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CNN anchor slights vets and botches apology

Dave Gordon - Wednesday, 29 April, 2015

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We all understand when broadcasters speak extemporaneously, and at length, that they can often stumble on their words. It’s natural and human.

But they, like the rest of us, have to deal with verbal stumbles in a mature manner.

Brooke Baldwin flubbed it. A recent example from the CNN television reporter reveals why an expeditious apology needs to be combined with specifics.

One must offer some credit to Baldwin, who raced to apologize for a slight against military veterans.

Indeed, racing to apologize is such an important characteristic of a kosher apology, that it is the primary element of my ESP Rule: it must be expeditious, specific, and promise through words and actions not to repeat the wrong.

The 2,000-year-old text of Jewish sage wisdom, Ethics of Our Fathers, concurs that one should repent as soon as absolutely possible (2:10).

Although that is a crucial step in expressing remorse, and for small oversights often sufficient, there are two other elements that are required to complete the apology.

Viewers of CNN’s “New Day” heard anchor Baldwin offer a vague ‘apology’ statement:

“I just wanted to make sure I came on first thing this morning and just tell everyone I made a mistake yesterday.
We were in the middle of live TV, I was talking to a member of congress, and I was recounting a story — a conversation I just had with someone recently just referring to police, and I absolutely misspoke. I inartfully chose my words a hundred percent, and I just wish, just speaking to all of you this morning, and I wholeheartedly retract what I said.
I’ve thought tremendously about this, and to our nation’s veterans — to you, I have the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform, and I wanted you to know that this morning.
So to all of you, I owe you a tremendous apology. I am truly sorry.”

But no context was offered. An important yardstick for specificity is to ask oneself: would an otherwise unknowledgeable person reading this, understand what’s being apologized for?

Some backgrounder: During an interview with Democrat Congressman Elijah Cummings, Baldwin said of veterans who become police officers, “I love our nation’s veterans, but some of them are coming back from war, they don’t know the communities, and they are ready to do battle.”

As aptly described by Breitbart news, “the dangerous, damaged veteran is of course the most unfair smear and rancid stereotype.”

The outrage was instant. Initially, Baldwin attempted to shift the blame on someone else.

While she fulfilled the first criteria of a kosher apology – the expeditious- the other two elements were missing. Suffice it to say, a weak apology is vague or incomplete, and makes little restitution.

In a kosher apology, the transgressor is required to outline all of their wrongdoings. Leaving anything out could give the hurt party the impression that the transgressor feels they are only guilty of some issues, and selectively, not others.

Not to put too fine a point on it: when compiling the holy book for the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the Jewish sages ensured that no stone was unturned – they list 78 transgressions to say in prayer, repeated on 48 occasions throughout the day.

The message: don’t leave anything out.

Any time someone cops to less than what they’ve done wrong, it gives the impression they hadn’t bothered to take a serious look in the mirror. Or worse, that they don’t care.

So we see this example of expeditious without specifics. It’s even worse when the apology is neither expeditious nor specific.

Many might recall singer Nelly Furtado who received a million dollars to perform for Libya’s dictator Moammar Gaddafi.

When Libya collapsed into unrest several years afterward, and her concert subsequently became public knowledge, it was only then that she expressed quasi-regret.

She was caught. Public opinion was against her. She needed to dig herself out.

So, without an apology, she informed her Twitter followers that she was going to offer the money to an undisclosed charity.

The entire charade could have been summed up like this:

“I did business with a megalomaniac homicidal tyrant? Huh. My bad. I guess, in light of how bad this looks, I’ll have to donate the money to an unnamed good cause.”

The lack of stated regret, over the course of time, denotes increasing indifference, eating away the relationship like a worsening cavity.

The longer one waits to take responsibility for their actions, the worse the situation gets, and the more guilt it implies.

Had Furtado apologized and admitted wrongdoing soon after, her apology would hold more weight.

But she was caught. More is required from an apology if it’s asked for, asked for repeatedly, or the problem is forcibly exposed.

Like in the judicial system, immediately stepping forward to plead guilty instead of waiting for lawyers to prove it in court, punishes less those with a sense of shame.

As any PR-firm would say, it’s best to put out the fire before it gets bigger.

Like the expression “to owe an apology”, and much like owing money, it’s best to render what is owed in a swift fashion. Because like putting off a loan, putting off an apology keeps the relationship in the red.

In both examples, neither woman offered specifics, and were rightly criticized for it.

It is then reasonable to say that the deficit in any of these three categories thus obligates the apologizer to do more in terms of penance, and trust building.

Sometimes words can only go so far.

In Furtado’s case, she was right to give the money to charity, but she enjoyed the luxuries of this money for many years, and accrued interest on it.

It behooved her to offer extra, perhaps to terrorism victims’ fund, as her way of saying sorry for not having said she was sorry.

This is what apology expert John Kador calls “restitution” in his 5R formula, so the victim knows, unequivocally, that the transgressor recognizes the depth of harm done. In my formula, it’s the P, in the ESP Rule.

The apology must be followed up with demonstrable action –unconditionally, without imposing on the victim.

A generous donation to the victim’s favorite charity is one example. It’s that kind of gesture which impresses upon the victim that the transgressor is willing to give up something of themselves, to provide meaning to the hurt, and to offset what the victim lost.

In Baldwin’s case, a donation related to veterans.

In similar cases of speaking ill of a person, it’s perhaps making a sizeable donation to an organization that promotes kosher speech, to offset the private pain, as well as public destruction of a good name.

One young boy utilized this concept recently in what was a superb example of demonstrating remorse.

He swiftly sent a apology note to a book store in early April, after he had vomited on their floor.

Though unnecessary, to be sure, he included a Ben and Jerry’s gift card as a little extra way of saying sorry.

That boy ought to be commended. It is heartening to know that a child – in contrast to so many adults - had the courage, and the wisdom, to do what was right.

If he can do it, so can us grown-ups.


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