Nothing seems to draw my attention quicker than a public “apology”. Most aren’t worth the oxygen necessary to form the words, so I crawl out of my lethargy and take notice when one is prominently offered.
Representative Todd Akin got himself noticed during the doldrums of August when he famously said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” In context, he was discussing abortion, and attempting to make the point that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare. (This blog post isn’t going to address the factual fallacies of Representative Akin’s statements or stance. I’m only looking at the apology.)
After a firestorm erupted on the internet and calls for his resignation from the US Senate race in Missouri came fast and furious, including from Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Representative Aiken offered the following apology in a campaign video.
“Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. As a father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault, and I pray for them. The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims. The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.”
How did this fare as an apology?
John Baldoni writing for Forbes believes that Representative Akin “flubbed his apology”. He writes,
Akin also committed the first sin of insincerity – making the apology about himself and not the people he has offended.
Misogyny aside, Akin made another mistake — one that is all too common in today’s “apologize and it will go away” culture. Akin has made himself the focus on his apology, not the millions of women he had insulted.
Akin also attempted to disavow his insult by claiming that he had used a poor choice of words. As Ben Franklin said, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” When you watch Akin apologize, you get the feeling that he cares more about his candidacy than he does about anything else.
I wouldn’t rate the apology as harshly as Baldoni.
First, Akin came close to admitting that he was wrong. In his apology he didn’t defend his use of words as too often happens, but rather he states he used wrong words in wrong ways. I would have liked to see him state unequivocally that he was wrong and insensitive to a violent act.
Second, he didn’t address his apology to a select group of people, but instead to the broader audience. This is where I disagree with Baldoni. To apologize “to those I have offended” too often blames those who are offended. His at least was an attempt at a blanket apology. In my view, this is positive.
Yes, he is attempting to keep his campaign alive. The apology tries to score some points in that arena with his statement about predators. The voters will have to decide that one.
Finally, I ask how clearly does the apology distance itself from the original statements. Here is where the apology completely failed. There is enough wiggle room in the apology that Representative Akin doesn’t have to change his view one bit. “Rape can lead to pregnancy.” [emphasis mine] This is a “safe” statement in that it doesn’t necessarily mean his position is changed. In fact, his original statement left open the same possibility when he said “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” [emphasis mine]
To me, this “apology” better than most public apologies, but still is primarily damage control. It will be interesting to watch this play out.
Thank you for calling attention to Akin’s apology.
Your first point – that Akin “came close to admitting he is wrong” – matters only if apologies join horseshoes and hand grenades as items for which “close” matters. For me, they don’t.
– The church member who “comes close” to volunteering for a ministry does not actually volunteer for that ministry.
– A couple who came close to getting married didn’t actually get married.
– A driver who comes close to being involved in a traffic accident wasn’t involved in an accident.
– When Todd Aiken came close to admitting he was wrong, he didn’t actually admit he was wrong.
An authentic apology sounds like this: “What I said about the biology of rape was factually wrong; I now know there was no truth to the claims I made. My use of the phrase “legitimate rape” was insensitive, outrageous, and inexcusable. All rapes are real. I was wrong to suggest otherwise. And my stated belief that there should be “some punishment” when the crime of rape is committed gave the horrendous impression that I believe such punishment should be limited. Though in my heart I believe in strong punishments for persons convicted of rape, my words gave a very different impression. I was wrong to use those words.
“Millions of people were offended by my remarks. I understand and take full responsibility for that offense. I apologize for my remarks, to all persons who felt offended by them, and especially to all victims of rape, whose horrific experience my remarks demeaned and minimized.”
I’ll still suggest that to address it to “all persons who felt offended by them” misses the mark.