Steve Mullen: All apologies

September 16, 2009 9:59:00 AM

Steve Mullen - [email protected]


I''m sorry to say it, but I miss the good ol'' days when nobody apologized. 


"Carry the battle to them," Harry Truman famously said. "Don''t let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive. And don''t ever apologize for anything." 


It helps to be the only guy on the planet with an atomic bomb when making such a statement. But Truman was speaking for a time when apologies weren''t cheap. "It is a good rule in life never to apologize," wrote author P.G. Wodehouse, a contemporary of Truman''s. "Never apologize for showing feeling," 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli once said. "When you do, you apologize for truth." 


Once upon a time, apologies were a sign of weakness, maybe even more than the actions that called for them.  


They''re hardly a sign of strength now; even so, everyone''s apologizing. You can catch Serena Williams'' press conference in the morning, see Taylor Swift on "The View" before lunch, watch South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson get reprimanded on C-Span in the afternoon, and tune in to a pensive Kanye West on "The Jay Leno Show" that night. 


It should be noted that Williams, the tennis superstar, didn''t apologize right away for a tirade of F-bombs capped with a threat to shove a tennis ball down the judge''s (expletive) throat during the U.S. Open singles final last weekend. She initially said she was "lost in the moment" and was "moving on." It was clear she was hardly sorry. A more firm apology came two days later. (In addition to losing the match, she was fined $10,500 for the outburst. Having career winnings amounting to $26 million plus endorsements, she makes that much money each time she blinks.) 


But as bizarre as that episode and others have been, none have been more outsized, contrived or maddening than the Kanye West/Taylor Swift blowup.  


Backstory: Country singer Taylor Swift wins an MTV Video Music Award. (On a scale of 1 to 10, with the Nobel Prize at 10, this award rates around .0001, somewhere slightly north of the "You Did It!" sticker your first-grade teacher put on your spelling homework.) This particular awards show is well known for some type of "shocking" episode that generates scads of publicity each year. This year, the episode was hip-hop artist Kanye West grabbing the mic from Swift and stating his opinion that Beyonce should have won instead, leaving Swift speechless on the stage. 


So, for the past several days we have been treated to Swift recounting her feelings over what happened, and to West''s apologies, whether they be blogged, delivered by phone to Swift, or shared with Jay Leno on the premiere of his new prime-time show (convenient for his ratings). 


West''s side business is sticking his foot in his mouth (he famously stated "George Bush hates black people" during a live Hurricane Katrina relief program). Still, we are shocked and outraged at his recent behavior, at an event as somber and eminent as the MTV Video Music Awards, of all places. 


We rally to poor Taylor Swift''s side, maybe because this is indeed the worst thing that has ever happened to Taylor Swift. She is a beautiful, talented millionaire at the very start of her career. It''s pretty clear she will recover. And whether or not the whole event was staged, it worked out well for her -- count me among those who''d never heard of her before this brouhaha. 


One thing is clear: Kanye West is a jackass. President Obama, joshing around with reporters before an interview, called him that very word. Enter a new apology. Not from Obama -- no matter how miscalibrated his statements might be, he''s the one guy on earth that frankly, never needs to apologize (Refer to Harry Truman quote above). We demand one, however, from the reporter who reported Obama''s words. 


Obama should never be "off the record" -- how could he be? Still, we have a gushing apology from ABC News: "In the process of reporting on remarks by President Obama that were made during a CNBC interview, ABC News employees prematurely tweeted a portion of those remarks that turned out to be from an off-the-record portion of the interview. This was done before our editorial process had been completed. That was wrong. We apologize to the White House and CNBC and are taking steps to ensure that it will not happen again." 


On or off the record, the president wasn''t lying, at least not this time. Folks of all political stripes would agree -- even South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson, who called the president a liar during a joint session of Congress last week, then quickly apologized to the White House. 


Wilson needed to apologize, no matter your feelings about Harry Truman, who would probably also agree in this instance. But Wilson, like Williams and unlike West, is a reluctant, old-school, one-apology guy, which led to his reprimand in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (he reportedly could have avoided the reprimand by apologizing on the floor of the House, but declined to do so). 


But not apologizing is good for business, in Wilson''s case. In the past week, he''s raised more than $1.5 million for his re-election campaign, according to news reports. 


I apologize for thinking so, but I imagine he might even be sorry he apologized the first time. 


Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.