Service of Apology

September 30th, 2010

Categories: Apology, Attitude, Changing Your Mind, Excuses

apologizeAs we noted in “Service of Excuses,” [which addressed plagiarism] and in so many of the posts on this blog, everybody makes mistakes. It’s how you own up–or not–and how you apologize that then matters.

I thought that Zoe Hayes, editor-in-chief of The Exponent, Purdue University’s student newspaper, apologized without waffling for having run an inappropriate cartoon that she didn’t realize made light of rape. It was so unusual to read copy clearly untouched by lawyers and spin that I include many excerpts of her letter here:

mistake“We made a mistake in printing Friday’s sex position of the week, and I, the editorial board, and The Exponent are extremely sorry.

“Our apologies extend to the entire campus, both men and women; to alumni, parents, and current and former faculty and staff; and to anyone who saw the graphic and was offended or triggered by what was depicted. We’ve heard from many of you and understand your concerns.

“I deeply regret that I didn’t see what was depicted, and I apologize to the campus, to any survivors of sexual assault and, well, to any decent person who saw the graphic Friday and was offended. You’re right. We are absolutely in the wrong on this one and we’re doing our best to correct it.

“We erred and we’re sorry – not because of your response, but because we were wrong and would’ve been wrong even if nobody had said so.”

I first read about this letter in Media Bistro, a great resource.

What do you think of this apology? Was Hays wrong to apologize so often? [I ask this because I have been told I apologize too often.]

Have you seen similar examples either in academia, the media or in business or are most apologies muffled in fuzzy language and smothered by excuses?


10 Responses to “Service of Apology”

  1. Frank Paine Said:

    Well, I don’t know whether she overdid it–perhaps–but it sure is nice to see something that doesn’t waffle.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Refreshing! It allows people who were turned off to move on which is just what an apology should do.

  3. Martha Takayama Said:

    The focus of this post is certainly significant.

    I was surprised and very favorably impressed by the forthright and unqualified apology issued by Zoe Hayes in a timely fashion. It is extremely refreshing to actually read of someone who accepts blame for an error in judgment. This kind of firm stand and willingness to accept responsibility is generally lacking in print and other media nowadays as best exemplified by the number of public figures who claim to have mispoken when they in fact told lies!

    Congratulations to you for airing this issue and to Ms. Hayes for her admirable handling of the matter.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I love your comparison to people who say they’ve misspoken when whether it’s their claimed service in Viet Nam [when they never set foot in the place] or memory of being attacked, [when they weren’t], fall back on a speakig hiccup rather than “I was trying to impress you and got carried away.”

    Life would be so much easier if people were clear about what happened, what they will do or have done about it and to apologize simply. Many never learn this and need a young woman like Zoe Hayes to teach them.

  5. elaine Said:

    I see this as only one apology and think it’s well done. She did a great job of accepting her responsibility.
    It’s finished. Move on.

    And yes, in some cases, it is possible to apologize too much.

  6. Lucrezia Said:

    I am not in favor of this trend to apologize every time one makes a misstep. Nine times out of ten, such apologies are insincere, and totally useless. Who believes the high flying pol who takes off with his girlfriend, then when caught, apologizes to the constituency and to the taxpayer he has robbed? How many similar actions take place followed by a public apology, have the slightest meaning?

    Apologies in the area of good manners (one mistakenly trips someone up, forgets a name, etc.) are called for, since they are usually sincere.

    Now, as to the rape cartoon cited above, no one in his right mind thinks rape is amusing, so perhaps there is something to be said for an attempt to make amends — but it’s hard to imagine that one could so easily miss the meaning of such a cartoon. What good is the apology? Is it to make people feel better, or is it meant to satisfy the righteous? I have not seen the cartoon, but suspect its intent was other than to make fun of rape. If this ongoing urge to apologize every time one says something, writes something or does something that is not quite Kosher persists, it will soon become apparent that society will be best off if no one says anything at all….or is it that someone will now break the silence by apologizing for it?

  7. Hester Craddock Said:

    Jeanne, You are to be commended for this post.

    The lady’s apology was overblown, but in this age of over-hype, TV, Internet, news manipulation, crazed consumption and mind altering, we wouldn’t have believed she was sincere if she hadn’t overdone it.

    I thing the point is that if we all, including the media and its extended family, spent more time facing reality, and less avoiding or trying to manipulate it to be politically correct.

    Reality can be extremely unpleasant, and rape does happen a lot more than people realize. She did something by publishing an image, which was more likely to encourage than discourage it. That’s bad, and she knew it. She cared, but most wouldn’t have.


  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I believe that apologies clear the air and are crucial, but they must be heartfelt–not “I apologize for whatever you think I did wrong.” That is insulting.

    As for Zoe and the cartoon, there are times that I will stare at an image or look at a cartoon and I don’t “get it” or see what others see. I’m busy, distracted. I don’t think she made the connection to rape, which is no excuse, as she said. I think she owed an apology to her readers.


    I don’t think that an image featuring rape encourages rape which doesn’t mean that it should be celebrated in any way. I can’t imagine condoning rape in a college or any newspaper any more than murder or torture.

    As I just noted to Lucrezia, I think Zoe didn’t pick up the nuance of the image, though as I didn’t see it, I can’t determine how obvious the unwelcome assault was.

  9. David Reich Said:

    Of course there’s nothing wrong with apologizing when you make a mistake, as long as it’s genuine. This person’s apology seemed genuine, even if it may have gone on too long. It’s when an “apology” makes excuses that it loses its truth and impact.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Excuses as in: “The dog ate my email?” However, something eerie seems to be happening of late. Emails I have sent to people with whom I’ve worked extensively are suddenly ending up in spam files or not arriving at all.

    When I am out of the office, I get my email messages through a different program than the one I use at work. There, much to my chagrin, was a message I should have acknowledged yesterday that appeared in neither my smartphone nor my office email.

    All of this is to apologize to anyone who expected to hear from me: Maybe a virtual dog DID eat your or my email.

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