Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Art of Apologizing

I'm still irate about Jackson County Commissioner Phil Duckham's carrying of a swastika sign to the healthcare rally/protest last week, and his comments to the press comparing Obama to Hitler. Because I am still irate, I am going to choose his latest remarks for my next rant. Reader beware.

Since the statements Duckham made, there has been a press conference about the issue that I attended, and a County Commissioners' meeting that I did not. In the write-up of those two events, the Jackson Citizen Patriot writes:

Reached by phone after the press conference, Duckham said he does not believe an apology is in order. Although his actions at the rally might not have been the best choice, Duckham said, he still stands by his comparisons between Nazi politics and Obama's plans for restructuring America.

"Was it my best choice to carry the sign — no. In hindsight, I wouldn't have done it," Duckham said. "But I will stick to my point that I was trying to make."

At the Jackson County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night Duckham told attendees — some of whom demanded an apology — that the sign did not convey his message properly and misrepresented his views. He said he intends to take more care in expressing his opinions in the future.

"Apologize for my views? Never," Duckham said after the meeting. "But if I offended anyone, I apologize. That was never my intent."

Rant: That is the most nonsensical non-apology I have ever read. Honestly. It begins by saying he'll never apologize but ends with an apology? And "if I offended"??? Clearly he did. So why the "if"? And he stands by the comparison of Obama to Hitler, yet the sign misrepresented his views? Say what you mean, Duckham, and say this:
I believe Obama is like Hitler, but I regret that I said so publicly because it brought me under fire. I do not apologize for what I did, but I regret that you noticed it.
A somewhat more thoughtful analysis:
This is an excellent example of the nonapology. There was an excellent article on apologizing on NPR a while ago that talks about this, as does this blog post on "The Language Guy." The NPR article points to several ways to give a nonapology:
  • Make appropriately contrite noises
  • Point to extenuating circumstances
  • Disclaim any malign intention
  • Minimize the offense
  • Claim to be misinterpreted
  • Express regret over the response to your words
  • Give contingent apologies (if...), to make your apology hypothetical
Duckham's nonapology does many of these. It gives a contingent apology for the response to his words and claims to have no malign intention. IF people are offended, he is sorry for their response to his words, but his words were not apparently offensive. And, most beautifully, he makes it clear that this is a nonapology by saying he will not apologize for his views.

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