probably all guilty of. Sometimes people are a lot more deliberate about pointing the finger at other people, like the pastor who advised parents to punch their gay children. He later said, "I apologize to anyone I have unintentionally offended. I did not say anything to intentionally offend anyone in the LGBT community ... It is unfortunate I was not more careful and deliberate. I can understand how these words could be misunderstood without the context of years of ministering to the people of God at Berean Baptist Church. I have received nothing but notes of appreciation and support from the people within the church."
"When I preached to the choir, they surprisingly all agreed with me! It's really rare, right? That's what the saying means?"
He could have stopped at the first couple of sentences and it would have been an apology (though probably an unsatisfactory one to most people), but he really sticks his foot in his mouth by going on to say that the apology is only needed for people who don't really get what he is saying, and all the people who get it (the people in his church) are appreciative. So he really didn't say anything wrong, because the smart people get it. What he is sorry about is that you offended morons do not have the years of experience to understand it.
Ingrid Newkirk of PETA was even more blatant about it. After an ad campaign comparing animal cruelty today to the Holocaust, Newkirk wrote a statement of "apology" where there was about one paragraph of apology and the rest was basically, "I KNOW LOTS OF JEWS THAT WERE FINE WITH IT!" to the point where the main message wasn't anything like "We shouldn't have done this campaign," but actually "If you were offended, and none of these real Jews were, what does that say about you?" It was basically a passive-aggressive attempt to shame anyone offended by the campaign by accusing them of hyperbolic fake outrage about something "real Jews" don't even have a problem with.
Everyone knows you are immune from accusations of racism as long as you are touching a member of that group.
Probably one of the ballsiest variations is apologizing for a completely unrelated third party, as Congressman Joe Barton did to BP. After BP's Gulf oil disaster, the White House asked BP to pony up some money for cleanup because, you know, that sort of makes sense. This made Joe Barton livid, saying he was "ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday," despite not working in that branch of government at all, and "I'm only speaking for myself. I'm not speaking for anyone else, but I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where anytime a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, [it is] subject to some sort of political pressure that, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown."
It takes a lot of balls to say "only speaking for myself" while "apologizing" for something his political enemy just did yesterday. That is like the CEO of McDonald's holding a press conference to "apologize" for how tasteless and bland Burger King burgers are. "I am sorry to every American who had to eat what is basically processed cardboard."