Lothery & Associates

The Three Hardest Words to Say Together

Three words can’t be that tough to say. But for a lot of people, particularly public officials these three words are often the hardest words to eke out. “I..Am..Sorry.” In the last few months we’ve heard a number of officials give it a try. So let’s look at a few of them.

Douglas Gansler: Gubernatorial Candidate in Maryland

Offense: Attending a teen beach party, where his son was, along with dozens of underage drinkers without ending it, calling police, or the teenagers’ parents.

Apology: “Perhaps I should have assumed there was drinking going on, and I got that wrong,”

Big Hit: He didn’t try to deny something that could clearly be substantiated by video and pictures. He addressed questions head-on as they came up.

Big Miss: As someone who has gone on the record as a proactive opponent of underage drinking, the attempt to play “Bambi” and claim to not know what was in the big red cups that we all drank from in college was a credibility killer. The offense becomes bigger in acknowledging Gansler’s current role as the state’s “top cop” as the Attorney General. He should have withdrawn from the primary, but it was also very unlikely that he would ever win, so no harm no foul.

Kathleen Sebelius: Secretary, Health & Human Services

Offense: Abysmal rollout of the Affordable Care Act inspired Federal Health Exchange.

Apology: “I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch of healthcare.gov,” she told the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “So let me say directly to these Americans: You deserve better. I apologize.”

Big Hit: Hers was the most sincere, believable and real of all making apologies in the last month. She had no problem falling on the sword last week, and got back up this morning to do it again. You couldn’t help but feel a little empathy for her as she discussed the problems, her regrets, and those of the administration.  Plus, if you remember our tip of the week about the art of the apology, you’ll remember we talked about the importance of apologizing for the impact, not just the action. She did that.

Big Miss: Leading the first sweeping health care reform, in the most hostile political environment of modern time, the administration couldn’t afford to get this wrong. They couldn’t afford some of the monumental mistakes that are unfolding daily. To quote John Lucas, former NBA player and coach, “if you are going to be first, you must be the best, otherwise everything that comes after you will never have their first let alone second chance.” I don’t think there’s much she could have done differently. She just needs to take the hits and ride it out.

Rob Ford: Mayor of Toronto

Offense: Smoking crack cocaine while in office, then stating he doesn’t remember everything because he probably did it while “in one of his drunken stupors.”

Apology: All I can do right now is apologize for the mistakes. I sincerely, sincerely apologize to my family, to the citizens, the taxpayers of this great city, and to my colleagues on Toronto city council. Unfortunately, I cannot change the past. I can just move forward and learn from the past, which I assure you I am doing.

Big Hit: The emotion sounded real. His voice quivered and he gave an emotional hug to his brother.  He also apologized for the impact of his behavior. (Maybe he saw our tip of the week?)

Big Miss: Um, I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, smoking crack while in office and repeated drunkenness is hardly the action of a true leader.  That is, unless, he watched Marion Berry (former DC Mayor, pre and post crack use) and decided if Berry can come back and retain office, why bother to leave office at all? Personally, I’m not sure that’s the correct moral compass to follow. Professionally, the apology and refusal to leave office provides the citizens he serves the image that he believes he is above the law. Why should they follow laws he, himself, has broken and lied to cover up his behavior? There should have been a resignation and a request of his community to allow him to earn their faith and trust in him, back.

Lessons to be learned from all of the above?

  • Everyone is a reporter. If you don’t want it on YouTube or TMZ, don’t do it!
  • Nothing is a secret if there is more than one person in the room.
  • Answer questions head-on and do more than expected.
  • Always do what a reasonable person would deem appropriate in the aftermath.
  • Put your ego on the shelf and face the music.
  • Lying never works, so don’t start.

This isn’t my first post on apologies and no doubt will not be the last. As the saying goes, to err is human. The question is, how big is the mistake, the cover up, and the contrition when it’s all out in the open?


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