Posts Tagged ‘apologia’

Visualizing Wrongdoing in Engineering Apologia

In Apologetic rhetoric, Visual rhetoric on January 11, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner has experienced numerous malfunctions since its release. Those ongoing issues have resulted in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announcing that it will conduct a comprehensive review of the design and assembly of the 787’s main systems. In covering the news of this announcement, The Guardian published an interactive graphic of the 787’s problems.

Interactive visual of 787's problems

Interactive visual of 787’s problems

The situation presents an interesting spotlight into the process of engineering apologia. By apologia, I mean the Read the rest of this entry »


Apologizing for Colloquial Slurs: This Could – and Should – Be One of Those Cases

In Apologetic rhetoric on May 7, 2011 at 2:25 am

Claiming that offensive language is common only demonstrates that an apology is needed that much more.

That’s the gist of the story out of Wisconsin, where a county supervisor made the following remark during a board meeting: “We jewed ’em down some.”

That was his response when asked about the county’s dealings with a contractor. Chances are he didn’t mean to offend anyone. He may not have even known the implications of what he was saying. The problem is, now that the significance and underlying message of his remark have been pointed out to him, he’s still standing by his words.

Read the rest of this entry »

McCain Defends Immigration Law by Reducing Its Offensiveness

In Apologetic rhetoric, Rhetorical analysis on April 29, 2010 at 9:42 am

Senator John McCain recently defended Arizona’s immigration law by calling it necessary “to provide its citizens with secure borders.”

In doing so, he employed a strategy of reducing the offensiveness (which is one of five image-repair strategies described by William Benoit). For example, he discussed the act in terms of abstract values and group loyalties (a method known as transcendence) by stating:

“This is a struggle on our side of the border for the fundamental obligation that any government has, and that is to provide its citizens with secure borders. Right now our citizens are not safe.”

In addition, he attacked the law’s accusers by calling into question the Federal government’s lack of action or control over the issue:

“This situation is the worst I’ve ever seen,” declared McCain. “If you don’t like the bill…then carry out the federal responsibilities, which are to secure the border.”

He went on to say: “This is a national security issue where the United States of America has an unsecured border between Arizona and Mexico, which has led to violence.”

The comments were made in defense of the controversial immigration bill that Arizona recently signed into law. According to the law, local police are required to look for, question, and detain any person who appears to be in the United States illegally. Critics of the law argue that it will lead to racial profiling.

The comments from both sides of the controversy call into question some underlying assumptions about America’s values. Put simply, do national security and safety trump personal freedoms, or is it the other way around?


Roethlisberger is Sorry…But About What?

In Apologetic rhetoric, Rhetorical analysis on April 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Recently, a Georgia District Attorney decided not to charge Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with sexual assault, due to a lack of evidence. In announcing the decision, the DA stated that his office was in no way condoning Roethlisberger’s actions by not charging him. The evidence simply wasn’t there to prove criminal activity. That’s very different than saying there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

After the announcement, Ben Roethlisberger read a brief statement, in which he offered an apology of sorts.

There’s a lot that could be analyzed in this short statement (including the same questions of sincerity, script reading and power that were problematic in Tiger Woods’ apology). But to keep this short, I’ll focus on the biggest issue I see with Roethlisberger’s “apology” – and that is the question of social values.

This is one of the most important underlying aspects of any apology, and it’s even more interesting when the apologist refers to his or her values, as Roethlisberger did near the end of his statement when he said he is committed to showing everyone his “true values.”

Why are Values So Important in Apologies?

The reality is, every apology is a discussion about values. Here’s why. Values help maintain a sense of order in a society. When people implicitly or explicitly accept those values, they are essentially accepting the terms and conditions of membership in that society.

When someone violates one of those values, it upsets that natural order – which results in conflict for the society as well as a sense of guilt and a loss of membership for the individual. To alleviate the conflict and be reaccepted in the group, the offender must expunge the guilt by offering an apology.

Through the apology process, then, people are actually negotiating their values. In other words, they’re making claims about what’s important to them, how they live together, and what they expect from one another.

So when a person offers an apology, that person is actually acknowledging that he should not have broken the value, and that he will live by that value going forward.

What IS Roethlisberger Sorry About Anyway?

With that in mind, let’s look at what Roethlisberger really said in his apology. To quote him, Roethlisberger said that he is “truly sorry for the disappointment and negative attention ” he brought to his family, teammates, the NFL, and others. The good news is, he actually admitted that the “disappointment” and “negative attention” were caused by his actions, rather than the situation. The bad news is, he’s really only saying he’s sorry for the negative attention, not the action that caused that attention. In other words, he’s sorry for the end result, not for the root cause.

To be fair, Roethlisberger does announce that he wants to take steps to earn the trust of his family, teammates, and fans. But without even implicitly acknowledging – let alone explicitly stating – what social values he broke or why they were wrong (i.e., how they hurt others…like, say, the victim), we’re really left wondering whether Roethlisberger is sorry at all or if he’ll refrain from such actions in the future.

The Takeaway Lesson

Before offering or accepting an apology, make sure the focus is on the right issue. Ask yourself: Who was directly and indirectly harmed? And, what is the underlying value that was broken? For example, if a husband apologizes for not doing the dishes, the dishes aren’t really the issue. The deeper issue probably relates to the values of “sharing the burden of household chores” or “respecting your spouse’s time.” Whether you’re the apologizer or the person receiving an apology, make sure the underlying value is the main point of the discussion and of the apology.

Toyota Emphasizes Corrective Action in Recall News

In Apologetic rhetoric, New media, Product recall on January 29, 2010 at 1:20 am

As news of Toyota’s gas pedal flaw continues to draw attention (and scrutiny) from the media and consumers, the company has used its corporate website and social media sites to communicate its message about the issue.

Click on Image to Enlarge

The company posted the “Latest News” and “FAQ” regarding the incident in the press section of its website. In the “Latest News” section, the company relies on two main apologia strategies.

The first involves emphasizing corrective action. As William Benoit explained, the corrective action strategy emphasizes what the company will do to repair the damages caused by the problem, as well as steps the company is taking to prevent the event from happening again. These aspects are evident in a number of the company’s statements, including:

“We’ve identified the cause of the problem and are focusing all of our energy and resources on developing and thoroughly testing remedies.”

“Toyota has taken the unprecedented step of stopping production to help serve our customers quickly and ensure that all new Toyota vehicles going forward do not experience this problem.”

“…working closely with our pedal supplier CTS on a revised design that effectively remedies the problem…”

In addition, the company employs the strategy of bolstering as a way of highlighting positive attributes and qualities of the company. Such statements include phrases such as: “doing the right thing for our customers” and “the way Toyota has stepped up to meet our responsibilities to our customers.”

It’s important to note, however, that the closest Toyota comes to actually apologizing or accepting responsibility in the “Latest News” statement is when the company uses the words “deeply regret” (and even then the company really only stated that what they regret is “the concern that our recalls are causing for our loyal customers”).

On a positive note, the company has done a good job of prominently displaying the recall information on the Toyota website, including a red callout in the lower left corner of the company’s homepage.

In addition, the company has effectively used social networking sites such as its Twitter account and Facebook page to help disseminate information about the recall and the gas pedal concerns.

Click on Image to Enlarge

Click on Image to Enlarge

Overall, the company is doing a good job of getting information out to consumers potentially impacted by the recall; however, at this time, they’re doing little in terms of actually accepting responsibility.

Finally, this entire situation is eerily reminiscent of Audi’s “sudden acceleration” problem back in the 1980s. It’ll will be interesting to compare the two companies’ comments regarding these issue to analyze what lessons Toyota may have learned (or failed to learn) from Audi as the situation continues to develop.

Technical Communication and Apologia

In Apologetic rhetoric, Technical communication on December 9, 2009 at 9:34 am

Though many scholars, students, and practitioners in the field of technical and scientific communication may not have studied apologia or apologetic rhetoric, the field has gained new insight through this area of study.

One example is Michael Moran’s (2003) analysis of a commercial report written in 1586. The report was written by Ralph Lane in response to criticisms upon his return to England after leading a failed colony. Moran’s (2003) analysis helps establish the value of apologia theory as a lens for analyzing technical and business communication. Similarly, Carol Siri Johnson (2006) described how studying an apologia artifact may help scholars gain insight into technical processes. In her examination of the iron industry in early America, Johnson analyzed how Peter Hasenclever described the iron industry in a letter he wrote to justify his expenditures in 1773—thus, shedding light on the technical process of building ironworks and “the way knowledge traveled” before the use of printed technical manuals and reference books (p. 175). Additionally, Timothy Sellnow (1993) examined the use of scientific ethos in Exxon’s response to the Valdez oil spill, focusing specifically on the use of skepticism.

Finally, Sullivan and Martin (2001) described how apologia and account theory can equip technical communicators to better understand and evaluate justifications for their actions. According to Sullivan and Martin, technical communicators who are faced with an ethical dilemma should ask themselves what accusations could result from their decisions and “what story will I tell about it when called to give an account” (p. 269).

While these scholars have demonstrated the usefulness of apologetic rhetoric theories in studying technical communication, only Moran’s (2003) study actually analyzed a business or technical document using apologetic rhetoric as a method of analysis. In fact, in my analysis of 91 academic articles published over the last 40 years (published in Communication Yearbook 33), only three studies were identified as analyzing a business and technical document. That means, in addition to Moran’s (2003) study of Lane’s report, only two other studies over the last 40 years have focused on the use of apologetic rhetoric in business or technical documents—and both of those (Coombs, 2004; Huxman & Bruce, 1995) analyzed corporate position statements and news releases, rather than actual technical reports or documents.

The work by these scholars has helped establish how business and technical communication can be examined using apologetic rhetoric as a lens; however, a large gap still exists in understanding how reports and documents negotiate blame and responsibility as well as record acts of wrongdoing on the public record and shape the reconciliation process. My research in this dissertation extends the focus on apologetic rhetoric and documentation by analyzing how apologies are documented in the gacaca trial system and what role that documentation plays in the process of reconciliation.

I argue that technical communication is a burgeoning area of scholarship with the potential to reshape what is known about public apologetic exchanges and, therefore, deserves more focused research. I also argue that technical communication scholars and practitioners are perfectly positioned to research the bridge between technical communication and apologetic rhetoric as well as uncover and analyze the documentation, processes, and ethics of apologetic rhetoric.

An example of such an analysis can be seen in an earlier blog post on “Documenting Apologies in Gacaca Trials.” That post stems from my dissertation research in which I put forth two claims about the broader impact of the documentation setting in gacaca trials.

First, I demonstrate how Rwandan culture and values shape not only what is documented but the entire process by which it is documented—including which individuals give testimony; what questions are asked; and how that knowledge is quantified, measured, and recorded. In other words, the presence of these elements in the official document shapes the apologetic exchanges that take place by narrowing the attention of judges and requiring perpetrators to offer specific information in order to fulfill the requirements of the document. Second, I discuss how the presence of those elements in the document shapes more than just what is documented but also how the events of the 1994 genocide are discussed and remembered in the official government history.

Overall, the influence that documents and documentation processes have on apologetic rhetoric is under analyzed and too often overlooked completely. This is just one example that demonstrates why future studies on the impact of documentation and technical communication are warranted.

Related Posts on Technical Communication and Apologia:

Assignment for Business Writing, Technical Communication, or New Media Course

Why Technical Communicators Should Care About Apologia

Documenting Apologies in Gacaca Trials

RSA Presentation Proposals

In Rhetorical analysis on September 18, 2009 at 8:54 pm

I submitted the following proposals to present at the Rhetoric Society of America (RSA) conference in Minneapolis in May 2010. The first proposal was submitted as part of a panel on the intersection of religion, politics, and economics in Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate. The second proposal was submitted as an individual proposal.


Title: Charity in Truth: A Righteous Rhetorical Vision of Economics and Technology


In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict’s call for a new economic order puts forth a rhetorical vision that emphasizes humanness, morality and social justice. Often, such rhetorical visions can be categorized in one of three competing explanations of reality: pragmatic (valuing expediency, utility, and efficiency), social (valuing trust, caring, and relationships) or righteous (differentiating between right and wrong, moral and immoral, just and unjust).

In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict denounces the pragmatic vision and instead puts forth a rhetorical vision that at times appears social—focusing on love, charity, and “human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity.” However, such social references mainly function to establish charity as an important element in human relations as well as to position financial markets and technology as human realities with moral consequences, leading to a righteous rhetorical vision that asserts a higher calling for economics.

As the encyclical progresses, charity is transformed into a sanctioning agent used to demarcate moral economic policies and technological means from the immoral or unjust, turning Benedicts argument to his righteous rhetorical themes. These themes vilify unconstrained markets and purely technological progress as insufficient at best and destructive at worst.

The righteous themes not only become warrants in Pope Benedict’s argument for a new economic order, but also coalesce to construct a symbolic reality that explains today’s global recession and economic crisis.

This proposal was based on an early blog post that I revised and tightened.


Title: Politicizing Abstract Values Through Apologia: The Identical, Yet Contrastive Rhetoric of Representative Joe Wilson and the Dixie Chicks


On September 9, South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama by shouting “You lie!” during the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress. Those two words set off a firestorm, as media pundits called Wilson’s outburst uncivil and House Democrats rebuked Wilson’s comment as a “breach of decorum” that “degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House.”

After initially issuing an apologetic statement, Wilson transitioned from regret to defiance through public statements, an online video, web text and traditional media interviews in which he claimed he was “under attack by the liberals” and that he would “not be muzzled.”

Despite the politically divisive tone and situation, Wilson’s apologetic rhetoric actually shares a number of similarities with that of the ideologically opposed Dixie Chicks. Both spoke out against a sitting President and were denounced for their comments, including the timing and location in which they were made. Both initially issued an apology before taking a defiant stance. Both ultimately relied on a strategy of transcendence, claiming they were courageously speaking out against a wrong and, therefore, refused to be silenced by their enemy’s attacks.

The more important—perhaps, ironic—similarity between the Dixie Chicks’ apologia and Wilson’s apologia is that they both based their transcendence on the values of “freedom of speech” and “dissent.” In that sense, Wilson employed the same rhetorical strategy and argument that conservatives denounced the Dixie Chicks for using. Conversely, the same values that many liberals applauded the Dixie Chicks for upholding were argued by someone across the aisle.

This situation provides an opportunity to examine how nearly identical rhetorical stances can result in opposition and division when the claims not only overlap but compete to concretize—and politicize—abstract values as rhetors attempt to legitimize their own actions.

This proposal was based on early blog post that I tightened while adding the final point regarding concretization.

Joe Wilson: The Conservative Version of the Dixie Chicks?

In Apologetic rhetoric, New media, Rhetorical analysis on September 13, 2009 at 4:02 pm

If you didn’t know it before, you probably know Joe Wilson’s name now. Just a few days ago, Wilson interrupted President Obama by shouting “You lie!” during the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress.

As I’ve watched the story develop, I’ve been struck by a number of similarities between this situation and the situation faced by the Dixie Chicks a few years ago.

I understand that neither conservatives nor liberals will be happy or probably agree with such a comparison, but let’s take a second to look at what happened:

  • Both spoke out against a sitting President
  • Both initially tried to calm the storm with an attempt at apologizing
  • Both turned from a stance of regret to defiance within days of the event
  • Both ultimately relied on a strategy of “transcendence” which shifts the focus away from the particulars of a situation to larger, conceptual ideals that the audience views favorably. In doing so, they attempt to change the meaning of the event or act and transform how people understands it (Ware and Linkugel 280).
  • Finally, both grounded that strategy of transcendence on the position that they are courageously speaking out against wrongs and refuse to be silenced by their enemy’s attacks

In the following paragraphs, I’ll talk about these similarities in more detail. In the end, I’ll offer a brief discussion about what such examples of apologia really mean to our larger society.


Like the Dixie Chicks, Joe Wilson’s statement was immediately denounced. In Wilson’s case, politicians and media pundit from both sides of the aisle called Wilson’s outburst inappropriate, if not disrespectful and uncivil.

Also like the Dixie Chicks, Wilson was quick to offer a seemingly apologetic statement. He even posted it on his Facebook page.

Joe Wilson FaceBook post

Joe Wilson FaceBook post

Let’s look at the similarities between those initial attempts at apologizing.

Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, initially apologized for saying she was ashamed that President Bush was from Texas, stating “I feel the president is ignoring the opinion of many in the U.S. and alienating the rest of the world. My comments were made in frustration, and one of the privileges of being an American is you are free to voice your own point of view.”

Similarly, Wilson initially stated: “I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the President’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility.” Two days later, she added, “I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful.”

Although both statements indicate a belief that they feel the presidents are wrong, we see some signs of what William Benoit termed mortification, in which the accused “offers a sacrifice of self, an acceptance of wrong-doing” (Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies, p. 18).

The admittance of wrongdoing in both cases, however, focuses on the way in which the accused parties stated their opposition to the presidents—rather than admitting that the accused parties were wrong in their assessments.


A second similarity between Wilson’s situation and the Dixie Chicks’ situation is that the initial attempts at apologizing did little to subdue the storm. As a result, both the Dixie Chicks and Wilson responded with defiant stances that attacked their accusers.

For example, in an interview with Diane Sawyer, Maines stated: “The wording I used, the way I said it, that was disrespectful. Am I sorry that I asked questions, and that I don’t just follow? No.” When questioned further by Sawyer, Maines went on to say, “I feel regret for, you know, the choice of words or the non-choice of words. Am I sorry I said that? Yes. Am I sorry I spoke out? No.”

Wilson makes a similar transition. The day after the event—in fact, the morning after issuing his apology—Wilson embedded a YouTube video on his website http://www.joewilsonforcongress.com.

Joe Wilson's Campaign Website

Joe Wilson's Campaign Website

In the text next to the embedded video, Wilson states, “I should not have disrespected the President during his speech. But I am not sorry for fighting back against the dangerous policies of liberal Democrats. I will not back down.”


In their transitions from regret to defiance, we see elements of transcendence in both the Dixie Chicks’ and Wilson’s rhetorical strategies.

In their 1973 essay, B.L Ware and Wil A. Linkugel described transcendence as a strategy of apologia that shifts the focus away from the particulars of a situation to larger, conceptual ideals that the audience views favorably. By shifting from the specific to the abstract, the strategy of transcendence attempts to change the meaning of the event or act, to transform how the audience situates and, therefore, understands it.

For Burke, transcendence involves seeing an act not as an instance of wrongdoing or as a crime, but rather as a pursuit of a higher goal; moreover, this link not only legitimizes the pursuit—i.e., the act—but also dispels any accusation of wrongdoing related to it (Burke 187-189).

In short, the rhetorical force of transcendence is that the act is linked and legitimized by the higher-order, abstract value.


The similarities between the Dixie Chicks and Wilson don’t simply end with them both turning to a strategy of transcendence. That’s because both accused parties relied on the same transcendence.

Specifically, both the Dixie Chicks and Wilson legitimize their comments against a sitting President as an act of speaking out against wrongs and as refusing to be silenced.

For example, in April 2003, Maines stated “People think this’ll scare us and shut us up and it’s gonna do the opposite.”

Additionally, Maines’ band members Emily Robison and Martie Maguire also positioned Maines’ comment as an act of speaking out against wrong. Robison stated “here we were on the brink of war, and you are unpatriotic if you dissent” and “dissent was not even an option in our country anymore and to me that’s very un-American”

Maguire defended Maines by saying: “I think she had a right to speak out, whether it was popular or not. And I’m kind of proud of the fact that she was speaking out when it wasn’t the most popular thing to do.”

Once again, the similarity is uncanny, as the text next to Wilson’s video reads:

“I’ve been under attack by the liberals for months and they’ve done everything they can to quiet my very vocal opposition to more government interference in Americans’ lives. Now, it’s gotten even worse, but I will not stop fighting against their policies that will only lead to more government interference, more spending, and higher deficits.”

Moreover, Wilson states in his YouTube video that liberals “want to silence anyone who speaks out against” them and that he  “will not be muzzled.”

Finally, both the Dixie Chicks and Wilson solidify their positions by stating they will not back down.

The Dixie Chicks’ made this statement through the lyrics of their hit song Not Ready to Make Nice, in which they say “I’m not ready to back down.” Wilson, on the other hand, uses almost the exact same wording on his campaign website, stating “I will not back down.”


In describing the specific details above, I’ve made a case that Joe Wilson’s apologia is not only similar but nearly identical to that of the Dixie Chicks just a few years ago.

As such, it is worth pointing out that the underlying foundation for these similar strategies of transcendence is the values of freedom of speech and dissent. In that sense, the final similarity—some might say, irony—between the Dixie Chicks’ apologia and Wilson’s apologia is that they both defend their actions as patriotic.

In doing so, they both challenge audiences to consider what it means to be patriotic and American today—that is, they implicitly ask whether speaking out or supporting the President is an act of patriotism and an American value.

Regardless of how individuals choose to answer when faced with this false dichotomy, it’s worth pointing out to staunch Republicans that Wilson is employing the same rhetorical strategy and argument that conservatives denounced the Dixie Chicks for using. Additionally, to today’s Democratic supporters of President Obama it must be noted that the same values many of them applauded the Dixie Chicks for upholding are now being argued by the man across the aisle.

Perhaps somewhere in there, there is room for compromise and agreement.

Apologia vs. Apology

In Apologetic rhetoric on September 6, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Recently, a number of scholars have shifted the study of apologia away from image restoration theories in favor of an apology process that leads toward reconciliation. In doing so, they distinguish between apologies that focus on the needs of the victims and apologiae that focus on the face-saving desire of the rhetor. A critical element in this view of apologetic rhetoric is the belief that the ultimate goal of the exchange is forgiveness and restoration of social harmony (Tavuchis, 1991). This idea is in stark contrast to the image repair position that views apologies as “a rhetoric of failure” in terms of their ability to repair social relationships (Hearit, 2006, p. 17).

This distinction has prompted some scholars to argue for sub-genres of apologia that make room for the reconciliatory goal of apologies. For example, Joy Koesten and Robert Rowland (2004) argued that the rhetoric of atonement should be considered a subgenre of apologia—one that seeks “both forgiveness for a sinful act and restoration of the relationship once the sin has been expiated” (p. 69). Lisa Storm Villadsen (2008) agreed that there is a need for a sub-genre such as rhetoric of atonement; however, she preferred the name official apology because it was a more religiously neutral, inclusive term. Jason Edwards (2005) identified what he called community-focused apologia, which begins the healing process between communities. Finally, although Trudy Govier and Wilhelm Verwoerd (2002) did not mention apologia specifically, they did divide apologies into three forms: a defense, an excuse or account, and a moral apology, which contains an admission of wrongdoing without a justification or excuse (p. 67).

Other scholars have called for an even stronger separation of apology and apologia. For example, John B. Hatch (2003) argued that apologies should not be viewed through the cynical, self-interested lens of apologiae at all. Instead, it should be viewed in relation to forgiveness and reparations as “constituents of reconciliation” (Hatch, 2006b, p. 264). Nick Smith (2008) offered an even more extreme distinction—drawing a line between the ethically ideal categorical apology and the purely instrumental apology (which defines in a way that connotes apologia).

Despite the differences discussed above between apologia and apology, I have argued that future studies can benefit from using an umbrella term that allows for connections to be made and for researchers to influence and shape the work of each other, regardless of which specific term they prefer to analyze. Specifically, I suggested the use of terms such as apologetic rhetoric or apologetic exchanges when the use of a specific term (such as apologia) might inaccurately define the perspective or multiple perspectives under discussion (Towner, 2009). In addition, I argued that rather than referring to Koesten and Rowland’s (2004) rhetoric of atonement, Edwards’s (2005) community-focused apologia, or Burkholder’s (1990) symbolic martyrdom as sub-genres of apologia, we might more accurately label them as sub-genres of apologetic rhetoric or apologetic discourse.

[NOTE: For more information on the specific sources and scholars discussed above, please view the Apologetic Rhetoric Sources page.]

What are Kategoria and Antapologia?

In Apologetic rhetoric on September 4, 2009 at 1:53 pm

In order to answer the question of what kategoria and antapologia are, we have to understand the process of apologies and apologiae. Read the rest of this entry »

What is Apologia? A Description and History of the Term

In Apologetic rhetoric on September 3, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Although the term apologia sounds similar to the more common term apology, the terms are actually distinct. The following paragraphs provide a description and short history of the term apologia. Read the rest of this entry »

Assignment for Business Writing, Technical Communication, or New Media Course

In Apologetic rhetoric, New media, Technical communication on August 12, 2009 at 8:51 am


Whether it’s a product recall or malicious behavior by employees, companies are launching multi-prong responses that make use of the skills and training that business and technical communicators exemplify.

Take a look at just about any case in the news today in which a company is accused of some form of wrongdoing, and then check the company’s website as well as their social networking pages. Chance are, you’ll see skills  Read the rest of this entry »

Why Study Apologetic Rhetoric in Rwanda?

In Apologetic rhetoric, Rwanda on July 30, 2009 at 11:09 am

Recently, I’ve had some people ask me why I’m studying apologetic rhetoric in Rwanda when there are so many examples of apologies in the news every day that are closer to home. In the following paragraphs, I try to describe not only why I’m studying apologies in Rwanda’s gacaca trials, but also why scholars in general should study Rwandan apologetic rhetoric.

Why Rwanda?

For scholars of apologia and apologies, Rwanda offers one of the most unique and important case studies for understanding  Read the rest of this entry »

Why Technical Communicators Should Care About Apologia

In Apologetic rhetoric, Technical communication on July 29, 2009 at 2:04 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why technical communicators should care about apologia or apologetic rhetoric. Here are a few thoughts I’ve come up with so far. Read the rest of this entry »

EA’s Apologia Denies Sexism

In Apologetic rhetoric, New media on July 28, 2009 at 9:21 am
The popular video game maker EA provides the latest example of social networking apologia. The firestorm began when the company initiated an “acts of lust” contest in which attendees of the San Diego Comic-Con event were asked to submit photos on Twitter or Facebook of them committing “acts of lust” with any models working at the convention. Based on the photos, a winner would be selected to receive a “night of lust” which includes a “dinner and a sinful night with two hot girls, a limo service, paparazzi and a chest full of booty.”

As you may expect, the company and the contest have been blasted on blogs and tweets for being tasteless and, more notably, sexist in its call to have people commit acts of lust with convention models as well as the contest’s ultimate prize of giving away a night with “two hot girls.”

In response, EA issued an apologia on twitpic that featured a form of denial and a “good intentions” justification. Read the rest of this entry »

Zicam’s Safety Withdrawal Language Isn’t Much of a Withdrawal

In New media, Product recall on June 17, 2009 at 10:02 am

In terms of announcing the withdrawal of Zicam, Matrixx does a very good job of making the information prominent on its Zicam website. However, a bigger issue may be what the company says, rather than how easy the information is to access.

In the paragraphs below we’ll see how the company uses a combination of denial, bolstering, and attacking the accuser in its statement. More importantly, we’ll see how those strategies may ultimately confuse consumers and lead to additional health risk.

Read the rest of this entry »

The True Shame of Letterman’s Non-Apology

In Apologetic rhetoric on June 16, 2009 at 3:55 pm

In case you missed it, David Letterman has been in some hot water recently for his inappropriate joke of Governor Sara Palin’s daughter. Despite explicitly stating that he takes “full blame” for the “bad” joke, Letterman’s apology isn’t really an apology at all.

More importantly, the acceptance of his statements indicates a sad commentary on our true values when it comes to privacy and gender equality in terms of the double standard applied to women and sexuality. Let’s look at the language he used to see why it’s so disturbing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bugaboo: Online Product Recall of Strollers

In Product recall on June 8, 2009 at 10:46 am

Recently, Bugaboo issued a product recall of its Bugaboo Bee stroller, after it received 121 reports of brake failures. In addition to issuing a statement in cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the company posted recall information on its website. So how does that information rate when analyzed using the CPSC’s website guidance and apologia theory as lenses for understanding and evaluation? Read the rest of this entry »

Fun Express: The Ethics of Delivering Product Recalls

In New media, Product recall on May 26, 2009 at 4:19 pm

The more I look into product recalls, the more I’m convinced that companies should approach this form of communication as apologetic discourse, rather than just merely product information. Mattel showed how powerful such a holistic communication approach can be. Now, Fun Express is showing the exact opposite. Read the rest of this entry »

Holocaust Denial and Social Media

In Apologetic rhetoric, New media on May 20, 2009 at 10:41 am

I started looking into the apologia strategies of Holocaust denial groups on sites such as Facebook. My initial review indicates that most groups use a combination of denial, transcendence, and attacking the accuser.

The denial aspects appear to be carefully constructed to acknowledge some suffering by Jews during the war, but deny a systematic extermination. Instead, they argue  Read the rest of this entry »

Sources of Morality and Apologies

In Apologetic rhetoric on May 18, 2009 at 12:23 am

Lately, I’ve been wondering if the French philosopher Henri Bergson’s concept of “two sources of morality” may be helpful in either analyzing/evaluating apologetic rhetoric or in understanding why people apologize (that is, what aspect of a kategoria or accusation motivates a person to apologize). Read the rest of this entry »

Another Priest, Another Denial

In Apologetic rhetoric, Rwanda on May 17, 2009 at 10:14 am

Another Catholic Priest has been accused of genocide crimes. According to an article in The Times, “An international arrest warrant is being prepared by Rwanda for Father Emmanuel Uwayezu following the discovery that he is working in a parish at Empoli, near Florence. It will accuse him of direct complicity in the massacre of more than 80 students, aged from 12 to 20 Read the rest of this entry »

Pelosi Admits Knowing in 2003

In Apologetic rhetoric on May 15, 2009 at 3:57 pm

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged that she had learned about CIA waterboarding tactics in February 2003, when a staff member informed her that top members of Congress had been briefed on the issue. Despite admitting to knowing about waterboarding back in 2003, Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Turns Tables on Clinton

In Apologetic rhetoric on March 1, 2008 at 10:32 am

In a new presidential campaign ad, Senator Hillary Clinton implicitly accuses Senator Barack Obama of being too inexperienced to lead the nation during these troubling times.

In the television ad, a voiceover describes how a telephone is ringing in the White House and how “your vote” will determine whether it will be answered by “someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.” Later in the ad, Clinton is shown answering the phone while the voiceover says: “It’s 3 a.m., and your children are safely asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?”

The Obama campaign responded with an attack the accuser strategy. Obama dismissed the ad as fear-mongering. In addition, he turned the tables on Clinton by accusing her of making poor decisions in the past, despite her “experience.”

Obama stated: “The question is not about picking up the phone. The question is, what kind of judgment will you make when you answer? We’ve had a red-phone moment; it was the decision to invade Iraq. And Senator Clinton gave the wrong answer.”

House Republicans ‘Attack the Accuser’

In Apologetic rhetoric on March 1, 2008 at 9:51 am

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has asked the Justice Department to open a grand jury investigation into President Bush’s chief of staff Josh Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers. In her statements, Pelosi accused Bolten and Miers of contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about the firings of federal prosecutors in 2006 and for failing to turn over White House documents related to the dismissals.

The White House responded with a denial—claiming executive privilege and positioning the silence of Bolten and Miers as necessary for national security.

For the most part, however, the White House and House Republicans relied an “attack the accuser” strategy—claiming that Pelosi and House Democrats were failing to keep the US safe from terrorism by focusing on the charges.

For example, White House spokesman Tony Fratto stated that “Rather than passing critical national security legislation, they continue to squander time on partisan hijinx.”

In addition, a spokesperson for House Republican John Boehner said: “The terrorist threat to our country is not going away, and this sort of pandering to the left-wing fever swamps of loony liberal activists does nothing to make America safer.”

Clinton Video Attacks the Accusers

In Apologetic rhetoric on November 5, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Hillary Rodham Clinton is increasingly coming under attack by fellow Democratic candidates, who are hoping to gain ground in the coming weeks. At the October 30th debate, the criticism reached its highest point yet, as candidate after candidate targeted Clinton and her policies. The next day, the Clinton campaign answered back. Not from the podium, but instead through a cleverly edited video delivered via the Internet.

The video was placed on Clinton’s HillaryHub.com website, as well as on YouTube.com. Set to Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” it shows rivals John Edwards, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd directing their answers and criticism at Clinton–one after the other, in quick succession. It ends with a snip-it of Clinton stating “I seem to be the topic of great conversation and great consternation and that’s for a reason.” Finally, as the video fades to black, the words “The Politics of Pile-On” appear on the screen.

In terms of apologia, the Clinton video relies on new media to deliver what William Benoit refers to as a strategy of “attacking the accuser.” Such a strategy is aimed at reducing the effectiveness of a criticisms by attacking the accusers and, essentially, undermining the creditability of their claims. In this case, it is used to dismiss the criticisms raised against Clinton as mere pile-on politics, rather than valid claims worthy of consideration by voters.

This example of political apologia also emphasizes the need for future research on how new media apologiae are employed in political campaigns today.

Australia Unwilling to Apologize

In Apologetic rhetoric on October 23, 2007 at 4:45 pm

As a step toward reconciliation with indigenous people, Australian Prime Minister John Howard announced that he is committed to formally recognizing the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders as citizens in the Australian Constitution.

In his remarks, Howard stated that he has “always supported reconciliation but not of the apologetic, shame-laden, guilt-ridden type.” He went on to say that millions of Australians “don’t believe there is anything to apologize for. They are sorry for past mistreatment, but that is different from assuming responsibility for it.”

Australia’s indigenous leaders appear to welcome Howard’s gesture, but some say that without an apology there will always be “unfinished business.”

Howard, however, disagrees. “So much of the dialogue in the past has been based on apologies and shame and guilt, and it won’t work if people see that as the way forward,” said Howard. “That is the old paradigm, that is the old order.”

In reality, Howard’s approach may not be the way forward. In fact, according to Aaron Lazare, “where there are no apologies, reconciliation is unlikely.”

Moreover, Jason Edwards argues that true reconciliation involves an apologia process of remembrance, reconciliation (identifying the victims and pledging to make amends), mortification (expressing remorse and asking for forgiveness), and atonement (or some form of corrective action).

Based on this, it appears that Howard is actually willing to acknowledge the past wrongdoing, identify indigenous people as victims, and even take corrective action by finally recognizing them as rightful citizens of Australia. However, he is unwilling to express remorse or even consider asking for forgiveness.

It makes one wonder why a person or group would acknowledge a wrong and take corrective action, if in fact they really “don’t believe there is anything to apologize for.”

Ahmadinejad Cloaks Comments in Values

In Apologetic rhetoric on October 5, 2007 at 10:17 am

In remarks made to a Columbia University audience, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad relied on denial and transcendence strategies to discuss his controversial views.

For instance, when challenged about the brutal treatment of women and homosexuals by the Iranian government, Ahmadinejad denied the accusations by saying that “Women in Iran enjoy the highest levels of freedom” and “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country.”

Conversely, Ahmadinejad did not deny his past comments regarding whether the Holocaust happened or whether Israel should exist. Both statements, however, were repositioned as appeals to popular American values. For example, he referred to his stance on the Holocaust as a call for research from multiple perspectives.

In addition, Ahmadinejad refused to answer “yes” or “no” when asked if he sought the destruction of Israel. Instead, he said the status of Israel should be determined by a free election.

“Let the people of Palestine freely choose what they want for their future,” he said.

Such statements shift the focus away from Ahmadinejad’s past remarks and policies of hate by appealing to the larger, abstract values that are viewed favorably by Americans, but are often left undefined and unexplored.

Southwest’s Apology Mocks Customer, Situation

In Apologetic rhetoric on September 22, 2007 at 12:24 pm

Earlier this month, a Southwest Airlines employee pulled 23-year-old Kyla Ebbert aside to tell her she was dressed too provocatively to board a flight. Ebbert was kept off the plane until she adjusted her mini-skirt and was only allowed to board by agreeing to cover her skirt and legs with a blanket.

After widespread news and talk show coverage, Southwest Airlines issued an apology and reparations. Both strategies, however, were at best insincere—and, at worst, a mockery of the situation and demeaning to Ebbert as well as other women offended by the airline’s actions.

In the apology released by Southwest, the airline states:

“From a Company who really loves PR, touché to you Kyla! Some have said we’ve gone from wearing our famous hot pants to having hot flashes at Southwest, but nothing could be further from the truth. As we both know, this story has great legs, but the true issue here is that you are a valued Customer, and you did not get an adequate apology. Kyla, we could have handled this better, and on behalf of Southwest Airlines, I am truly sorry…. It was never our intention to treat you unfairly and again, we apologize.”

The insincerity continued when Southwest announced it was reducing fares as a gesture of reparations:

“The publicity caught us with our pants down, quite frankly. The story has such great legs, but we have an even better sense of humor, so we’re going to jump out there and lower our fares to match the mini skirts we’ve all been hearing so much about.”

Inappropriate phrases such as “has great legs,” “caught us with our pants down,” and “lower our fares to match the mini skirts” overshadow any attempt at contrition. Simply saying “we apologize” does not an apology make. Add to that the statement “we have an even better sense of humor” and it’s no wonder why Ebbert and her attorney felt slighted by the airline’s remarks.

In the end, the question is: why mock the situation or the woman’s feelings? Would it have been so difficult for the airline to simply say–with humility and remorse–that this situation could have been handled better, and that they are truly sorry for the feelings of embarrassment that the airline’s actions and the situation have caused?

Mattel Apologizes to Chinese Manufacturers

In Apologetic rhetoric on September 21, 2007 at 5:09 pm

Just weeks after recalling (and apologizing for the production of) unsafe toys, Mattel has issued an apology for implying that the problems were the fault of Chinese manufacturers.

This time the toy maker sent a top executive to personally take responsibility for the recalled products and to express regret for any harm or hurt feelings the incident has caused Chinese workers and officials.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people, and all of our customers who received the toys,” said Thomas Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations.

Debrowski added: “We understand and appreciate deeply the issues that this has caused for the reputation of Chinese manufacturers.”

The apology may be seen by some as a calculated move to simply avoid inflaming Chinese officials who can make it difficult for Mattel to produce their toys inexpensively (and, ultimately, hurt their earnings and stock price).

Regardless, the act of contrition marks an important gesture from a large U.S. producer to the Chinese people and factories that help it earn such high profits.

Mormon Church Apologizes for Massacre

In Apologetic rhetoric on September 15, 2007 at 8:44 am

As the Fancher-Baker wagon train passed through Utah in 1857, 120 men, women, and children in its party were brutally murdered by a group of men dressed in Native American clothing. New research shows that leaders of the local Mormon church were, in fact, responsible for recruiting Paiute Indians to participate–alongside Mormon militia members–in the horrific killings.

At the 150th anniversary memorial service held this month, Mormon Elder Henry B. Eyring, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, offered a groundbreaking statement of contrition and accountability for the church’s role in the massacre.

“What was done here long ago by members of our church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct,” said Eyring. “We cannot change what happened, but we can remember and honor those who were killed here.”

Although the statement was intended as an apology to descendants of the victims and survivors, it did not include the word “sorry” nor did it take full responsibility for the church’s role in carrying out (not just planning or recruiting people for) the massacre.

Historian Will Bagley felt the church avoided its culpability. ”I don’t think shoving it off on local [Mormon] leadership is an apology,” he said. ”Did you hear an ‘I’m sorry?’” Priscilla Dickson, a descendant of one of the victims, added: ”Simply saying ‘I’m sorry,’ would go a long way.'”

After the ceremony, Richard Turley Jr., the church’s managing director of family and church history, insisted that the statement was offered as an apology, adding: ”[The church] is deeply, deeply sorry. What happened here was horrific.”

Lewis Offers Pseudo-Apology

In Apologetic rhetoric on September 6, 2007 at 2:23 pm

Jerry Lewis released an apology for using an anti-gay slur during his annual Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In his statement, Lewis said:

“I made a joking comment to a member of my production staff. I apologize to anyone offended….That something like this would distract from the true purpose of the Telethon pains me deeply. The success of the show and all the good that will come of it shouldn’t be lost because of one unfortunate word. I accept responsibility for what I said. There are no excuses. I am sorry.”

Although Lewis says he accepts responsibility, the regret in his statement is related to the negative shadow cast on the telethon, as opposed to regretting the pain or hurt feelings he caused other people.

According to apology scholar Aaron Lazare, such failed or pseudo-apologies contain “a conditional acknowledgement of the offense” indicating that the offender “may not even believe an offense was committed.”

Moreover, Lewis’s statements “I made a joking comment” and “I apologize to anyone offended” sounds much like a dismissive “If you were hurt, I am sorry” type remark–implying that the root of the problem is the audience’s over-sensitivity, not the anti-gay remark itself.

Mattel Emphasizes Corrective Action

In Apologetic rhetoric on September 6, 2007 at 7:04 am

The largest manufacturer of children’s toys, Mattel, issued a voluntary recall of several toy lines due to small digestible magnets and indications of lead-based paint.

Although the official recall notices issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are not intended as instances of apologies, they do include “remedy” sections that focus on corrective action.

Furthermore, in the video posted by Mattel on its website, chairman and chief executive officer Robert Eckert offers an apology, but focuses more on corrective action. In the video, he says:

“We apologize again to everyone affected and promise that we will continue to focus on ensuring the safety and quality of our toys.”

In addition, the video and the news release by Mattel both emphasize a “3-stage safety check” that will be used to ensure safety going forward.

The approach by Mattel highlights the need for future studies of the differences between official recall notices that offer accounts and corrective action (but not apologies) versus damage control recall strategies employed in new media and press releases that offer an obligatory “apology” while focusing mostly on the corrective action.

Malaysian Student Apologizes

In Apologetic rhetoric on August 16, 2007 at 9:11 am

Wee Meng Chee, a Malaysian student currently attending college in Taiwan, apologized for making and posting a rap video on YouTube that featured the Malaysian national anthem Negaraku as background music.

The entire episode raises questions in Malaysia about the issues of creativity and expression versus the government’s “national interest” regulations.

Using a strategy of evasion of responsibility based on good intentions, Meng Chee stated that the controversy has taught him “a lesson about the spirit of nationalism and race relations.” He added, “As a Malaysian, I did not intend to shame the country or ridicule any religion.”

Meng Chee also announced that he is taking corrective action to help end the controversy: “I will remove the video clip from my blog and I hope other bloggers will stop distributing the video clip.”

The Malaysian Information Minister, Datuk Zainuddin Maidin, urged Malaysians to accept Meng Chee’s apology. Cabinet Minister Nazri, however, argues that Meng Chee “committed an offence against the nation and no one, not the Cabinet or political parties, are in the position to forgive him.”

Instead, the matter will be turned over to the Attorney General to determine if Meng Wee should be charged under the Sedition Act for insulting a symbol of the nation.

“In Britain, you can insult the Queen or the flag, I don’t care, but in this country we have laws and we cannot create a precedent where you commit an offence, apologize and get away with it,” said Nazri.

Anti-Apartheid Activists Call for Apology

In Apologetic rhetoric on August 12, 2007 at 12:57 am

Thirteen former anti-Apartheid activists sought an apology today for their unjust imprisonment by returning to the same South African courtroom where they were tried and sentenced twenty years ago.

In the early 1990s, Apartheid was finally dismantled–and the dream of democracy became a reality for anti-Apartheid activists throughout South Africa with the elections of 1994. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established a year later to record crimes against human rights and, in some cases, grant amnesty to the perpetrators of those crimes.

In the twelve years since the TRC’s establishment, however, no judges have made submissions to the commission. Instead, law experts have attempted to transcend the specific details of complaints by appealing to the abstract value of enforcing laws as they are written at the time of sentencing. According to this reasoning, judges who presided over cases during Apartheid had the responsibility to interpret and enforce the law as it stood then.

Such an account gets to the heart of the activists’ call, which is not only an apology from a court authority, but more importantly an acknowledgement of pain, suffering, and wrongdoing by a now democratic system that claims to value reconciliation for past injustices.

As Quentin Michels, one of the activists who was sentenced to 12 years, said: “It would mean that for all those times and troubles that we’ve gone through it was something that we can say it was worthwhile.”

McCain Accepts Campaign Blame

In Apologetic rhetoric on July 13, 2007 at 12:41 pm

Using mortification and corrective action strategies, Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain accepted the blame for his recent campaign woes, which include two major staff shake-ups in a week.

During an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio, McCain stated “We’ve made mistakes.” He went on to say “The responsibility is mine. I’m the candidate.”

McCain also accepted responsibility for spending too much money early in the campaign, rather than saving up to pay for costly television advertisements down the stretch. “We didn’t use the money in the most effective way,” he said.

“It’s difficult times right now,” McCain admitted as he vowed to press on with his presidential bid.

Recently, McCain named the chief executive officer, Rick Davis, as his campaign manager as he seeks to correct his troubled campaign. In addition, in early July, he laid off more than half of his staff and cut salaries in an attempt to control costs.

Cameron Diaz Apologizes for Bag

In Apologetic rhetoric on June 25, 2007 at 11:40 am

Cameron Diaz recently apologized for appearing in Peru while carrying a bag that evoked painful memories for the local citizens.

The olive green bag featured a red star along and the words “Serve the People” written in Chinese. The saying (made famous by Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong) evoked memories of the Maoist insurgency in Peru during the 1980s and 1990s that led to the deaths of nearly 70,000 people.

In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press, Diaz used a balance of evasion of responsibility (by classifying the act as an accident) and mortification.

“I sincerely apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently offended. The bag was a purchase I made as a tourist in China and I did not realize the potentially hurtful nature of the slogan printed on it.”

Diaz went on to say: “I’m sorry for any people’s pain and suffering and it was certainly never my intention to reopen what I now know is a painful wound in this country’s history.”

Diaz also mentioned the beauty and warmth of the Peruvian people, and said she wished “for their continued healing.”

Edwards Defends Nonprofit Connection

In Apologetic rhetoric on June 24, 2007 at 11:54 am

Speaking to reporters in Reno, Nevada, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards denied accusations that the Center for Promise and Opportunity has been used to promote his presidential campaign.

Using a strategy of transcendence, Edwards stated that his work on behalf of the nonprofit organization was aimed at raising the minimum wage in states, helping low-income students attend college, organizing workers into unions, and engaging young people in the fight against poverty.

“All of this was an effort to try to deal with the issue of poverty in America, which is the cause of my life,” he said. “What I’ve been doing is not only significant and there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s something I’m very proud of. Everything we did was not only completely legal but we did a lot of good.”

According to Kenneth Burke, William Benoit, and Ware and Linkugel, the rhetorical appeal of such transcendental remarks is that they shift the focus away from the particulars of the situation and, instead, position a person’s actions in relation to larger, abstract ideals that society views favorably.

Jones Accepts Responsibility

In Apologetic rhetoric on June 17, 2007 at 10:01 am

Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones issued a statement that he is dropping his appeal of a yearlong suspension and is pledging to repair his image as the poster child for NFL misconduct.

Jones was suspended after 10 encounters with police and five arrests since he was drafted in 2005. His suspension was the most severe of those handed down last spring as part of commissioner Roger Goodell’s crackdown on player misbehavior.

In his announcement, Jones employed a mortification strategy by acknowledging wrongdoing, accepting responsibility, and taking steps to make amends in the future.

“I understand my responsibilities to my teammates, the Titans and my fans, and I am committed to turning my life around and being a positive member of the NFL,” said Jones through a statement delivered by agent Michael Huyghue.

In reference to his meeting with the commissioner, Jones said that he told Goodell “about the steps I have taken to change my life since being suspended by the NFL. I accept the discipline that’s been imposed on me and I am withdrawing my appeal.”

Jones is also planning to use the time away from football to go back to school; he’ll reportedly take courses online from West Virginia University, where he played.

Duke Prosecutor Resigns

In Apologetic rhetoric on June 16, 2007 at 12:52 pm

North Carolina District Attorney Mike Nifong resigned and admitted that he got “carried away” during the prosecution of three Duke lacrosse players for allegedly raping a stripper at a team party in March 2006.

Using aspects of the mortification strategy described by Benoit, Nifong said he regretted making improper statements about the players.

“Whatever mistakes I made in this case were my mistakes. But they’re not all the ones that the bar says I made, but they are my mistakes,” Nifong said.

In addition to mortification, Nifong used a strategy that Goffman describes as a variation of denial—that is, admitting that the act occurred, but that he isn’t ultimately responsible for the negative outcome because it wasn’t foreseeable or intentional.

In response to claims that he withheld DNA test results from the defense, Nifong said that he didn’t know additional DNA information was missing at first. However, months later, he realized the mistake.

“My first reaction was a variation of ‘Oh crap. I didn’t give them this?”‘ Nifong said.

The missing DNA results indicated that no evidence was found from any lacrosse player. Despite knowing these results, Nifong pressed ahead and won indictments against Seligmann, Evans and Finnerty.

State prosecutors later concluded that the three players were not only innocent, but were also victims of Nifong’s “tragic rush to accuse.”

Privacy International Responds

In Apologetic rhetoric on June 13, 2007 at 1:24 pm

The London-based advocacy group Privacy International (PI) issued an “Open Letter to Google” in response to Google’s alleged accusation that PI has a conflict of interest regarding Microsoft.

In the letter PI employs the apologia strategy that can be described in Erving Goffman’s terms as denying that an act occurred. According to PI, “Privacy International is a fiercely independent organization that has never shown fear nor favour. Again for the record, we have been fierce and relentless critics of Microsoft since our inception as a watchdog.”

In addition, PI Director Simon Davies, responded in kind to Google with his own attack of the attacker strategy: “Can I be so bold as to suggest that your company’s actions stem from sour grapes that you achieved the lowest ranking amongst the Internet giants?”

Perhaps this isn’t the last we hear of this public battle of accusations and apologiae.

Google Attacks Attacker

In Apologetic rhetoric on June 13, 2007 at 1:16 pm

Google is in the news again. This time, as the worst Internet-based company at protecting consumer privacy, according to a report issued by the London-based advocacy group Privacy International. The report by Privacy International (PI) explains the ranking in part because the group believes it has “witnessed an attitude to privacy within Google that at its most blatant is hostile, and at its most benign is ambivalent.”

This report ultimately served as a kategoria (or an accusation, as described by apologia scholar Halford Ross Ryan). Google allegedly fired back, by contacting journalists and claiming that PI did not name Microsoft as the worst company because it has a conflict of interest with the software giant.

This alleged tactic can be described in apologia terms as: condemnation of the condemners (Sykes and Matza 1975, Scott and Lyman 1968), shortcomings or misdeeds of accuser (Schonback 1980), or attacking the accuser (Benoit 1995). As Benoit explains, the rhetorical power of this strategy is that if the credibility of one’s attacker (in this case, PI) can be reduced, the damage to the accused’s image (that is, Google’s image) can be reduced as well.

"Scooter" to Serve 30 Months

In Apologetic rhetoric on June 5, 2007 at 11:44 am

Former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby is back in the spotlight after being sentenced to 30 months in prison for lying and obstructing the investigation of a CIA leak.

Libby’s case is particularly interesting because his apologia was handled largely by third-party participants. For instance, one of his attorneys, William Jeffress, is offering a denial defense by stating that the obstruction charge hasn’t been proven. “No one was ever charged. Nobody ever pleaded guilty,” Jeffress said. “The government did not establish the existence of an offense.”

In addition, another one of Libby’s defense attorneys, Theodore Wells, offered a bolstering strategy by asking the judge to consider Libby’s career service to the country. A number of prominent figures have also added to this strategy, including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who said: “My hope and prayer is that his outstanding record, his many contributions to our country and his value as a citizen, will be considered carefully.”

As for Libby’s direct contribution to his apologia strategy, he offered only brief remarks that hinted at the bolstering strategy already established. “It is respectfully my hope that the court will consider, along with the jury verdict, my whole life,” said Libby.

Based on the sentencing given by the judge, the apologia strategies offered by the third parties failed to diminish the offensive of Libby’s actions enough to escape jail time.

According to Hugh Keefe, a Connecticut defense attorney who teaches trial advocacy at Yale University, that’s not surprising. “The only thing any sentencing judge wants to hear is remorse, and if they don’t think it comes from the heart or they think they’re only sorry for getting caught, for losing their job, or for going to jail, it doesn’t count,” said Keefe.

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.

Britney Spears’ Blog to Fans

In Apologetic rhetoric on May 31, 2007 at 1:03 pm

Britney Spears recently posted a letter on her site to fans. In it, Spears employs a number of apologiae strategies to explain recent stories about her behavior.

One of the most prominent strategies used by Spears in her defense is the strategy of “defeasibility,” which is used to evade responsibility. For example, early in her letter, Spears states “I was like a bad kid running around with ADD” followed by “after I got my divorce… I was so overwhelmed, I think that I was in a little shock too” and, finally, she confesses “I was so lost.” The rhetorical force of these statements implicitly suggests that Spears should not be judged too harshly nor held responsible for her actions. Instead, lack of control is actually to blame.

In addition to “defeasibility,” Spears also employs a “bolstering” strategy (for example, “I just want the same things in life that you want…and that is to be happy”) and an “attacking the accuser” strategy (such as “It’s so funny how many stories are put out there about people” and “I used to be angry at the tabloids for printing horrible things about me”). These comments attempt to reduce the offensiveness of Spears’ wrongful acts by identifying with the public while, at the same time, shifting the focus from her own actions to the possibly unethical actions of her accusers.

One has to wonder, however, why Spears chose to leave the provocative image adjacent to her defense.

Hearit’s Three-Act Play and Ideal Apologia

In Apologetic rhetoric, Rhetorical analysis on May 31, 2007 at 12:04 pm

In “Crisis Management by Apology,” Keith Michael Hearit argues that an apologetic exchange can be viewed as a three-act play or ritual consisting of: an act, a charge of wrongdoing, and a defense. A critical element of this three-act play is the idea of guilt. In essence, the charge of wrongdoing is an assertion that an individual or organization has violated “some cherished social value” and, therefore, must purge the guilt of this violation and seek restoration into the community in the final act: the apologia.

Hearit also lays out a method for ethically judging the apologetic decisions of individuals and organizations. This method is based on two aspects of apologetic discourse: (1) the manner and (2) the content. In terms of the manner, Hearit asserts that, ideally, an ethical apologia is truthful, sincere, timely, and voluntary. It also addresses all stakeholders and is performed in an appropriate context (p. 64). However, in terms of the content, an ethical apologia should acknowledge wrongdoing, accept responsibility, express regret, identify with the victims, ask for forgiveness, seek reconciliation, disclose relevant information, provide an explanation that addresses the victims’ questions and concerns, and offer corrective actions and compensation.

It is worth noting that these characteristics describe the ideal or paradigm case of an ethical apologia. Therefore, an apologia that fails to meet one or several aspects is not necessarily unethical. Rather, it may be less ethical than the ideal, but still judged “ethically acceptable.” Moreover, there are at least five circumstances “that could justify departures from the paradigm case while still retaining the essential ethical character of an apologia.” These circumstances include: catastrophic financial losses, grave liability issues, a “moral learning curve,” questions over full-disclosure, and even situations where confidentiality or discretion are expected.

Benoit’s Five Major Strategies

In Apologetic rhetoric on May 31, 2007 at 11:54 am

Based on the work done by Ware and Linkugel, William Benoit introduced perhaps the most comprehensive account of apologetic strategies in his book “Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies.” Benoit’s theory consists of five major strategies used by speakers: denial, evading responsibility, reducing offensiveness, corrective action, and mortification. In addition, Benoit offers subcategories for each.

The first strategy—denial—consists of two forms: 1) simple denial, in which the speaker denies the act or, at least, denies taking part in it; and 2) shifting the blame, which is also known as scapegoating.

The second strategy—evasion of responsibility—consists of: 1) provocation, suggesting that the accused responded after being provoked; 2) defeasibility, suggesting that a lack of either information or control is actually to blame; 3) accidents, suggesting it was an accident; and 4) good intentions, suggesting that the accused performed the act with good intentions, despite the negative outcome.

The third strategy details how apologists attempt to reduce the offensiveness of their wrongful acts by using: 1) bolstering, such as describing the positive attributes and qualities of a person; 2) minimization, attempting to decrease the audience’s negative view of the situation; 3) differentiation, focusing on how a particular situation differs from similar, yet much worse acts; 4) transcendence, discussing the act in terms of abstract values and group loyalties; 5) attacking the accuser to undermine his or her credibility; and 6) offering compensation to the victims.

The fourth strategy—corrective action—describes how apologists offer to repair damages caused by their actions, as well as take steps to prevent the event from happening again.

Finally, the fifth strategy—mortification—is based on Burke’s discussion of mortification in which the accused “admits wrongful behavior, asks for forgiveness, and apologizes.”

Ware and Linkugel: Four Factors

In Apologetic rhetoric on May 31, 2007 at 11:30 am

B.L Ware and Wil A. Linkugel draw on Robert Abelson’s theory of belief-dilemma resolution to describe four factors that apologists use when caught in a wrong: denial, bolstering, differentiation, and transcendence (275).

According to Ware and Linkugel, the first two factors—denial and bolstering—are reformative in the sense that in neither case does the speaker “totally invent the identification” (277) nor does the speaker attempt to “change the audience’s meaning” (275) of the issue or idea being discussed. The act of denying allegations and facts is useful in apologetic discourse in that (as long as the truth is not distorted) it allows the apologist to respond to charges in a way that does not conflict with the values and beliefs of the audience (Ware and Linkugel 275). In contrast to denial, bolstering takes place when an apologist “attempts to identify himself with something viewed favorably by the audience” (Ware and Linkugel 277).

While denial and bolstering are reformative, the second and third factors—differentiation and transcendence—are transformative. Differentiation is described as a discussion of the individual aspects that make up a larger action or accusation; in doing so, speakers attempt to redefine situations or cast their actions in a new, more detailed, and positive light (Ware and Linkugel 278-279). In contrast to differentiation, the fourth factor—transcendence—describes strategies shift the focus away from the particulars of a situation to the larger, conceptual ideals that the audience views favorably (Ware and Linkugel 280).

In short, the four factors consist of two reformative factors (denial which involves negation and bolstering which involves the opposite, identification) that do not attempt to change the meaning of the issue being discussed, and two transformative factors (differentiation, which focuses the audience’s attention on the particular, and transcendence which focuses on the abstract). Ware and Linkugel also combine one transformative factor with one reformative to construct four rhetorical postures often used by apologists: absolution (which consists of denial and differentiation), vindication (denial and transcendence), explanation (bolstering and differentiation), and justification (bolstering and transcendence) (282-283).

Erving Goffman’s Remedial Strategies

In Apologetic rhetoric on May 31, 2007 at 11:19 am

In his 1971 book Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order, Erving Goffman explores the “remedial” strategies available to the accused. By focusing on “remedial work,” Goffman explicitly states that the goal of the accused is to transform or reposition the “meaning” of the act of wrongdoing—in an attempt to re-position an act that at first seems offensive into a socially acceptable one (109).

To achieve such a remediation, an accused person must either offer an account, an apology, or a request (Goffman 115). Accoding to Goffman, an account may include such strategies as denying that the act occurred or an admittance that the act occurred, but that the accused isn’t responsible for or couldn’t foresee the negative outcome (109-112). The second remedial strategy consists of an apology, in which the accused, essentially, splits himself into two parts: the guilty side and the side that “stands back and sympathizes with the blame giving, and, by implication, is worthy of being brought back into the fold” (Goffman 113). Finally, the accused can defend his or her actions by noting that the victim granted a request prior to the act and, therefore, is partly, if not, solely responsible for the outcome. For example, before violating someone’s privacy, a person may ask: “Can I ask you something personal?” (Goffman 115).

Regardless of whether a person uses an account, apology, or request, Goffman states that often two distinct processes actually occur in remedial work. One is restitutive, in which the victim receives some form of compensation. The other, which is more relevant to our discussion, is ritualistic. By ritualistic, Goffman means that the accused performs a ritual whereby he or she acknowledges the social rules, norms, or values that have been broken and realigns with or reaccepts that social order. This aspect is critical because it establishes wrongful acts as breaks from a society’s values; moreover, it establishes the remedial work as a public ritual in which those values are reaccepted. In other words, as Keith Michael Hearit notes, the goal is not actually forgiveness, but rather the repair of an “image-based social relationship” through a ritualistic acknowledgement and acceptance of values (Crisis Management 17).

Consequently, individuals or organizations offer not merely a defense, but a defense that seeks “restoration into the community” (Hearit Crisis Management 36). As we can see, then, whether the accused relies on an account, an apology, or a request, reacceptance into the community hinges on whether the accused accepts the social order and values that are believed to have been violated (Goffman 165).

Apologia Versus Apology

In Apologetic rhetoric on May 31, 2007 at 11:17 am

Although the terms “apologia” and “apology” seem similar, there is actually an important point of distinction between the commonly heard term apology and the lesser-known term apologia. The term apology is used when a person or corporation acknowledges guilt and expresses regret (Hearit Crisis Management 4). Apologia, on the other hand, is a Greek term that can be defined more broadly as any speech that is given in defense of an accusation (Ryan 255-256). It’s worth noting that apologia need not be presented as a “speech,” in the strict sense of the word. Rather, an apologia may be delivered in a variety of forms, including such materials as “an autobiography, a press release, a pamphlet, a play, or a novel” (Kruse 282).

Finally, it is important to understand that although these two terms are distinct, the broader term apologia may in fact contain an apology or an acknowledgement of responsibility (Hearit “Apologies and Public Relations” 115). Conversely, an apologia may offer “a compelling, counter description of organizational actions” without any acknowledgement of wrongdoing (Hearit “Apologies and Public Relations” 115). For example, if a newspaper reports that a product is hazardous, the manufacturer of that product may issue a statement denying the charge, and citing test results that demonstrate the safety of the product. In doing so, the company may explicitly refuse to accept responsibility for an action or undesirable situation. Although such a response would not be considered an apology, it does fit within the category of apologia.

By situating the discussion around apologiae rather than apologies, critics are able to focus not merely on instances in which organizations offer an admission of guilt, but more broadly on all situations in which an individual or organization has been accused of wrong-doing and offers some form of defense in response.