But far too many politicians and public officials are reluctant to issue a full and unequivocal apology after making a mistake. That's not because they're bad or uncaring people. More commonly, it's a human reaction from a defensive person who feels that his or her well-intentioned motives were misunderstood.
As a result, the spokesperson usually issues a hedged "half apology" that goes something like this:
"If you were offended by what I said, then I am sorry."
That type of "if/then" apology, which places the burden on the offended person rather than on the offender, has become an epidemic in public communications. And it rarely works. It tends to inflame a crisis instead of ending it, extend the news cycle, and allow more negative public sentiment to fester. As a result, the person is usually forced to issue a second, more complete apology several days later:
"I said something offensive, and I apologize. I listened carefully to your feedback and completely understand your reaction. I will learn from my mistake to make sure it doesn't happen again. I sincerely apologize."
That's much better, but by waiting several days to issue that second apology, the person will unnecessarily suffer additional damage and diminish the impact of his second apology. You're usually better off skipping the first apology entirely and beginning with the second one instead.
The best apologies offer no excuses and pledge specific action to ensure the mistake never happens again. As an example, MSNBC host Chris Matthews apologized the right way in November after saying, "I'm so glad we had [Hurricane Sandy] last week."
Although Mr. Matthews's apology may be more dramatic than is usually necessary, it contains many of the right ingredients: an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, a credible explanation demonstrating that he understood why people were upset with him, and a sincere pledge to make it right.
Taegan D. Goddard is the founder of Political Wire, one of the earliest and most influential political web sites.
Goddard spent more than a decade as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he was a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You
Won - Now What? (Scribner, 1998), a political
management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from
both parties. In addition, Goddard's essays on politics and public
policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers across the country,
including the Washington Post, USA Today, Boston Globe, San Francisco
Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer and Christian Science
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University. He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.
PRAISE FOR POLITICAL WIRE
"There are a lot of blogs and news sites claiming to understand
politics, but only a few actually do. Political Wire is one of them."
-- Chuck Todd, NBC News political director
"Concise. Relevant. To the point. Political Wire is the first site I check when I’m looking for the latest political nugget. That pretty much says it all."
-- Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report
"Political Wire is one of only four or five sites that I check every
day and sometimes several times a day, for the latest political news
-- Charlie Cook, editor of the Cook Political Report
"The big news, delicious tidbits, pearls of wisdom -- nicely packaged, constantly updated... What political junkie could ask for more?"
-- Larry Sabato, Center for Politics, University of Virginia
"Political Wire is a great, great site."
-- Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's Morning Joe
"If I were on the proverbial
desert island and had only one web site to access, Political Wire would
-- Dotty Lynch, CBS News political consultant
"Taegan Goddard has a knack for digging out political gems that too
often get passed over by the mainstream press, and for delivering the
latest electoral developments in a sharp, no frills style that makes
his Political Wire an addictive blog habit you don't want to kick."
-- Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post
"Political Wire is one of the absolute must-read sites in the blogosphere."
-- Glenn Reynolds, founder of Instapundit
"I rely on Taegan Goddard's Political Wire for straight, fair political news, he gets right to the point. It's an eagerly anticipated part of my news reading."
-- Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.
Send your tips, memos, comments and suggestions to