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Apologies and “Apologies”

March 4th, 2012

So, Rush Limbaugh realizes that he stepped over a line, and instead of attacking his critics as he usually does when he’s guilty of something, he does the reasonable thing, and apologizes. Or, I should say, he “apologizes.”

This is the kind of situation where you see what a person is made of; whether they are truly penitent and seeking to right a wrong, or if they are just reluctantly taking back something they fully meant, and still mean, and are not really taking any true responsibility for it.

A real apology should hurt. It should hurt you more than it hurt the person you insulted in the first place. It should be unequivocal, should accept full responsibility, and should not include self-exculpatory language. Most of all, it should not continue the attack on one’s critics or be a platform to expound your views.

Here’s Limbaugh’s statement:

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.

Right off, we see that the middle paragraph has absolutely nothing to do with an apology. I teach academic writing; when I see a student spend a whole paragraph writing about something which does not support the thesis (in this case, “I was wrong and I am sorry”), I tell them to strike the paragraph. Limbaugh should have done that here; it means that most of his statement is not, indeed, an apology. Reading the paragraph, you can in fact see that he is re-stating his disagreement with Fluke, and saying that he thinks what she did was wrong. That’s not just off-topic, that’s contradictory.

What remains is equivocal and self-exculpatory at best. “I chose the wrong words, did not mean a personal attack, my choice of words was not the best.”


He didn’t mean a personal attack?

When he first spoke on this, Limbaugh said:

What does it say about the college co-ed [Sandra] Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps — the johns. No, that’s right — pimp is not the right word.

After that, he said:

OK, so she’s not a slut, she’s round-heeled. I take it back.

That’s not a personal attack? Sure sounds like one to me. He’s not discussing the absurdity of this being an issue discussed at the presidential level; he was calling this woman a slut and a whore. He was not saying it in the context of, “hey, I’m just kidding.” He may have been lunging into the absurd, but it was expressed as a heartfelt insult which he did not step back from. Quote the opposite.

In response to the blowback, the next day, Limbaugh reiterated the exact same insults:

If we’re going to have to pay for this — then we want something in return, Ms. Fluke, and that would be the videos of all this sex posted online so we can see what we’re getting for our money. …

Now what did I say? I said if we’re paying for this, it makes these women sluts, prostitutes. What else could it be? We are buying it.

So, for two straight days, in the face of a storm of criticism, he continued to call Ms. Fluke a slut and a whore. Then he added that she should publish a sex tape so we could all enjoy it. So much for “not meaning a personal attack.”

As for the rest, Limbaugh was suggesting it was an instance of poor “word choice”–but even that is not an apology, because he is clearly saying that he intended the meaning, he just chose the wrong words for his insult.

Apart from that, he claims that he was just was trying to be funny (the “I’m not a commentator, I’m a comedian” dodge he uses but never actually means), and he regretted the “national stir” as much as he did the insult. So he says, and I don’t think anyone buys that for a millisecond.

Surrounded by all of that bullshit, his words “I sincerely apologize” ring hollow at best.

Now, you want to see what a real apology looks like? Try looking at the other side of the political spectrum. Look at Ed Schultz. Back in May last year, he said this on the radio:

Rain, thunderstorms, winds getting whipped into tornadoes of horrific proportions. Hot weather, all of this stuff. And what are the Republicans thinking about? They’re not thinking about their next-door neighbor. They’re just thinking about how much this is going to cost. President Obama is going to be visiting Joplin, Missouri, on Sunday. But you know what they’re talking about? Like this right-wing slut, what’s her name, Laura Ingraham? Yeah, she’s a talk slut. You see, she was, back in the day, praising President Reagan when he was drinking a beer overseas. But now that Obama’s doing it, they’re working him over.

That was just an offhand comment. He didn’t also call her a whore, did not demand a sex tape, and one could even convincingly argue that he did not mean “slut” in a sexual meaning, but rather a metaphorical one, that Ingraham was loose in her morals in terms of talking about politics and society.

Schultz did not attempt to make that argument. He did not equivocate. He did not excuse himself. He did not use an apology as an opportunity to further expound his views. He did not come back the next day and double down, he did not apologize only after a protracted battle to maintain what he said. He, in a word, apologized.

Read this. Just read it. Through and through. And then just try to imagine Limbaugh saying it.

Good evening, Americans and welcome to The Ed Show from New York tonight. Thomas Roberts will be here tonight anchoring the program, but first I want to take some time to offer an apology. On my radio show yesterday I used vile and inappropriate language when talking about talk show host Laura Ingraham. I am deeply sorry, and I apologize. It was wrong, uncalled for and I recognize the severity of what I said. I apologize to you, Laura, and ask for your forgiveness.

It doesn’t matter what the circumstances were. It doesn’t matter that it was on radio and I was ad-libbing. None of that matters. None of that matters. What matters is what I said was terribly vile and not of the standards that I or any other person should adhere to. I want all of you to know tonight that I did call Laura Ingraham today and did not make contact with her and I will apologize to her as I did in the message that I left her today.

I also met with management here at MSNBC, and understanding the severity of the situation and what I said on the radio and how it reflected terribly on this company, I have offered to take myself off the air for an indefinite period of time with no pay. I want to apologize to Laura Ingraham. I want to apologize to my family, my wife. I have embarrassed my family. I have embarrassed this company.

And I have been in this business since 1978, and I have made a lot of mistakes. This is the lowest of low for me. I stand before you tonight in front of this camera in this studio in an environment that I absolutely love. I love working here. I love communicating with all of you on the radio and the communication that I have with you when I go out and do town hall meetings and meet the people that actually watch. I stand before you tonight to take full responsibility for what I said and how I said it, and I am deeply sorry.

My wife is a wonderful woman. We have a wonderful family. And with six kids and eight grandkids, I try to set an example. In this moment, I have failed. And I want you to know that I talked to my sons especially about character and about dignity and about the truth. And I tell you the truth tonight that I am deeply sorry and I tell them every day that they have to live up to standards if they want to be a successful human being in life. And I have let them down. I have never been in this position before to the point where it has affected so many people. And I know that I have let a lot of people down.

To the staff here at MSNBC, I apologize for embarrassing the company and the only way that I can really make restitution for you is to give you a guarantee, and the only way that I can prove my sincerity in all of this is if I never use those words again. Tonight, you have my word that I won’t. Laura Ingraham, I am sorry. Very sorry. I’ll be back with you in the coming days.

Next to Schultz’s apology, Limbaugh’s comes across as what it is: not an apology, but a self-serving, insincere, pathetic, contemptible excuse for an attempt to escape responsibility for what he did mean and still wants to say but can’t because he’ll lose too much money and stature.

Limbaugh should get no credit–none, zero–for what he said. If he wants to apologize, he should study Ed Schultz’s apology, and then come back and do it even better than that, if such a thing is possible.

But he won’t. He’s toed the line, but only toed it for form, like a spoiled, reluctant child making a sullen apology after being forced to by Mommy and Daddy, and he won’t be back unless taken out to the woodshed again.

He can never say anything as sincere as Schultz said, because you can tell Schultz meant it, and Limbaugh just as certainly does not.

Limbaugh gets no break for this. He was an ass, and still is one. He may be no good at apologies, but he’s good at getting away with stuff.

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  1. March 4th, 2012 at 22:39 | #1

    “What happened to personal responsibility and accountability?”

    He said it himself…

  2. March 10th, 2012 at 03:05 | #2

    I listened to his “apology,” and given the “sincerity” of it, it probably would have been best to for him to have stuck with his guns and said, “no apology.” I’m hardly a fan of Rush Limbaugh, but it seemed more like a condescending “sigh” to his sponsorship than an apology.

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