Obama Apology to Nancy Reagan

President-elect Barack Obama learned in his first post-election press conference that as President (and even President-to-be) his every public utterance will be scrutinized, analyzed, reinterpreted, and exploited.

In the course of noting that he has, of course, spoken with all of the ex-presidents as he prepares to assume the Oval Office, Obama made an off-hand joke about not holding any Nancy Reagan type séances to conjure up dead presidents:

A more or less harmless quip coming from, say, Jay Leno. But hot water for our next President, for several reasons:

  • Nancy Reagan is a presidential widow. And in poor health at that.
  • More importantly, while Mrs. Reagan was dinged for consulting astrologers during her time in the White House, she didn’t conduct any séances.
  • That was actually First Lady Hillary Clinton, conversing with the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt with the aid of some New Age consultant type. (In fairness, Hillary didn’t hold a séance either — it was more of a creative exercise: “What would Eleanor Roosevelt say if you could speak to her?” But still goofy enough for ridicule.)

Quickly realizing his error, President-elect Senator The One Obama (thank goodness he’ll be down to just one title come January 20) phoned Mrs. Reagan to apologize for “the careless and offhanded remark,” Obama transition team spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said. (CNN)

I’m sure it won’t be Obama’s last apology, but it is certainly better for him to learn now that he must choose his words more carefully. The campaign spotlight was bright, but he’s about to walk into a supernova of attention.

Enough with the apologies already!

Commentator Don Surber says, enough with the apologies already. He’s fed up with both demands for apologies and apology as spectacle by politicians:

I am tired of the politicization of the apology. Phony apologies
water down not only the meaning of an apology, but also the political
discourse.

Some apologies are necessary and sincere. The apology was quick and
private after Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller denigrated the military
experience of Republican Sen. John McCain last week.

But too often, political apologies are public spectacles.

When the Florida legislature apologized for slavery, it came decades
after the last slave had gone to heaven. It did no one any good, but it
sure made legislators feel morally superior.

Apologizing for someone else’s actions is stealing a little glory. How smug. How self-satisfied. The mea culpa is all about me.

Almost as bad is the call for an apology. Someone says something that
someone doesn’t like, and the offended party demands an apology.

Go read the rest.

Charleston Daily Mail

Governor Eliot Spitzer Apology for Being Linked to Prostitution Ring

Oh, boy. There is just no good way to be “linked to a prostitution ring.” Especially if you’re a public official. Like the Governor of New York. Or, just to make it worse, you’re a governor “who gained national prominence relentlessly pursuing Wall Street wrongdoing” and “also had prosecuted at least two prostitution rings as head of the state’s organized crime task force.” (NY Times)

Which is awesome, except when the sentence end with: “has been caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel last month”

Time to check in our old pal Governor Eliot Spitzer. You may recall that Eliot last came to the attention of Apology Index in July 2007 when he wrote a lovely apology note in the New York Times for the underhanded political tactics of some of his minions. He resolved then to:

“keep our eye on the ball and focus our energy and our
resources on the needs of New Yorkers — fighting for a revitalized
economy, more jobs, lower health care costs, better schools and lower
taxes.”

Well … I guess you could say he’s been doing his bit to revitalize the economy. And create jobs!

The wiretap captured a man identified as Client 9 on a telephone call
confirming plans to have a woman travel from New York to Washington,
where he had reserved a hotel room, according to an affidavit filed in
federal court in Manhattan. The person briefed on the case and the law
enforcement official identified Mr. Spitzer as Client 9.
(NY Times)

Maybe not what New Yorkers had in mind. Perhaps not surprisingly, today’s apology was a bit more terse than the last one:

“I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and
violates my or any sense of right or wrong,” said Mr. Spitzer, who
appeared with his wife Silda at his Manhattan office. “I apologize
first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public to
whom I promised better.”

“I have disappointed and failed to live
up to the standard I expected of myself. I must now dedicate some time
to regain the trust of my family.”

Sooo … yeah. Not really much I can add to that. We’ll have to see how the media, the public and other interested parties react to this one.

The video is here: http://video.on.nytimes.com/?fr_story=fcb0111f1044c081f71110f2828d33b177591d52

Bob Kerrey Apology to Obama

Tis the season to … apologize to Barack Obama. Again.

This time the apology comes from former U.S. Senator from Nebraska and current New School President Bob Kerrey. Earlier this week Kerrey endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, but he also had a few “kind words” for Obama:

“I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that
his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim,”
Kerrey told The Washington Post.

“There’s a billion people on the planet that are Muslims, and I think that experience is a big deal.” (NY Post)

Uh, gee, thanks Bob. I think. Real subtle.

While he didn’t go on to point out how Obama rhymes with Osama and gosh isn’t it funny how people keep getting those two mixed up, he might as well have.

Why is this a big deal?

Kerrey’s mention of Obama’s middle name and his Muslim roots raised
eyebrows because they are also used as part of a smear campaign on the
Internet that falsely suggests Obama is a Muslim who wants to bring
jihad to the United States.

Obama is a Christian. (Yahoo! News)

So has Kerrey signed on as part of the Hillary smear machine … or is he just a dunce?

Today Kerrey apologizes to Obama via letter and email:

“I answered a question about your qualifications to be president in a
way that has been interpreted as a backhanded insult of you. I assure
you I meant to do just the opposite,” Kerrey wrote.
( Yahoo! News)

adding:

“After you and I met during your primary campaign for the Senate, I
wrote a public letter in which I said that that you were among the two
or three most talented people I have ever met in politics. Nothing in
your performance in the Senate or your campaign for the Presidency has
altered that view….

With the benefit of my
computer’s capacity to make certain that my words reflect my belief let
me answer that question in this letter which you are free to use anyway
you choose.

You are exceptionally qualified by
experience and judgment to be President of the United States. I do not
doubt that you would use the power of the Presidency to bring peace and
prosperity to as many people as possible on our fragile planet. You
inspire my highest hopes for that office?s potential: That it be used
as a force for good in America and the world.

It
is your capacity to inspire hope that is your greatest God given
talent. Without spending a dime of tax payer?s money or changing a
single law your presence in the Oval Office will send a clear and
compelling message to four groups of people who will be altered for
good as a consequence. That was what I was trying to say on Sunday and
what I hope I said more clearly in this letter.”
(Quoted at LeftWord)

Well, that is a sweet apology. Practically an endorsement. But, as many observers note, the damage is done and the “Obama may be a Muslim sleeper agent” meme gets another lift. Even the apology perpetuate exposure to that idea in the infosphere.

So was Kerrey’s initial statement a compliment gone horribly wrong and his apology sincere?

Many are skeptical:

The Moderate Voice:

To some voters, the image of the Clintons as political victims is
being replaced by the image of the Clintons as political predators.

If there’s another “mistake” by a major Clinton supporter, it will
mean there is a clear-cut strategy to hit hot-button issues and drive
up Obama’s negatives no matter what the risk is to the campaign.

(And see reader comments)

Ann Althouse:

Do you need one more “mistake” to convince you that it’s a Clinton campaign strategy?

(And see reader comments)

Comments from Left Field:

The really clever part of the Mea Culpa phase of the pattern is that
it reinvigorates the original attack against Obama, and then puts
Clinton’s face right there as condemning the attack.  It’s the best of
both worlds, you get the negative out about your opponent, and you look
like the good guy taking the higher road.

Here’s the only problem; I don’t think anyone’s really buying it.

Michelle Malkin:

He never meant to harm his candidacy? He “meant no disrespect at all?”

He used the phrase “Islamic Manchurian candidate” and he “meant no disrespect?

What a tool.

And see reader comments at The Swamp, where commenter “Frank” makes a nice point that ties into our recent observation of the unapologetic demeanor of the Republican candidates:

If he gets the nomination, he better get used to these attacks without any subsequent “I’m sorry” from the Republicans.

That, we can pretty much count on.

APOLOGY DEMAND: Romney Wants Huckabee Apology to … President Bush?


In the interests of equal time, we should glance over at the Republican nomination contest and see if there are any good apologies lately. Or bad apologies for that matter. Unfortunately, the best we can do at the moment is an apology demand.

The Republican candidates are, in general, an unapologetic bunch. Has Rudy Giuliani ever apologized for anything? He’s three wives in. I doubt it. John McCain? Maybe. But this is a man who did not break under years of Viet Cong torture. He’ll apologize only if he wants to. Fred Thompson will just laugh you off with some clever bit of folksy wisdom.
 
The Republican candidates do not give off an apology vibe. Meanwhile, Obama is palling around with Oprah.

That broadly fits the caricatures of both parties, doesn’t it?

So it is not that I mean to neglect the Republican candidates–they just don’t provide as much material.

Which brings us to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s demand that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee apologize for — stay with me here — what he wrote in a recent article in Foreign Affairs.

Here is the apology demand:

At a campaign stop here on Monday, Mitt Romney continued his blunt
criticism of his Republican rival Mike Huckabee, renewing a call for
Mr. Huckabee to apologize for characterizing the Bush administration’s
foreign policy as “arrogant.”

Mr. Romney once again accused Mr. Huckabee of using “the language of a Democrat” in an article
he wrote for the January/February 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs in
which he asserts that “the Bush administration’s arrogant bunker
mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad.”

During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Mr. Romney
said that Mr. Huckabee should apologize to President Bush for his
comments …
(NY Times Politics blog)

And that is working out about as you might expect …

“I don’t have anything to apologize for,” Mr. Huckabee said Sunday on
CNN’s “Late Edition.” “I’ve got to show that I do have my own mind when
it comes to how this country ought to lead, not only within its own
borders but across the world.

The money quote from Huckabee’s piece is: “The Bush administration’s arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad.
Which is about all you’ll see quoted in the media. The full article is
actually a pretty good discussion of what America’s foreign policy
should look like in the coming years. But no one cares about that!


So what’s going on here? Can’t President Bush stick up for himself if he feels wronged by Huckabee’s commentary? Why does Romney feel the need to defend Bush’s reputation? (Bush himself, I am sure, couldn’t care less. At this point Huckabee’s carping is the least of the President’s worries.)

Political context time. Again courtesy of our friends at the New York Times:

Though polls show Mr. Romney leading in this early primary state [New Hampshire], Mr.
Huckabee has recently leapfrogged ahead of him as the favorite of
Republican voters in Iowa, which will hold its caucuses on Jan. 3, and
has gained in popularity in other early states. Attempting to slow his
opponent’s momentum, Mr. Romney has been increasingly critical of Mr.
Huckabee and particularly of his record as governor of Arkansas,
drawing distinctions with him on fiscal policy, immigration and his
approach to commutations and pardons of prisoners.

Translation: Romney has spent millions of dollars on his campaign, only to see Huckabee come out of nowhere in recent weeks and threaten his position. Like Hillary Clinton over on the Democratic side, Romney is running scared and lashing out at his rival. And in the Republican primary, the worst thing you can call an opponent is … a Democrat!

“The language he chose is the language you’re hearing from Barack
Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards,” Mr. Romney said. “It’s not
the language of someone who is a balanced observer, either from an
independent or Republican’s perspective.”

Sounds pretty bad. Of course, it is complete malarkey.

If you read the piece in Foreign Affairs … as I guarantee 99.999% of Americans will never do … you see that while Huckabee is critical of the tone of American foreign policy under President Bush he is generally supportive of the President’s aims. In Iraq, for example, he’s not saying we should pull out now … he says we should have gone in with more troops to start with! And that next time we invade someone, it should be done with overwhelming force. So unlike Obama (who wants to invite Castro and Ahmadabbadirkadirkajad over for milk and cookies at the White House) or Edwards (who thinks the War on Terror is a fairy tale) Huckabee is, if anything, criticizing Bush from the right.

But this is a presidential campaign … facts have little bearing! Romney is using his apology demand to try and equate Huckabee with the Democrats. Will it work? We’ll find out in a couple of week when the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire finally get around to telling those of us who live in the other 48 states who our choices for president are.

But for my money, Republican primary voters probably won’t hold Huckabee’s refusal to apologize against him: Being a Republican means never having to say you’re sorry!

Hillary Clinton Apology to Obama

We haven’t checked in on the presidential campaigns in a long while, but with only 21 more shopping days until the Iowa caucuses on January 3, the race is tightening and candidates see victory either almost in their grasp — or slipping, phantom-like, through their fingers. Which means they are more prone than ever to say and do intemperate and desperate things that require an apology.

Today let’s look at the latest contretemps involving Hillary Clinton and her arch-rival for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama. To set the scene, Senator Clinton has, in recent weeks, seen her once seemingly insurmountable lead in the polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire dwindle — and with it, her presumed aura of inevitability as the nominee of her party. The chief beneficiary of her decline has been Senator Obama.

He’s young! Fresh! Exciting! Dynamic!

Clean, even, if you believe Joe Biden.

Ah … but is he ready to be President? Does he have what it takes to stand up to the mean old Republicans? These are the questions Hillary wants Democratic voters to ask themselves. And they are fair questions. But the Clinton campaign persists in bringing them up in really stupid ways. For instance:

Did you know that when Obama was in kindergarten he completed one of those “What I want to be when I grow up” assignments by writing “I want to be a president.”

You might think, Aw, that’s so cute!

Not Hillary. Her campaign actually cited Obama’s kindergarten paper as evidence of … well, actually I don’t know what it proves other than 1) Hillary has more than one idiot on staff. 2) When your teacher says this will go down on your permanent record, she or he isn’t kidding!

However, rooting through Obama’s pre-school career for dirt isn’t what Hillary apologized for. I only brought that up to place her campaign’s next dunderhead move in context.

Bill Shaheen, “master New Hampshire political operative” and co-chairman of the Clinton campaign in New Hampshire opined to a reporter last week that nominating Obama might be a mistake because:

Sen. Barack Obama’s youthful drug use would be fodder for Republican attacks if he were the Democratic nominee.

Obama’s
admitted teen drug taking would “open the door,” Shaheen predicted, to
questions such as “Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them
to anyone?” This would be “hard to overcome,” in Shaheen’s view. (MSNBC.com)

He’s actually not wrong. Should Obama be the Democratic nominee, the Republicans will throw everything they can at him. The fact that he has admitted to using various illegal mind-altering substances in his youth will probably come up. Because, as we all know, Republican are mean and ruthless and nasty and like nothing better than engaging in the dreaded politics of personal destruction.

In other words, they’re just like the Clinton campaign.

Which suggests that if Obama can beat mean old Hillary’s hate machine, he’s got a fair shot at handling the Republican version. Just saying.

Anyway, that was Shaheen shooting the breeze on Wednesday. By Thursday, he had changed his tune. From the Clinton campaign website:

A Statement from Bill Shaeen
Shaheen announces decision to step down as Clinton campaign Co-Chai
r

“I
would like to reiterate that I deeply regret my comments yesterday and
say again that they were in no way authorized by Senator Clinton or the
Clinton campaign … I made a mistake and in light of what
happened, I have made the personal decision that I will step down as
the Co-Chair of the Hillary for President campaign.

Clinton herself also apologized to Obama:

Clinton officials said she was personally distressed by the incident and had sought out Obama on the tarmac at Washington’s Reagan National Airport
before they flew to Iowa for the debate. Though the senators’
interactions have been frosty since the start of the campaign nearly a
year ago, Clinton wanted, her aides said, to make it clear that she had
not approved Shaheen’s approach.
(Washington Post).

Show of hands from anyone who believes Hillary was all broken up about this incident? Concord Monitor?

It is possible that the campaign didn’t
know what Shaheen intended to say and that Hillary Clinton and her
senior advisers were rightly angry about it. But Shaheen’s broader
theme – that Obama is unelectable because the skeletons in his past
haven’t been thoroughly exposed – is one the Clinton camp has been
peddling more artfully for days.

What followed was classic. The Clinton campaign distanced itself from
Shaheen’s remarks. Shaheen said his comments weren’t authorized by the
campaign and that he regretted making them. Twenty-four hours later, he
resigned.

The whole arc of a political tempest –
reminding voters of something scurrilous, introducing a lie (there is
no evidence Obama ever sold drugs), using GOP rivals as an excuse,
apologizing for the whole incident and leaving the campaign – was
neatly wrapped up in a couple news cycles.

No? Joe Trippi?

“This (Shaheen episode) just makes them (the
Clinton team) look even more political,” said Trippi. “They’re just
digging themselves a deeper hole” into “the problem they’re trying to
get out of.”

He added such attacks “are such a blunder” that they might help Obama. (MSNBC.com)

Ouch.  Random blog guy?

Anyone who thinks that Billy Shaheen’s Obama slur was a blunder,
rather than a calculated piece of the politics of personal destruction,
should note that Mark Penn repeated it hours after Sen. Clinton apologized.

Penn got this right out of the Rove play book.

Non-racist Americans (most Americans) cannot help but feel that
electing a young black guy as President will go a long way to
revolutionizing America’s image in the world and helping to end
America’s most enduring and deadly problem: racism.

That is why his opponents need to destroy him by attacking his
story. If they can substitute, in the voters’ minds, the image of
struggling African-American who made it to the top with images of the
hood, drug dealers, and hip-hoppers adorned with bling, they can derail
his candidacy.

That is what Shaheen and Penn were trying to do. That is what the
Republicans will try to do — although taking down Obama will be harder
for them than taking down Hillary precisely because he is
African-American. Hillary-baiting — sexist and vicious as it is —
need not be as delicate an operation as going after a black guy.

Hillary is ridiculed for daring to suggest that misogyny drives much
of the animus toward her. Obama won’t even have to mention racism for
voters to know why questions are raised about whether his admitted drug
use as a kid suggests he might have been a dealer. (Did anyone ever
suggest that Bill Clinton was a dealer because he copped to using
marijuana? But he’s white. White kids use drugs. Black kids sell them).

Harsh. And about par for the course. Few seem to be buying Clinton’s apology or her attack dog’s apology as sincere expressions of regret for a mistake. Rather, they are meaningless pro forma apologies devoid of true content. Like punching you in the face and then saying “Oops! Sorry about that!”

This episode is an example of the devaluation of the public apology, a theme we see over and over. Whether it is demanding an apology as a political tactic (I am shocked! Shocked!) … or the ritual apology for transgressing some point of political correctness … or the “I’m sorry I got caught” apology or, as here, the “apology for the sake of pretending I didn’t mean to do what I just did to you — and will probably do again tomorrow”… many of the public apologies we read and hear merely wear the form of an apology, but are really something else.

Which is what fascinates me about the whole topic. Anyway, I’ll let random blog guy — actually M.J. Rosenberg — have the last word on this episode, because I think he makes a good point:


What’s disheartening about this episode is not that Obama tried drugs
in high school and acknowledged it. Few are the 40-somethings in
America who didn’t experiment with drugs or have friends and family who
did.

It’s the implication by Shaheen that it’s
better to obscure the truth – as Bush did in 1999 or, perhaps, as Bill
Clinton did in 1992, assuring us that he hadn’t inhaled. Or the
implication that voters are stupid enough to believe that Bush or Bill
Clinton didn’t do anything wrong. Or that Bush and Bill Clinton’s
clumsy dodging of the issue actually helped secure their elections.

Perhaps in the past the admission of drug
use or marital infidelity or any of a dozen other human foibles would
have killed political ambitions. But surely by now American voters are
clearheaded enough to realize their leaders aren’t perfect.


Drug use as a teenager is not a disqualifier for public office. Americans should be grateful for, not leery of, Obama’s honesty.

Amen.

APOLOGY ADVICE: Australian article on significance of public apologies

The Sydney Morning Herald online has an article examining the significance of public apologies, mainly from businesses and politicians:

The calculated cost of an apology

Sorry, as Elton John reminded us, seems to be the hardest word.
It’s certainly the trickiest in politics and business.


But what’s more interesting is the noise the S-word has created.
It speaks volumes about how much accountability has changed. There
would have been a time when a simple apology, or the refusal to
give one, would not have blown up into an election issue.

 It’s a different story in an era in which former British
prime minister Tony Blair apologised to Ireland for the 19th
century potato famine and when the Catholic Church, which has
plenty to apologise for, has offered apologies all round to the
Jews, the Gypsies, victims of sexual abuse, Galileo and the
citizens of Constantinople (now Istanbul) for its sacking 800 years
ago by the knights of the Fourth Crusade.

There are two reasons for the change. First is the way news
gathering, the internet and globalisation have changed the flow of
information. Put simply, news good or bad travels a lot faster and
further. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Secondly, according to Aaron Lazare, professor of psychiatry at
the University of Massachusetts medical school, there is our
increased interdependence and fragile connectedness in today’s
global village. The increased layers and connections mean that more
people are bumping into each other. In such a crowded space, it
only heightens expectations for apologies.

The article makes some points we have made at Apology Index:

… For corporations, the apology itself is less about
contrition than it is about crisis and reputation management….

… In politics and business, the calculated apology is about the
commodification of the mea culpa….


… Done too little or too late, or making it too
obviously tactical, can be disastrous and destructive….

And offers some advice:

Public relations and strategy experts cite 10 questions CEOs
need to ask before embarking on the apology route:

1. Was the offence serious?
2. Should the CEO assume responsibility?

3. Is the cost of saying something likely to be lower than the cost
of saying nothing?

4. What function would the apology serve?
5.Who benefits?
6. Why would an apology matter (for strategic reasons, moral
reasons)?

7. What happens when the apology is made and would it placate the
injured parties and hasten resolution?

8.Will an apology create legal problems?
9. If you don’t apologise, will the problem fade?
10. Will a refusal to apologise make it worse?

As examples, it references several apologies we have covered, including recent apologies from Apple and Mattel.

Worth a read.

Stop the Presses

I mentioned previously the “Stop the Presses” blog run by a firm called Levick Strategic Communications, who are in the business of … well, strategic communications. Which includes apology advice, when needed. I added the blog to my feed as a useful resource, because they tend to comment on high profile apologies. Have a look if you want a different take than mine for some incomprehensible reason.

Anyhow, a recent entry at Stop the Presses faults Michael Vick for apologizing too late … and soon-to-be former U.S. Senator Larry Craig for apologizing too soon:

On the ‘waited too long’ end of the spectrum we have pro football
player Michael Vick-nearly three months elapsed from the time that he
was accused of illegal dog fighting until the time he actually issued an apology.
And when he finally did apologize-virtually everyone saw it as too
little too late. While he can recover, it scores low on the courage and
integrity scale.

And on the ‘apologized too soon’ end of the spectrum we have Senator
Larry Craig, who was in such a hurry to issue his apology that he
apparently bypassed legal and crisis communications counsel, his chief
of staff, and good sense in general, and rather than just apologize, he
pled guilty. (‘A Tale of Two Apologies,’ Stop the Presses)

Of course, the moral of the story as they tell it is … hire a good strategic communications firm before you get in trouble. Wow! Didn’t see that coming!

Obama Hillary Punjab Apology

It’s not quite an Apology Crisis in the Punjab!, but it may be a crisis for Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. What’s going on? From the Washington Post:

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) issued a round of apologies yesterday for a memo generated by his campaign staff that referred to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as a senator from the Indian region of Punjab and criticized her record on outsourcing.

Pointing the finger at his campaign staff, Obama told the editorial board of the Des Moines Register
that he “thought it was stupid and caustic.” Obama said that the memo
“not only didn’t reflect the complicated issue of outsourcing . . . it
also didn’t reflect the fact that I have long-standing support and
friendships within the Indian American community,” according to a story
on the paper’s Web site.

The Post reports that Sen. Obama posted an apology on the website of South Asians for Obama. Went there, couldn’t find it, but the Post quotes Obama as writing:

“The memo’s caustic tone, and its focus on contributions by
Indian-Americans to the Clinton campaign, was potentially hurtful, and
as such, unacceptable,” Obama wrote.

“In sum, our campaign made a
mistake. Although I was not aware of the contents of the memo prior to
its distribution, I consider the entire campaign — and in particular
myself — responsible for the mistake. We have taken appropriate action
to prevent errors like this from happening in the future.”

Here is the full text of the memo, courtesy of Eric Zorn at the Chicago Tribune. (If I may digress — Thank you, Eric Zorn and Chicago Tribune for making the full text of the document behind a news story available so that your readers can evaluate it for ourselves. In the current internet age there is no excuse not to do so. I’m talking to you, practically every other media outlet. TV, radio, newspaper — you all have web sites. When you are reporting on some leaked memo or report — post it!. Don’t selectively quote from it in your story because. If you have the document, give it to me. Because, otherwise, I wonder what you’re hiding? Are you trying to slant the story one way or the other. I’ve heard that reporters do such things. Post the document! End of mini-rant.)

Okay, back to the apology. Obama steps up and takes responsibility for the memo, even though he neither knew about it, reviewed it nor authorized its release. He said it was a dumb mistake, hurtful, unacceptable, stupid, caustic. He says his campaign is taking step to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again. All the ingredients of a good apology. (Although note that while “taking responsibility” Obama also blames his staff.)

But that isn’t really what is interesting here. What is interesting is the dynamic behind why this memo went out in the first place, why it was a problem and why Obama felt the need to apologize for it.

Why the memo? Obama’s campaign is trying to chip away at Sen. Clinton’s lead. Opposition research people are a little nuts. They focus on finding ways to attack opponents and may be very good at that, but sometimes lack a sense of the larger picture. In this case, linking Hillary to support for outsourcing sounds like a charge that might dim her support among certain Democratic primary voters who get worked up about that issue.

But the way they went about trying to get the media to bite on this charge was where the dumbness comes in. The L.A. Times explains:

The memo, headlined, “Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)’s Personal Financial
and Political Ties to India,” was prepared by Obama’s opposition
research department and distributed to reporters last week in exchange
for a promise that they not reveal where it came from, a common
practice by campaigns.

Like that’s going to work! The idea is one campaign anonymously give the media some dirt on their opponent and the reporters pretend they came up with it themselves. Because, you know, they’re such great investigate reporters. Not lazy hacks eating donuts on the press bus, waiting for someone to leak them a memo. If all goes well, the other campaign takes a hit from the negative story while the campaign that planted the story leaves no fingerprints.

I’m sure this has worked many times in the past. But sometimes it blows up in your face. That’s what happened here. What went wrong? Take it, L.A. Times:


The memo, which became public after it was obtained by the Clinton campaign …

Pause.

Oops.

“Hey, reporter, don’t tell anyone you got this from me, wink, wink,” just doesn’t work that well in the internet age. Somebody’s going to tell. And somebody’s going to forward it to their buddy at the Clinton campaign. And believe me, Hillary’s people knew exactly what do with this. They are beyond old pros. They are Jedi masters of political infighting. Suddenly this sneaky little attack on Hillary’s ties to India became a Punjab crisis for Obama. More from the L.A. Times:

… drew criticism from Indian American groups who complained that it
played on stereotypes. One group with close ties to Obama’s campaign,
South Asians for Obama, posted a scathing note on its website late
Sunday saying its members were “shocked and dismayed.”

“The main thing people have a problem with is the implication that
having ties to the Indian American community, that fundraising from
Indian Americans in the United States, is a problem,” group spokesman
Dave Kumar said. “It goes against the inclusive nature of the campaign.”

See that? They’ve got South Asians for Obama criticizing Obama!  It’s the Jedi mind trick, baby!

Making this counterpunch all the more effective is the Mr. Clean image that Obama has cultivated of being above “slash and burn” politics. That’s all very well, but no one is above slash and burn politics. At least no one who actually has a chance of winning an election anywhere outside Candyland. Leaking that memo was slash and burn politics. But if you say you’re above slash and burn and then you do slash and burn, who gets burned? Not your opponent.

Of course, the Clinton campaign just firebombed Obama with all this. How does she get away with it? Hillary never said she was above slash and burn. No one would believe her anyway. So no apologies there.

So does Obama’s apology put an end to this kerfluffle?  Maybe not:

An e-mail sent out early this morning by a grassroots group, South
Asians for Obama, called the initial response “unsatisfactory.”
The mass e-mail makes it clear that Mr. Obama’s Indian-American
supporters were ticked off over the memo and the Obama campaign’s
nonchalant reaction to it.
(Obama’s Indian-American Backers Seek Further Apology Over Memo, Latest Politics)

It is bad when, again, your own supporters, demand a re-apology. Welcome to the big time, Obama. You just got Punjabbed!

By the way, read that entire post by Josh Gerstein to learn three reasons that leaking the memo was an incredibly dumb move by Obama’s team in the first place … aside from giving Hillary a chance to nuke them.

Here is a bonus 4th reason:“As a South Asian, I feel he is one of us – the son of an immigrant, in
tune with cultural identity, with a broader sense of the world. I have
never felt that so much of a person’s life story so embodied my own,”
Chandra added
. (“Barack Obama gets key Indian American backing,” Hindustan Times.com)

Then there is this:

”As we saw with George Allen an apology is not
enough. If you are running for the office of the president of the
United States then every word you say is on the record and you should
be aware of that. The reality is that there are no second chances. If
you are going to disparage an entire race and community of people you
should be held accountable for that,” said Rahul Manchanda, US-India
Political Action Committee.

Whether the Indian American
community accepts the apology is uncertain, but the quick response by
the Obama campaign is perhaps testimony that the support of America’s
wealthiest community cannot be taken for granted any more.
(Obama apologises for memo, NDTV.com)

Yikes! The ghost of George Allen! Obama really stepped in the macaca this time.

But it is early yet. I predict the presidential campaign will provide us with many other apologies to examine before it ends.

APOLOGY UPDATE: Fox News Apologizes Again

The Fox News wrong tape epic continues. To recap: Fox News ran footage of Rep. John Conyers to illustrate a story about the indictment of Rep. William Jefferson. Fox News apologized. Rep. Conyers rejected the Fox News apology as insufficient. Yesterday, Fox News apologized again:

On Wednesday, Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum
explained to viewers that a production assistant picked up a tape that
had been identified as a meeting about Jefferson. The picture showed
Conyers.

“We regret this mistake,” MacCallum
said. “We in no way meant to suggest that there was any connection
between the Jefferson indictment and Congressman Conyers. We have
extended our apology privately to the congressman and we do so here as
well.”
(“Fox News Apologizes Again for Tape Goof,” FOXNews.com)

As you recall: “Conyers was reportedly upset that Fox’s first apology was nonspecific and didn’t mention he was the victim.”

Because when you’re the victim, you want everyone to know you’re the victim. Otherwise, what’s the point of even being a victim? If you’re victimized and no one knows about it, it’s like you weren’t even victimized at all. Or something like that.

Actually, the whole point of Conyers’ playing the “apology not good enough” hand is to prolong the story and extract another, more abject apology from his nemesis, the evil Fox News. This time he got his name into the apology (free air time!), a “We regret this mistake” AND made Fox go through the exercise of explaining how this terrible thing happened. The trifecta! PLUS — a private apology too. It was a good day for Rep. Conyers.

Now … will he accept the new apology and let this tedious story die? Or go for another round?

And if Fox has to apologize yet again, will they make Martha MacCallum do it? She must be the designated on-air apologizer.

Also: Atlanta columnist Jim Wooten sees it about like I do. But with different words.

DATE OF (RE)APOLOGY: June 6, 2007
APOLOGIZER:  Anchor Martha  MacCallum,  on behalf of Fox News
APOLOGIZEE: Rep. John Conyers
FOR: Running the wrong video footage