Apology as Weapon

Apology as Weapon April 5, 2018

A disclaimer is in order. I consider myself a moderate on issues of gun control. What I mean is that I favor changes in our gun control laws to make it harder for criminals get them, but I am under no illusion that such measures will have a big effect on crime. Because of my moderate position I am often irritated by both the push by the NRA to fight any reasonable restriction and the gun control nuts who see every shooting as a gun control issue and ignore other factors. If I had my way on this issue we would explore a comprehensive approach to violence that incorporates some gun restriction but deals with issues such as social media, mental health, family breakdown and violence in media.

So it is with this perspective I look at the recent Laura Ingraham-David Hogg dustup. David Hogg is the teenager who has taken the lead as one of the survivors of the Parkland shooting in a push for gun control. Ingraham, being a conservative commentator, has opposed this movement and made the mistake of insulting Hogg for receiving college rejection letters. She clearly, and deservedly, lost the PR battle on this and has since apologized. Hogg did not accept this apology to say the least. He stated:

I will only accept your apology only if you denounce the way your network has treated my friends and I in this fight. It’s time to love thy neighbor, not mudsling at children.

So basically Hogg holds Ingraham responsible for not only her actions, but the actions of everybody else at Fox. He has made a demand that he has to know that she cannot uphold before he is willing to accept the apology. It is reasonable to argue that he has no intention of accepting this apology. The Ingraham apology is now only a weapon to be used against Hogg’s political enemies.

Before I get to the main point of my argument, let me put a few things into context. First, I am no great fan of Ingraham. If I remember correctly she was a big proponent of Trump even in the Republican primaries. I am no great fan of anyone who worked so hard to bring us President Trump. But I have yet to see her television show, so I cannot critique it at this time. Second, I have no strong feelings about Hogg. He is a teenager who has experienced a traumatic event. I take him as such. He deserves to have a word on the gun control debate, but I hold his opinions in no greater reverence than I would any other 17 year old, most of whom are convinced that they are far smarter than those of us with more life experience.

I look at this controversy apart from the principles that are involved in the conflict. What has become apparent is that to apologize for a public statement is to give one’s political opponents a weapon that can be used against you. My conclusion is that one should not apologize publically unless one really feels that he or she is wrong. Do not do it to recover lost political ground. In this society you will not only not regain that political ground, but you will hand over a weapon that will be used against you.

I have recently written about the lack of true forgiveness existing in modern society. I see this as a result of increasing secularization. Beyond my argument in this article, I now see that the very nature of what we define as forgiveness has changed. At one point asking for forgiveness was a way someone could get a “restart” and move forward from a mistake. Yes this willingness to accept forgiveness was abused, but this meaning of forgiveness did mean that a person’s sins would not totally ruin his/her life. But in a non-forgiving society, forgiveness only means that one has been wounded and can be pounced upon by political enemies. Statements of forgiveness are only seen as admitting fault which means that this fault can be held against you for the rest of your life.

As a Christian I am not saying that we should not repent. As one who believes in human depravity, it is clear that public figures will make mistakes and need to acknowledge such. What I do argue is that one should only ask for forgiveness if he or she is convinced that the person has done something wrong. For the time being, the days of asking for forgiveness to get a new start in public life is over. If we are truly convicted of our wrongdoing, then we should apologize for what we have done. But we should do so more for our own spiritual well-being than for any type of political advantage. Whether this new situation concerning forgiveness is right or wrong is something that I will leave for a possible future blog, but it is important that we acknowledge this new meaning of forgiveness when we wonder why people no longer offer apologies for wrongdoings.

Now, one may argue that Hogg had every right to call out Ingraham because she did not offer an authentic apology. I am open to this argument as I do have my doubts about whether she would have offered the apology if she was not facing the loss of her advertisers. But look at the condition Hogg puts on his acceptance of her apology. It is not that she must show true sincerity. It is also that she must speak for her entire network. This is not a search for an authentic expression of contrition, but clearly an attempt to make a political point. It is all right if that is what Hogg wants to do, but let’s not pretend that it is otherwise.

One may also argue that I am making too much of the statement of a traumatized teenager. Perhaps I am making too much out of his single statement, and I should not let that statement speak for all gun control advocates. That would be fair if this teenager were not being heavily supported by the entire gun control political apparatus. Teenagers do not get to be major spokespersons of a social movement without the approval of many powerful adults. This is not some conspiratorial statement but just a recognition of how social power works.

This example involves a progressive political group using an apology of a conservative commentator to further their cause. I am not making the argument that this is only done by the left. There is a bipartisan tendency to use contrition on the part of one’s political enemies to stigmatize the person making the apology and to damage one’s political opponents. It is an issue for our society in general, and we need to deal with it as such.

Ingraham has taken a week-long vacation since this entire controversy has broken out. She may be on the road of Bill O’Reilly who started out on a vacation that eventually never ended. Or she may be following the path of Sean Hannity who took a little time off after sexual harassment accusations but is back on his show. I know that many people would be very happy to see Ingraham removed. It would not bother me either way for her to be let go or for her to retain her job. She should have known better than to take a cheap shot at a traumatized teenager. But there is a potential dark side to her possible removal. That removal will cement my observations here. They will impress upon any public figure that apologies are not to be accepted but are to be used against oneself. This impression will make the occurrence of public apologies rarer and rarer.

I said that I was not going to argue about whether this tendency to use repentance as a weapon was good or bad in our society. I believe that such a question deserves the treatment of an entire blog, and I would do it a disservice by giving it an abridged treatment here. But there is one issue I do want to bring up that should be of concern to us. If my assessment is correct, then it is a disadvantage to ever publically apologize. This may make it harder for one to apologize in private. That would be a tragedy since this is an important way we learn about our own limitations. Never saying you are sorry may be a smart PR move. But I suspect it inflates our egos far beyond what is healthy and damages our ability to interact with each other.

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One response to “Apology as Weapon”

  1. Advertisers began to leave Laura Ingraham’s show *before* she issued her apology. Hogg has said that he refuses to accept her apology because he believes the only reason she issued it is that she was afraid that she would lose more advertisers if she didn’t. I think it is possible that even if he had accepted her apology, she would have lost advertisers. There are times when even when one is forgiven, one suffers bad consequences from that for which one is forgiven. Note, too, that Ingraham has a long history of controversy and offense (e.g. telling LeBron James to “Shut up and dribble”).

    I agree that Ingraham should not have to apologize for all of the people at Fox News who have said disrespectful and offensive things about him and other students at his school who have become activists like him. It would have been better if he had asked her to demonstrate remorse, and to point out instances for which apologies are in order from her colleagues.

    Regarding “Teenagers do not get to be major spokespersons of a social movement without the approval of many powerful adults”: Other than his parents, who are these adults? It seems to me that if television networks–including Fox News–want to have him on television, neither they do not need to get the permission of any adult other than his father or mother.

    If you write another article about apologizing, you address the subject of the “non-apology apology”. Wikipedia has an article about it. A common example of one may begin “I apologize if I offended anyone”, when it is obvious that one has indeed offended someone–maybe millions of someones.

    I also suggest you address the subject of refusing to apologize when it is obvious that an apology is due. It’s topical, not only because our current president is known for it, but because it is becoming more common.