In TCS Daily, Fraser Seitel writes that 2006 is the Year of the Apology:
[Oprah] Winfrey’s mea culpa caused the editorial writers at the Times to conclude, “In a remarkable moment of television, Ms Winfrey did what we have so often waited for public figures to do; she admitted openly that she had made a mistake in supporting Mr. Frey.”
As usual, the Times had it dead wrong.
Admitting “I was wrong” has become standard operating procedure for public figures caught in crisis. This is a great victory for the practice of public relations.
For years, rather than following public relations counsel, public figures in the midst of scandals — politicians, entertainers, athletes, and the like — listened to their lawyers, who generally advised to “admit nothing, shut up, and let us handle this in court.”
While such counsel may make sense sometimes — depending most specifically on the extent to which the charge is true — it is often the worst advice to follow. A celebrity in the public eye usually can’t ignore his or her way to innocence. The situation often needs to be confronted.
The most recent example, of course, of lawyers delivering misguided public relations counsel to the ultimate detriment of the client was Martha Stewart. Had Stewart listened to public relations professionals, who would have told her to admit to lying to federal investigators and apologize, she wouldn’t have lost her job, served time in the slammer, or torpedoed — at least temporarily — her reputation.
It often — not always, but often — constitutes the wisest public relations advice to apologize, do it quickly to stop the bleeding, and then demonstrate the sincerity of the apology with subsequent action.
Since Martha’s jail term and contrary to what the Times believes, public figures in increasing numbers have heeded this public relations advice and engaged in a veritable avalanche of apologies.
Seitel has a list of several of those recent apologies. In a way, they’re the final triumph of The Cult of Sentimentality.