A 'Sorry' State of Affairs

The carefully rendered apology has become a ritual in American public life.

ByABC News
October 31, 2007, 7:30 PM

Oct. 31, 2007 — -- Justice Department official John Tanner came before Congress this week to apologize for what were construed as racially insensitive comments about minorities having shorter life spans than whites.

"I want to apologize for the comments I made," said Tanner, chief of the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

Tanner was merely engaging in what has become a ritual in American public life -- the carefully rendered apology. There are many ways to do it.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, for one, chose the "Path to Jesus," mea culpa version saying his dog-fighting scandal brought him to the Lord.

"Through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to the Lord," he told the press after entering a guilty plea to dog-fighting conspiracy charges.

Of course, such a road is not without its "sinners" either, in which case you have the mesmerizing "Tearful Sermon Apology."

After admitting to a "sin" involving a prostitute, Swaggart stood before a congregation of 7,000 at his Baton Rouge, La., Family Worship Center and wept, confessing to a "moral failure."

"I have sinned against you, my Lord. And I would ask that your precious blood would wash and cleanse every stain until it is in the seas of God's forgetfulness."

Celebrities have the option of the Talk Show Confessional -- as in 1985 when Hugh Grant went on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno," to apologize for soliciting a prostitute.

"In the end you have to come clean and say 'I did something dishonorable, shabby, and goatish,'" Grant told the audience.

The Talk Show Confessional was also Mel Gibson's choice, who went on a prime time special to apologize for the anti-Semitic rant he unleashed following an arrest for driving under the influence. When asked by ABC News' Diane Sawyer if all he could do was say sorry, Gibson replied: "Yeah, you do. I've apologized more than anyone I know. So it's getting old."

In Washington, D.C., however, apologizing can be seen as weakness, and so the reaction is often righteous denial, as was the case with Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who was accused of engaging in lewd conduct with a male undercover police officer in a Minneapolis airport bathroom stall.