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  • Chuck Kennedy / KRT file, 1998

    During a 1998 news conference, President Bill Clinton, above, denies having sex with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He later admitted it.

  • Richard Perry / New York Times file, 2011

    Former Rep. Anthony Weiner confessed in 2011 to having sent explicit photos of himself to several women.

  • Harpo Studios

    Earlier this month, Lance Armstrong conceded that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career.

On the Lighter Side: If this apology isn't enough, well, I'm sorry about that

Published: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3E

Before I accept my next job, win my next elective office, conquer my opponents in my next athletic endeavor or collect a prestigious award for my next artistic accomplishment, I'd like to apologize.

I realize this is breaking precedent. I accept full responsibility for not following the time-honored practice faithfully followed in recent years by politicians, authors, sports figures, actors and other public figures.

This practice, as I freely acknowledge, is to first do something wrong; get away with it for a while; arouse suspicion; vehemently deny any wrongdoing and express indignation about being subjected to rumor and innuendo; eventually get caught; deny it again, with less vehemence and more emphasis on what's past is past; be exposed without the least shred of plausible deniability left on which to cling, and tearfully – and finally – apologize. Preferably on national television.

The latest example of this approach is of course Lance Armstrong, who became famous and wealthy for riding a bicycle. It turns out he excelled at cycling because he cheated by using performance-enhancing drugs. He apologized earlier this month, with a tear in his eye and a trembling-lip reference to coming clean for the sake of his 13-year-old son.

By the way, the allegations of his cheating first arose in 1999.

The key reason to wait as long as possible before apologizing is that the American public generally has the attention span of a 2-month-old Labradoodle. By the time one confesses and seeks absolution, Americans are pretty much past the point of caring. They have moved on to the next peccadillo-turned-prevarication-turned-penitential self-abasement by some public figure.

Bill Clinton – remember him? – absolutely nailed this approach. In August 1998, eight months after emphatically denying that he had sexual relations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, the Leader of the Free World went on national TV and contritely confessed to "a critical lapse in judgment," and "a personal failure on my part." In other words, he had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.

But Clinton masterfully took it a step further. After apologizing, he told America it was really none of America's business. "Even presidents have private lives," he said. "It is time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives and get on with our national life."

Which we of course did. Not only did Clinton survive impeachment proceedings, a New York Times/CBS News poll released a few months ago found his popularity is higher now than at any time during his presidency. Even 32 percent of Republicans liked him, and 32 percent of Republicans hardly ever like anything.

Clinton, of course, was at the top of his craft as a politician. Less-skilled liars, er, elected officials, have not fared as well at apologizing. The oh-so-aptly named Anthony Weiner is a case in point. As you doubtless recall, Weiner was the New York congressman who in 2011 was revealed to have posted a photo of his namesake to a female college student.

At first, Weiner indignantly denied he had done the deed. Within a few days, however, his line of defense had meandered off track. "Maybe it did start being a photo of mine and now looks something different or maybe it is from another account," he told a national TV audience. "Or (it) could have been a photo that was taken out of context or was changed and manipulated in some way."

This was followed by: (1) Admitting he not only sent the photo in question, but other photos to other women; (2) Apologizing; (3) Suggesting that his compulsion to send such photos was likely not a treatable condition; (4) Seeking treatment but refusing to resign his congressional seat; (5) Resigning his congressional seat.

I will readily acknowledge that I am not nearly as competent at apologizing as a Bill Clinton, but I steadfastly maintain that I'm surely better at it than a Weiner.

So, I sincerely, humbly, contritely, abjectly, ingloriously and submissively apologize for whatever it is I will be caught at in some future undertaking. I am sorry for whatever betrayal of trust my supporters, admirers, employers, fans and/or colleagues have been forced to endure. I am even sorrier for the inestimable damage I have done to my family, and I vow to spend whatever time I have left in trying to repair the damage I have done.

But – and I believe I am speaking here not only for myself but for prominent liars everywhere – even lies are teachable moments. In fact, lying to the public is probably ultimately beneficial.

If I'm wrong, I apologize.

I will readily acknowledge that I am not nearly as competent at apologizing as a Bill Clinton, but I steadfastly maintain that I'm surely better at it than a Weiner.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Steve Wiegand



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