The Art of the Celebrity Apology

The same sentence we drill into our children can be the toughest for some adults to master.

“I’m sorry.”

Two words. Three syllables. So how did it become a thorn in so many celebrities’ sides?

Take Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. The former, a Hollywood titan, released an apology (of sorts) after the New York Times published an exposé on his alleged sexual harassment of Hollywood starlets.

His response will be studied by PR firms for years, if not decades … on how NOT to issue a public apology.

Weinstein sort of admitted his transgressions but blamed the culture for his wrongdoings (“I came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.”)

It got worse.

The Democratic bundler vowed to seek counseling and to steer his attention to defeating the NRA. The tone deaf apology veered into a political statement attempting to sway his fellow liberals to back off.

Just about everyone deemed the statement a disaster.

Spacey, a two-time Oscar winner, blazed his own pathetic trail after news leaked that he had allegedly come on to a then-fourteen-year-old actor, Anthony Rapp, back in 1986.

How did Spacey respond?

He claims he doesn’t remember the incident but is “sorry” all the same. He wasn’t finished, though. He used the occasion to come out of the proverbial closet.

“I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man.”

The public’s response was swift and brutal, particularly among gay activists who claimed he was conflating being gay with pedophilia.

How could Weinstein and Spacey release such clumsy apologies?

They’re not alone, of course.

Remember Justin Timberlake’s pathetic response to the NFL “nipple gate” imbroglio?

“What occurred was unintentional and completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended.”

The last four words are the hallmark of a lousy apology.

Not all celebrity apologies are created equal, though. Time matters first and foremost. The longer the apology takes, the more insincere it sounds. You can imagine the stars consulting with their “teams” to see when, or if, an apology should be released.

It’s one reason Justin Bieber earned good grades for his mea culpa over a racist joke he once shared that got captured on video.

“As a kid, I didn’t understand the power of certain words and how they can hurt. I thought it was ok to repeat hurtful words and jokes, but didn’t realize at the time that it wasn’t funny and that in fact my actions were continuing the ignorance … I was a kid then and I am a man now who knows my responsibility to the world and to not make that mistake again.”

Simple. Swift. Direct. And, best of all, no equivocating.

A good apology can start the healing process and, more importantly for stars, convince audiences to give them a second chance. And unfortunately, celebrity apologies are becoming as ubiquitous a part of popular culture as social media and iPhone updates.

Just ask Daniel Tosh, Tyrese Gibson and Hilary Duff, whose “crime” was wearing the “wrong” Halloween costume.

Spacey likely didn’t accomplish anything he hoped for with his mea culpa. For him as well as for Weinstein, the growing list of sexual allegations against them is so frightening no words will undo the damage, nor should they.

Weinstein believed he was Hollywood royalty, a power broker who didn’t have to answer to anyone. So when the time came to prepare a statement he either did it himself without professional feedback or fed it to a gaggle of Yes Men too afraid to set him straight.

The same holds true for Spacey. A seasoned PR vet would have cried foul on his “confession.” He figured he could bask in the approval of the LGBT community and ride out the storm.

Not a chance now.

If a star can’t be honest even when they are supposed to be apologizing, chances are, they aren’t really sorry.

Image: Flickr/Sandphin

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  • Jim

    The fact that both Weinstein’s and Spacey’s first instincts were to try and weasel out of accountability by left-wing virtue-signaling shows just how biased Hollywood has become.

    Another good celebrity apology was Christian Bale’s apology for his rant on the Terminator Salvation set. He said something to the effect of, “I make no excuses for my behavior. I acted like a punk, and I’m sorry.” Now that’s what an apology should be – simple, direct, genuine contrition, and taking full responsibility. Other celebrities should’ve learned something from that.

  • Alicia Westberry

    Keep it simple. Reserve apologies for when you’re actually sorry. That isn’t just limited to celebrities. Weinstein made two mistakes with his “apology”. in addition to it being insincere, it seemed obvious he had bought into his own hype. It may take time, but that almost always brings people down.