White Guys Can’t Apologize

Sep 16, 09 | 8:59 AM   byMichael Wolff
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What do we mean when we say we’re sorry? Or what do we mean when we say, “Say you’re sorry!”

Apologizing has become some formal social, political, and media condition. It’s a ritual and nicety like a thank you; it’s part of a political process, like a campaign; it’s a media event like a season finale.

If you do it, and do it well, you’re excused and even coddled. If you fail to do it, especially when people are demanding that you do it, well…you’re not very nice. Actually, you’re pretty peculiar: Because why wouldn’t you do it? It costs you nothing, you get credit for it, and you get high-rated air time.

Kanye West, for his recent outburst on music video award show, gave many apologies which seemed to have redounded to his credit and public profile. Representative Joe Wilson, for his recent outburst on the floor of Congress, failed to apologize enough and for this was reprimanded by Congress. Democrats, according to the Times, “would not have pursued any action at all had Mr. Wilson taken the floor and apologized to his colleagues.”

Maureen Dowd put her own bad boy personae aside this morning and became an offended old lady. We live in a world, according to Dowd, of incivility and bad behavior. Joe Wilson’s political opponents levying a functionally meaningless rebuke against him, amounted, said Dowd, to “a rare triumph for civility.” She quotes Rep. James Clyburn—who she extols as “the highest ranking black lawmaker in Congress,”—as saying “students are looking at us and they ought not to be able to ever feel that such bad behavior would be condoned.” (Dowd says, too, this apparent national epidemic of bad behavior is “partly due to the Internet.”)

No one means any of this, of course. It’s all harrumph, harrumph. But they do mean something.

To demand an apology gives you stature; to offer an apology gives you humility.

It’s a new sort of political point and technique. It defines an us-them line. Because white men don’t like to apologize. On Fox News, for instance, they don’t apologize. Rudy Giuliani, across many years of intemperateness and infidelities, always maintained the white-man’s view that contrition is bunk. Even Michael Bloomberg, following several notable displays of public impatience, has been reluctant to go wet.

Demanding an apology turns out to be effective politics because middle-aged white guys in suits tend to look particularly unbecoming when they apologize.

It’s the apology line: On one side, there are the white guys still trying to hang tough; on the other side is the new culture of, well, the opposite of middle-aged white guys.

I fear it’s a losing battle, but, perhaps for the first time ever, I feel with my people on this one: Contrition is bunk.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter:
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