By Stanley Bing
February 28, 2008

I read an interesting item in a trade publication this morning. It’s about Maxim Magazine, which many men read for the articles. The piece from the Hollywood Reporter runs in its entirety:

Painted Word

Maxim magazine has apologized for publishing in its March issue an unfavorable two and a half star review of the Black Crowes album “Warpaint” by a writer who hadn’t heard the entire album. “It is Maxim’s editorial policy to assign star ratings only to those albums that have been heard in their entirety,” editorial director James Kaminsky said Tuesday. “Unfortunately, that policy was not followed in the March 2008 issue, and we apologize to our readers.”

Okay, now what strikes you about this? Several things occur to me:

  1. If Mr. Kaminsky had not apologized, I would not have been aware of his distress or the depredations his magazine had wrought on contemporary culture;
  2. The apology did not make Maxim look any better, in fact created the impression that this happens all the time and that on this occasion they got caught;
  3. It was probably better for the Black Crowes that nobody knew about it either. Now not only readers of Maxim know that the magazine’s reviewer thought the album was so boring he couldn’t even finish listening to it, but readers of the Hollywood Reporter do, too, and that includes a lot of people in the entertainment business, whereas readers of Maxim are not always in that psychographic.

I have given this a lot of thought over the last several years and come to the conclusion that it is almost never a good idea for anybody in our culture to apologize about anything, even when they are in the wrong. Apologies, for the most part, alert people to wrongdoing, perceived or actual, and merely whet the public’s appetite for retribution.

Some great non-apologies of the last 100 years or so:

  • The Turks, who have yet to admit, let alone apologize, for the genocide of 1,000,000 Armenians. While this has rightly angered Armenians since the early 1900s, the rest of the world remains murky about what happened back then and the longer the Turks go without apologizing, the murkier and more forgotten those atrocities will be;

  • George W. Bush, who at no time has ever indicated any public regret for the way facts were manipulated by his Administration in order to justify America’s entry in the war against Iraq. An apology would have led to a giant Aha! on the part of the American people and the media, and possibly led to his Impeachment. No apology, the debate rages, and history will decide. History is, as far as I can tell, a much kinder judge than the public.

  • The big banking dudes who just raked in $100-million dollar paydays when they were fired. They helped to cause the horrible debt crisis that has plunged us all into the drink. If any of them have said they’re sorry, I haven’t caught it. So probably they didn’t really do anything wrong, right?

  • My son, who didn’t get me a Christmas present this year. He doesn’t seem one bit contrite about it, and as a result I find I really don’t care about it any more.

The Turks, who have yet to admit, let alone apologize, for the genocide of 1,000,000 Armenians. While this has rightly angered Armenians since the early 1900s, the rest of the world remains murky about what happened back then and the longer the Turks go without apologizing, the murkier and more forgotten those atrocities will be;

George W. Bush, who at no time has ever indicated any public regret for the way facts were manipulated by his Administration in order to justify America’s entry in the war against Iraq. An apology would have led to a giant Aha! on the part of the American people and the media, and possibly led to his Impeachment. No apology, the debate rages, and history will decide. History is, as far as I can tell, a much kinder judge than the public.

The big banking dudes who just raked in $100-million dollar paydays when they were fired. They helped to cause the horrible debt crisis that has plunged us all into the drink. If any of them have said they’re sorry, I haven’t caught it. So probably they didn’t really do anything wrong, right?

My son, who didn’t get me a Christmas present this year. He doesn’t seem one bit contrite about it, and as a result I find I really don’t care about it any more.

This insight is totally counterintuitive with the prevailing wisdom on corporate crises, which always involve a swift apology, followed by a visit to the PR stockade. What’s the point?

Maybe business is like being in love… and means¬†never having to say you’re sorry.

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