Wednesday, July 13, 2005

This Is How You Do It, People

I am so proud of Molly Ivins I could burst. This, people, is how you apologize when you're wrong.

You don't say that you're sorry that other people have misinterpreted your remarks. You don't say that, if (by chance, and miscommunication, and the highly regrettable hypersensitivity of other people) you have offended someone, then you regret the fact that they took offense. You don't say, "Hey, I was only joking; I can't believe you were stupid enough to think I was serious -- Jeez, can't you even take a joke?"

You say, "I was wrong," and, in Molly's exact words, "I am so sorry."

There's hardly a subject in the world on which Molly and I agree, but can we please give a standing ovation to a columnist who, like practically every other columnist and blogger in the country at some point or other, shot her mouth off and made a fool of herself, but who then, unlike all but a very small minority of such offenders, promptly 'fessed up and gave us a real apology? My hat's off to ya, babe.

While we're on the subject, I'd like to illustrate how one does NOT respond to a genuine apology like Molly's. Here, to give an example of the sort of ungraciousness that practically guarantees that anybody who's apologized to you once won't ever bother to apologize to you again, is Michelle Malkin.

Michelle blasted Molly's original post, which deserved every bit of the heat it got. When Molly issued her mea culpa, Michelle had enough honesty to link to that too, but with a snide ungraciousness that does her no credit at all.

A few weeks ago, Arthur Chrenkoff and many other bloggers called attention to Molly Ivins' outrageous claim that America has "killed more Iraqis than Saddam Hussein ever did."

Molly's claim was indeed, I think all reasonable people can agree, stunningly outrageous. I got no problem with this sentence; Michelle has to let people know what she's talking about. But it goes very much downhill from there.

Ivins wrote something even more stunning in her column yesterday--a major correction and apology (hat tip: Ken Waight, Lying in Ponds):

Michelle's not about to miss the chance to imply that liberals are so dishonest and unethical that it's more astonishing to hear a liberal apologize than it is to hear somebody say we've killed more Iraqis than Saddam did. Is there any particular reason for Michelle not to say graciously, "I'm delighted to be able to say that Molly has issued a major correction and apology"? Other than meanness, I mean?

Michelle then quotes a sizable chunk of Molly's apology and then continues with her comments:

Well, good for Molly. This is quite remarkable and welcome.

Again, Michelle can't just say, "This is welcome;" she has to slide in another dig about what a shock it is to hear Molly doing the right thing (as if liberals may in general be assumed to be bereft of human decency -- which is, in fact, a point on which Michelle tends to obsess).

But even this praise rises in Michelle's gorge; she just can't leave it there without going nakedly bitchy:

Now, if she had only been as humble to conservative essayist/author Florence King for her serial plagiarism of King's work...

That is to say, "Apology, schmology, she's a plagiarist and she hasn't apologized for THAT yet and here's the link to show she's still a lying liberal bitch."

In other words, "If you don't apologize, we'll blast you, and if you do apologize, then we'll use that as an opportunity to flame you again about something different." Sorry, Michelle, I'm not impressed. You wanna flame Molly, be my guest. But you could at least have the decency to do it in a different post, leaving just one post in which you respond graciously to Molly's admirable gesture.

In short, when my kids get back from their visit to the grandparents, I'll set them down and have them read two posts. In the first, I'll have them read Molly's apology, so that they will have a very good example of how to go about apologizing when you're wrong. And in the second, I'll have them read Michelle's post -- so that they can know how NOT to go about accepting a sincere apology from somebody else.

UPDATE -- Can't believe I originally forgot the "I was just joking" ploy, one of the all-time favorite ways for macho redneck guys to try to get out of having to be so unmanly as to admit (gasp!) that they had actually done something wrong. But fortunately Gawker reminded me of it by providing a practically untoppable of the tactic. ("Yes, of course it's fake! You idiots!") Ironically, Michelle Malkin is in the mix again, this time as the target of Gawker's and Wonkette's tactically foolish malice and Gawker's even more tactically foolish (given Michelle's willingness to behave ungraciously if you'll just give her a chance) attempt to play the "I was just joking" card. Don't these people realize that nobody buys that and you just make yourself look even stupider and lamer when you try it?

Look, even if Gawker had been joking, she's got to have the mere double-digit IQ that's necessary to realize that nobody other than her mom is going to believe it, and therefore she (or he, I suppose) has to phrase it very carefully. Something along these lines: "You know, I was trying to be funny, but looking back at what I posted I screwed up and came off as totally serious. I apologize very seriously and hope Michelle will forgive my clumsiness and poor judgment." Instead what Gawker says is basically, "All you people who took me seriously are such morons" -- that is, hey, if anybody's offended, they're the ones who screwed up, not me.

And if you play it that way you never win. Here, let's look at the possible situations and how Gawker could have played it.

1. Gawker really was serious, but doesn't want to have to confess to it. So, being dishonest but shrewd, she pretends that she was joking, but she offers a hypocritically humble apology for presenting her "joke" so incompetently. She doesn't defend herself; she just says, "I'm so sorry that I presented that material that I meant to be humorous, so clumsily that it came across as totally serious and was taken seriously by other people. That was terrible and careless writing and I very deeply regret the bad effect it has had on Ms. Malkin..." yadda yadda yadda. By this tactic she would cut the ground out from under Michelle and her defenders (assuming she could write the apology convincingly), and thus stop the bleeding, as it were, without having to admit that she actually was taken in herself and piled gleeful malice on top of moronic stupidity.

2. Gawker really meant the whole thing as a parody and just did a really incompetent job of it, resulting in a post that nobody short of a mind-reader would recognize as parody. She handles this exactly the same way as #1. The results are the same as #1, but in this case she doesn't incur the guilt of dishonesty and hypocrisy.

3. Gawker was taken in, she meant it as a serious attack on Michelle, and she's totally busted -- and she responds by saying on her blog, "I made a fool of myself. I was taken in by an obvious photoshop, and the reason is that I don't like Michelle and was too eager to jump on an excuse to attack her. Whether Michelle was right or wrong to write that column is irrelevant; I have the responsibility to make sure I have my facts straight before I attack somebody's character, and in this case I absolutely did not. I apologize to Michelle without qualification. I was foolish and wrong." By this apology she earns respect from reasonable people from all parts of the political spectrum, and either she totally silences Michelle, or else the next time Michelle says anything snarky about the whole incident, it's Michelle who looks like an ungracious bitch. The high ground is totally seized by Gawker and the only thing Michelle can do is try to join her on the high ground by accepting her apology graciously. (What do you think the odds are that Michelle would respond that way? Yeah, me too. Golden opportunity totally missed by Gawker there, I have to believe.)

4. Gawker was taken in totally -- or she was doing a clumsy parody -- either way, it doesn't matter...but she decides to play it by saying, "Hey, I was obviously joking, and anybody who thinks I was serious must be a total moron." Ta-da! We have a loser. Because nobody's going to buy it; people will still think she was stupid enough to fall for it and malicious enough to try to use it to attack Michelle, and now they'll add to Gawker's list of flaws the "fact" that she's not grown-up enough to apologize and not smart enough to come up with something better than the lame ol' "can't-you-take-a-joke" routine.

Guess which one Gawker chose? [sigh]


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