In his first apology he really didn’t apologize for what he said but rather defended himself and even took shots at the ones he was apologizing to for making a big deal out of a possibly inappropriate joke he told that was the reason he was apologizing in the first place. Make sense?
I may have to read that sentence again myself. Slowly. During this first apology, one of the things David Letterman explained was that the criticism he was receiving was based, at least in part, on a simple misunderstanding that could easily be cleared up. When he joked that Todd and Sarah Palin’s daughter was getting ‘knocked up’ by Alex Rodriguez during the 7th inning stretch at Yankee Stadium, he thought people would know he meant the Palin’s 18-year-old daughter, not the 14-year-old daughter who was actually at the game and who was therefore “erroneously” assumed to be the one he was referring to.
As a parent, I would have felt a whole lot better if he was referring to my 18-year-old and not my 14-year-old, wouldn’t you?
Letterman also explained he’s told other jokes that he’s not proud of. Again, just the kind of reasoning to help things simmer down in a hurry.
Surprisingly, this first apology wasn’t received well by the Palins and others. Even women’s groups not known as staunch Palin supporters expressed dissatisfaction.
So five days later Letterman apologized again, but this time he really meant it. Somber newscasters declared this second apology attempt as “heartfelt” and “sincere.” The first apology was an obvious mulligan. In a blame reversal that even Bill Clinton would envy, a number of commentators took the time to criticize Governor Palin for inflammatory words of her own in an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show when she said it would be wise to keep Willow away from Dave. Matt didn’t like that. Not at all. But as a hard nosed journalist that’s his job. And think about it. Palin did have her nerve picking on a helpless 62-year-old television icon, going so far as to make a statement that could be construed to indicate that she thinks he is a dirty old man, when expressing outrage over what was said about her 18-year-old daughter – though not the 14-year-old Willow as was previously mentioned.
Robert Schlesinger opined in his U.S. News and World Report blog that in her statement Palin had equaled Letterman for “cheap and classless jokes.” I might agree with Schlesinger but it’s still not clear she was joking and if it is determined she was, it was only one joke, not jokes.
So during the same week that protestors have taken to the streets in Tehran what does this compelling news episode teach us about apologizing? Just maybe, we ought to be straightforward, heartfelt, and sincere the first time out of the chute as opposed to a face-saving, self-serving, self-righteous, and sarcastic approach. Most of us know that’s easier said than done. So if we can’t pull off the contrite and clear method it seems that blaming the person we’ve wronged for putting us in a position to botch our apology is a good backup plan … it worked just fine for David Letterman after all.