How not to make a public apology

April 1, 2014

In honor of April Fools’ Day, we recall some of the less-than-successful public apologies made by celebrities and other public figures. Believe it or not, these apologies weren’t meant as an April Fools’ joke – and their impact on the reputations of the individuals involved was anything but funny.

Elton John was right. Sorry seems to be the hardest word.

With celebrity scandals erupting on an almost daily basis, you’d think that actors, politicians and other public figures would eventually become adept at delivering public apologies. More often than not, however, at the first hint of a scandal celebrities immediately adopt one of the following apology personas:

Reputation Ink Inksights How not to make a public apology Paula Deen#1. The Victim

When celebrity chef Paula Deen was accused of making racist comments, her “apology” focused more on how the scandal had affected her instead of those who might have been offended by her remarks.

“The pain has been tremendous that I have caused to myself – and to others,” Deen said in an apparently homemade video. She later told Today’s Matt Lauer, “There’s been some very, very hurtful lies said about me….”

A public apology is no time for a self-pity party.

#2. The Blamer

When embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford implied that a local reporter was a pedophile, he blamed the media for misinterpreting his statements. The Bachelor’s Juan Pablo Galavis told a reporter he would be opposed to having an openly gay or bisexual person on the show – then blamed the comment on his suddenly shaky command of the English language. It’s an all-too-common – and ineffective – apology strategy: “I’m sorry…but you misunderstood me.” “I’m sorry…but it’s not really my fault.”

Rule of thumb: If your apology includes the word “but,” it’s not an apology. It’s an excuse.

#3. The Defier

Don’t ask this guy to say he’s sorry, because he’s not. That was the attitude U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) initially adopted, anyway, after being caught on a live microphone after the State of the Union address threatening to throw a reporter over a balcony. (Quick tip: The microphone is always live; act and speak accordingly.) Grimm’s initial statement on the matter borrowed heavily from both the Blamer’s and the Victim’s playbooks: Noting that he had done the reporter “a favor” by even doing the interview, Grimm said he was the victim of a media “cheap shot.” He later…apologized.

#4. The Denier

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman…Miss Lewinsky.”

’Nuff said.

To learn more about how to avoid these and other common PR pitfalls, contact

Up next: the 5 As of an effective public apology.



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