The 5 PR Tricks Famous People Use in a Public Apology

So you're a big-time celebrity and you've just pissed off millions of people in the world by saying something astoundingly dumb. We've all been there. What's important now is getting back in the public's good graces by issuing a heartfelt apology -- and by "heartfelt" we mean "coldly manufactured using the following tips." The closer you stick to the formula we're about to present, the sooner everyone will forget that you're an objectively terrible person and go see your movie/buy your record/re-elect you for public office.

So whether you're planning to get drunk in public, insult an entire ethnic and/or religious group, yell at some nice officers, or do all three things at the same time (see: Mel Gibson), just keep these pointers in mind and you'll be fine!

#5. Play the "Hey, I'm a Victim Here, Too!" Card

According to experts, the perfect script for an apology goes like this: (1) say how much you regret the incident, (2) apologize clearly, and (3) grovel for forgiveness. However, celebrities know a little about this subject, and they've added an important step to that recipe: (0) point out that you're a victim here, too, in a way.

For instance, back when David Letterman came under fire for not being able to stop boning his staff, he started his public apology by mentioning that this whole thing came out because he was blackmailed. Only two minutes later did he get around to the "Oh, by the way, sorry to my wife and stuff" part, but he already had our sympathy by that point.

It can be more subtle -- take Christian Bale's apology for being an asshole on the set of Terminator Salvation. He let everyone know he's "not comfortable" and "doesn't know how to handle" being a movie star -- he's a big doofus, just like us!

Warner Bros.
He has yet to apologize for the movie itself, though.

Jonah Hill apparently paid close attention to these lessons. After he decided to throw a homophobic slur at a paparazzo (instead of going the noble route and giving him the finger), he started his apology by saying he's been a gay rights activist "from the day I was born," followed by a recap of how that paparazzo was hounding him. By the end, he even managed to throw in a good "I am not good at being a famous person" -- it was beautiful, and it's been recognized as one of the most honest celebrity apologies ever. Bravo, Jonah.

What Not to Do: "Some of My Best Friends Are ___!"

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Gary Oldman, who attempted to defend Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic remarks during a Playboy interview (on the basis that "everyone" says that stuff anyway). Unfortunately for Oldman, it turns out Jewish people do read Playboy for the articles, leading him to issue a clumsy apology in which he tried a little too hard to make it clear that he just loves all things Jewish:

via vulture.com
"And may I just say, matzo ball is by far my favorite soup."

It was rejected by the Anti-Defamation League.

#4. Apologize in the Same Format in Which You Fucked Up

Here's a simple trick that big corporations already use to make their apologies look more honest: However it was that your scandal broke out, apologize through the same channel. For example: Last week, when the official American Apparel Tumblr account posted a photo of the Challenger disaster thinking it was some nice patriotic fireworks, they immediately apologized through the same Tumblr.

americanapparel.tumblr.com
To be fair, "accidentally reblogged something from Tumblr" could go much, much worse.

This works for people, too. When Steve Martin made the mistake of tweeting an insensitive and racist joke, he quickly apologized via the same format, and that's probably a big reason why you hadn't heard of that scandal until just now. Going back to Christian Bale, his rant was released as an audio tape, so he apologized via a radio show. Did you get recorded going crazy at an officer through a dashboard camera? Whether a TV apology is your first stop or something you do weeks later can make all the difference between being remembered as Reese "We Already Forgot What She Said" Witherspoon or Mel "Adolf" Gibson.

Mark Wilson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
"I wanted to apologize from under the desk, but Hillary shot that down."

What Not to Do: Apologize While Pooping

We mentioned that saying you're sorry through social media is a good idea, but only if the transgression happened there in the first place. For instance, when Alec Baldwin called a paparazzo a homophobic slur and Daniel Tosh tore into a heckler at one of his shows, they both apologized via Twitter, which came off about as heartfelt as doing it through a bar napkin. When the act was committed in person, it's best not to apologize over something that is almost definitely being written while squeezing out a log on the toilet.

#3. Avoid the Words "If" and "But" (and "Sorry")

An increasing number of public apologies come off as insincere because of one simple word: "if." Psychologists have determined that when you insert the word "if" into your apology, you're officially a giant turd who isn't owning up to his or her actions. Saying "I'm sorry if you were offended" implies you wouldn't be sorry if the other person wasn't being such a big pansy about the whole thing.

Look no further than Janet's boob: When we got to glimpse Janet Jackson's mutant nipple at the Super Bowl, Justin Timberlake issued a statement where he dropped the "if" bomb, and many still herald it as one of the worst celebrity apologies ever. In the spirit of his non-apology, Timberlake even claimed the stunt was unintentional, which exactly zero people bought.

KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images
"I was just coincidentally narrating my exact actions at the time."

Another example is Alec Baldwin's Twitter apology, where he tried to pretend he was just uninformed that the word he used was offensive. That word was "cocksucker," by the way. Apparently when you grow up surrounded by Baldwins, that's like the nicest thing you can say to a person.

Other words to avoid? "But" (because it's usually followed by some bullshit excuse) and, oddly enough "sorry." According to the experts, saying "I apologize" has more of an impact than saying "I'm sorry" -- the former is unambiguous, but it's best to stay away from "sorry" because it can have many different contexts and meanings.

Valerie Macon/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
For instance, to prove you're an absolute douchenozzle.

What Not to Do: Use the N-Word

The N-word is another word you probably shouldn't use. Ever. But especially when someone gets offended at something you said in your standup routine and you're trying to figure out how to defuse the situation. Believe it or not, throwing the N-word out there 15 or 20 times just makes it worse.

CBS
"Now you tell me."

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