Groping towards Apology
Donald Trump and Ari Shavit Respond to Accusations
Two prominent men. Two accusations of serial sexual harassment. Two prominent apologies, both fundamentally flawed—though one attempt was much more complete than the other—that demonstrates why apologies should be immediate, avoid explanations and, above all, be brief.
Donald Trump and Ari Shavit, a famous writer in Israel, both faced accusations of sexual harassment from multiple women. They both apologized and though their apologies were radically different in tone and substance, both apologies suffered from the same fatal flaw: looking inward instead of looking outward.
Just a quick review. Effective apologies:
Name the offense being apologized for
Take unalloyed responsibility without hint of blame
Promise not to offend again
Offer meaningful restitution
Let’s see how the apologies of Trump and Shavit measure up.
First Donald Trump.
unedited transcript of the videotaped apology he offered as transcribed by the New York Times:
I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not. I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade-old video are one of them.
Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize. I’ve traveled the country talking about change for America, but my travels have also changed me. I’ve spent time with grieving mothers who’ve lost their children, laid-off workers whose jobs have gone to other countries, and people from all walks of life who just want a better future. I have gotten to know the great people of our country, and I’ve been humbled by the faith they’ve placed in me. I pledge to be a better man tomorrow and will never, ever let you down.
Let’s be honest — we’re living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today. We are losing our jobs, we’re less safe than we were eight years ago, and Washington is totally broken. Hillary Clinton and her kind have run our country into the ground.
I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims. We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday.
He is Ari Shavit, one of Israel’s most celebrated hero writers, well-known on Israeli TV with bestsellers and a column in a leading newspaper. An American journalist recently described the unwanted sexual advances of an unnamed Israeli writer that she interviewed during the author’s book tour in Los Angeles. The journalist cited the Trump controversy as the impetus for her coming forward more than two years after the incident. Though he was not mentioned by name, Shavit quickly became the subject of intense speculation.
To his credit, Shavit outed himself as the writer the American journalist had described and immediately apologized. In the Israeli daily Haaretz, Shavit issued an apology:
More than two-and-a-half years ago, in February 2014, I met with Danielle Berrin in Los Angeles for a conversation. Today, I sadly understand that I misconstrued the interaction between us during that meeting.
Prior to reading Berrin’s article, I thought that we had had a friendly conversation that included some flirtation. I did not for a moment think it involved any sexual harassment. But what I saw as flirtation, Berrin saw as inappropriate, even harassing behavior on my part.
As a person who deeply respects every woman and every human being, and as a person who abhors any form of sexual harassment, I apologize from the bottom of my heart for this misunderstanding. I did not mean to say anything unwelcome to Berrin, and I certainly never meant to cause her distress or hurt her feelings. I understand that it is not a quick process and I am committed to doing it truly. I will do everything in my power to ensure that I will never again be embarrassed by my actions.
Shortly after another woman went public with a similar accusation, Ari Shavit said he was taking “full responsibility for my actions” and resigned from both Haaretz newspaper and Channel 10 TV.
The best apologies focus on the experience of the victim, not the offender. So all the talk about intentions and misunderstandings serves only to make the offender look a little less responsible. When Trump said, “Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am,” he is attempting to distance himself from his real self.
Similarly, Shavit’s pleas that he really isn’t that type of man serve only Shavit, not his victims.
What’s the Alternative?
Without some gesture of restitution, Trump’s apology is revealed to be hallow. Shavit understood that an effective apology must be accompanied by meaningful sacrifice and he quickly took it. What kind of restitution could Trump’s apology have offered?
Here’s one. An offer to make a charitable contribution to an organization supporting women’s rights.
Finally, folks, keep the apologies brief. The longer you make them, you greater the risk you’ll screw the apology up. It’s easy if you skip the explanations. There will be time for explanations, but the apology comes first.