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Andrew Speaker Apologizes

In Apologetic rhetoric on June 1, 2007 at 8:30 pm

Andrew Speaker, the Atlanta attorney quarantined with a dangerous strain of tuberculosis, apologized to his fellow airline passengers in an interview on Good Morning America.

If we understand that the underlying assumption of an apology is the accusation that a social value has been broken, then we must ask ourselves, first, what value Speaker is accused of breaking and, second, whether he adequately responds to that accusation. In reading public sentiment about the situation, it seems clear that Speaker is accused of selfishly placing his own health and wellbeing over his fellow airline passengers. That is, for breaking the maxim: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

In response to that accusation, Speaker employed a combination of strategies as described by William Benoit, including “mortification,” “defeasibility,” “good intentions,” and “scapegoating” strategies.

To begin with, it’s important to note that Speaker acknowledged wrongful behavior and asked for forgiveness (mortification): “In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the best decision,” said Speaker. “I am very sorry for any grief or pain that I have caused anyone.” And later “I just hope they can forgive me.”

Despite this mortification, Speaker’s apologia relied largely upon “defeasibility,” and “good intention” strategies.

For instance, Speaker insisted that he didn’t know he was contagious and, therefore, is not to blame (defeasibility). “I never would have put my family at risk, and my daughter at risk. I repeatedly asked my doctors, ‘Is my family at risk? Is anybody at risk of this?'” Speaker said. “They told me I wasn’t contagious and I wasn’t dangerous.”

The issue, however, is not so much Speaker’s initial trip to Europe, but his return trip to the U.S. Speaker was contacted by the CDC while in Europe and told to turn himself in immediately at a clinic there.

“He was told in no uncertain terms not to take a flight back,” said Dr. Martin Cetron, Director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine.

In response to criticism for his return flight, Speaker suggested that he acted with only good intentions, to save his life. For instance, Speaker stated “I thought that if I went [to the clinic in Europe], if I waited until they showed up, that meant I was going to die” and “it’s very real that I could have died there.” In addition, Speaker solidified his good intentions strategy by saying “I don’t expect for people to ever forgive me. I just hope that they understand that I truly never meant to put them in harm.”

Finally, Speaker grounded his apologia in a strategy of scapegoating. According to statements made by Speaker and his wife, the reason he had to risk the return trip was because he felt that the CDC “abandoned him,” adding that he and his wife were “scared out of our minds.” In addition, his wife offered the following narrative: “Imagine sitting in a foreign country with your husband and your government saying they were going to leave you there.”

Whether Speaker’s apologia is ultimately accepted is up to the society as a whole. Judging by some public sentiments, it may not be.

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  1. It’s interesting how Andrew Speaker uses some of the same strategies as Britney Spears (like defeasibility and scapegoating), even though the exigence for each apology is so different and the stakes are so much higher for us in Speaker’s case. Even if these are universal strategies, how do you guard against the tendency for the critic’s analyses to end up looking alike?

    Sean

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