We are sad too. Sad, sad, sad. Many sad, much sigh, wow. We don’t yet know what Chris Christie knew about the George Washington Bridge scandal and when he knew it. We are not politicos; we’re apologios. (We do not eat Spaghetti-Os. We understand Chris Christie’s woes. And they are as much of his own making as those of his supposed foes.) (Oh God, I’m sorry — we have a new kitten and I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep, what with the biting on the toes. Oh noes.)
Anyway, at his 90-minute press conference today, Christie did a lot of talking and not a lot of apologizing. Here’s Ruth Mantell at the Wall Street Journal:
This word cloud shows the relative frequency with which Christie used words during the press conference — the bigger the word, the more frequently it was used. The cloud shows that the governor frequently said “think,” “know” and “people.” Used less were words such as “mistakes,” “responsibility” and “apologize.” Of note: the cloud excludes Christie’s frequent use of the phrase “you know” and other common English words.
Nicely done, Ruth Mantell.
You can read the full text of Christie’s two-hour press conference over at The Washington Post. Here’s the SorryWatch summary: Great start; nicely done with the prepared remarks. And now we’re on to question-answering. Uh-oh. Uh-oh. Uh-oh. Uh-oh. STOP TALKING CHRIS CHRISTIE. OH GOD WHY WON’T YOU STOP.
Future note, for free: Remember when Lindsay Lohan showed up for one of her many court days with “fuck u” written on her manicure? Adapt this, Chris Christie. Show up to your apology speeches with “i’m sorry” written on your hand. Remind yourself that you’re not there to tell people you feel betrayed; you’re there to tell people YOU’RE SORRY.
Let’s look at the good stuff first.
I’ve come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey. I apologize to the people of Fort Lee and I apologize to the members of the state legislature. I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team. There’s no doubt in my mind that the conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed a lack of respect for the appropriate role of government and for the people that were trusted to serve.
Excellent. Ownership, declarative sentences, first-person, no excuses. He goes on to say what he’s going to do to right the wrongs he’s responsible for (fire the people who got caught deliberately closing lanes of the bridge as political payback designed to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, interview the rest of his staff to be sure everything’s out in the open, disclose anything new he learns) and make amends (by going to Fort Lee after the conference to apologize personally to the city and the mayor). All good.
And now the bad stuff, all of which came during the Q&A after the conference:
“I know that won’t satisfy everybody, but I’m not in the business of satisfying everybody. I’m in the business of trying to satisfy the people who elected me governor.”
Uh, no. An apology should satisfy all reasonable human beings. If we didn’t believe it were possible, we wouldn’t do this blog. We don’t want to diss crappy apologies. We want you to succeed, Chris Christie. People want to forgive. Americans in particular want to forgive. We love redemption. And you are MAKING US WITHHOLD OUR FORGIVENESS, YOU WEASEL. Because no, you are not in the business of trying to satisfy the people who elected you! Holding political office means trying to satisfy the people of New Jersey. All of them. Even if it is an impossible task, you do not write off people who didn’t vote for you. You especially don’t do it in an apology speech. In which you are apologizing about your staff being venomous toward people who did not stump for you in your election campaign.
“It makes me ask about me what did I do wrong to have these folks think it was OK to lie to me?”
Poor you. Maybe turn a little of that pity on the people who couldn’t get to work, the ambulances that were delayed, the kids who couldn’t get to school because your staff closed a big wad of freaking bridge?
“This is the exception, not the rule.”
Yeah, two sentiments that don’t belong in an apology are “this isn’t who I am” and “mistakes were made.” You said both things in this press conference. (The latter repeatedly.)
“In a government of 65,000 people, there are going to be times when mistakes are made. Mistakes were made, and I remediated those mistakes today by the actions that I’ve taken.”
Well, you’ve started remediating. You haven’t finished. And let me put on my mom pants here and say I DETECT A TONE. An unwarranted tone. You haven’t been to Fort Lee.
“You can’t prevent everything.”
The whole whaddaya gonna do attitude may be very Jersey, but it’s uncalled for in an apology.
“I’m saddened to have to do this. It’s difficult personally to do. But it’s my job, and I’ve taken an oath, and I’m going to execute my job.”
Waah waaaah waaaaah. (Which is very similar to the sound of an ambulance, stuck in place, on a bridge. I’m just saying.)
“I’m sad. I’m sad. That’s the predominant emotion I feel right now is sadness, sadness that I was betrayed by a member of my staff, sadness that I had people who I entrusted with important jobs who acted completely inappropriately, sad that that’s led the people of New Jersey to have less confidence in the people that I’ve selected. The emotion that I’ve been displaying in private is sad.”
But what I want to know is whether he’s sad.
“It’s awful. Now, I’ve also seen conflicting reports about what the cause of death was and whatever, but it doesn’t matter. It’s awful to hear.”
The words “conflicting reports,” when you’re asked about an elderly woman who may have died because of a venal political stunt by your office, do not really go here. Even if the woman would have died anyway, you don’t SAY IT. (The “and whatever” also is not good. “Whatever” is really not a word that belongs anywhere in discussion about someone dying.)
“And the person who needs to apologize for that is me, and I have. And I’m sorry to all the people of the state that they have to be, you know, occupied with this matter. It’s embarrassing. And as I said before, the whole matter is humiliating to me. But all you can do as a person when you know this is to stand up and be genuine and sincerely apologize and hope that people accept your apology. I think I’ve built up enough good will over time with the people of New Jersey that I’m very hopeful they will accept my apology.”
Again, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. Well, it is, in that it is now about you screwing up this press conference. You should be apologizing to people on that bridge and people who couldn’t get to work and hospitals and schools, not people who “have to be, you know, occupied with this matter.” You know who resents being “occupied with this matter”? That’s right! You! It’s not about this inconvenience or humiliation or hope that your apology will be accepted. It’s about the people your office hurt. Not hearing a lot about those guys, Chris.
[Upon hearing that the mayor of Fort Lee doesn't want to meet with him immediately after the press conference:] “If he doesn’t want to meet with me today, I’m still going to go up to Fort Lee today because I think it’s important for me to be on the ground there today and to apologize to folks…If he wants to be part of that, he’s more than welcome to be, and also to meet with me privately. If he doesn’t, that’s his choice too. He’s, you know, got independent will.”
Well, THAT was gracious.
The whole Q&A was wince-inducing. Either stick to prepared remarks and take no questions, or just repeat variations on “I’m sorry” rather than justifying yourself at length and pondering your own position so obviously during your answers. It’s not difficult. I have things written on my hand right now.
To recap: A good apology acknowledges and names the offense, makes amends, discusses what will be done to prevent a recurrence of the offense. It is sincere and not self-aggrandizing or self-pitying. Tough guys DO apologize, Chris Christie. Apologizing well doesn’t make you a “focus-grouped, blow-dried governor” — it makes you a mensch.