There’s a new apology template for famous men who act like pigs, which is why their apologies sound so similar.
You wouldn’t be surprised to know that these somber statements of contrition — which now appear almost daily — are carefully tweaked by public relations consultants and attorneys before the name of the disgraced prominent male is attached.
“There are no words,” said an apology attributed last week to fired “Today” host Matt Lauer, “to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others.”
While seeming to strike the proper abject tone, the very phrase “there are no words” can’t be taken seriously unless the whole statement literally ends with the word “words.”
It doesn’t. It goes on:
“To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry.”
Here they chose “truly” as the go-to adverb because it’s perceived as more down-home and heartfelt than saying, “I am sincerely sorry,” or “I am deeply sorry,” or “I am profoundly sorry.”
But, truly, Lauer is most sorry about the same thing Bill O’Reilly and Charlie Rose are sorry about: They got called out for sexually harassing women who worked with them, and they lost their high-paying, high-profile jobs.
And if they hadn’t gotten caught, they’d still be doing what they’d gotten away with for years and years.
O’Reilly paid out millions in settlement hush money but never feigned an apology, called his firing a “hit job” and at one point even implicated God in his downfall. Lauer opted for a more downcast version of the Charlie Rose response, framing the scandal as an overdue personal awakening.
“Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching, and I’m committed to beginning that effort,” said the Lauer apology.
Unfortunately, it sounds like he’s talking about the damage done to his career and personal life, not to the female colleagues he accosted. At least Rose’s crisis team used the word “women” in his apology. You won’t find it anywhere in Lauer’s.
As for the nod to “soul searching,” that’s boilerplate damage control. The main thing Lauer is searching right now is his own memory bank, trying to figure out who on the long list of former NBC co-workers might sue him or, worse, press charges.
His apology acknowledges his bringing shame “to the people I cherish dearly.” It’s reasonable to assume that shame isn’t the only strong emotion his wife and children are feeling right now.
I’ve met Lauer several times, and he always seemed as decent and likeable as he was on the air. So did Rose. Numerous women who worked with them obviously learned otherwise, at a sad cost.
Crafting apologies for major media figures with sleazy offstage habits is challenging. The P.R. goal is to make them appear shocked and dismayed by their own awful actions, though still morally redeemable.
That’s a tough sell, especially as the allegations continue to pile up. The images of Lauer dropping his trousers in his private office or Rose hanging out of his bathrobe aren’t likely to fade soon from the public consciousness.
“Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized,” said Lauer’s statement, “but there’s enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”
More doses of truth are probably coming. In advance Lauer and his team are checking all the requisite boxes: regret, sorrow, shame, embarrassment and a vow to change his ways.
“The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws,” his statement said. “It’s been humbling.”
First of all, “troubling” is the lamest possible way for him to depict his predatory romps. Disgusting, outrageous, unforgivable — perfectly sound, suitable adjectives.
Second, “humbling” is an egocentric reaction to the experience of being exposed for behavior that caused others to be humiliated, intimidated or afraid. Sickened is how Lauer should feel.
But these are just words. He and his team used 161 of them.
He had to say something. So will the next one who gets caught, and the one after that. They’ll each sit down with their lawyers and PR gurus and begin a long serious discussion about what words to use.
Even though none exists that will make it better.