Deadspin ranks things—cereals, planets, board games—fairly often. It’s our house style to file these rankings to “Underexplained Lists” and then to live up to that descriptor: there’s no point to explaining the list, because the process is secondary. The list is the point. The stupid list, with all its bad opinions, is the point. It does not require anything beyond its own dumb content.
But the process of this list has a point, and so it gets an explanation. Here is the point: An apology for sexual harassment or sexual assault can hope only to be, at its very best and most sincere, inadequate. There is no level of contrition that will make the general sentiment sorry for ignoring your agency and attempting to strip your dignity worthy of forgiveness. But some apologies are still better than others, and there have been very very many over the last month that have been exceptionally bad. These men’s apologies typically attempt to work as a catch-all to address the specific women they hurt and demeaned, the general concept of women as a monolithic group, and the public reaction writ large. In the space of a few paragraphs, they try to acknowledge the depth of the destruction they have wrought—careers halted, lives unraveled—while conveniently laying the foundation for a personal redemption narrative. These apologies are self-serving before they are anything else.
There are some features that make an apology better. Accepting responsibility without shifting blame; speaking directly about your actions without an attempt to downplay or euphemize them or suggest their morality is a question of perspective; describing what you have learned or what you will do to be better.
Here are some bad apologies, ranked from least worst down to worst:
9) Journalist Mark Halperin, accused of sexual harassment by multiple women who went on the record: Eh. Okay. This was very bad, I was very wrong, there is nothing I can say to them that will make this right—fine. And yet, please, do talk to my current coworkers about how great I am now.
8) Senator Al Franken, accused of kissing and groping radio anchor Leeann Tweeden while she slept: This was very bad and unfunny and will make people doubt the fact that I respect women.
7) Former president George H.W. Bush, accused of groping women while making a lame sex joke: They were good-natured pats on the rear, apologies if you were offended. Also, I’m old.
6) Louis C.K., accused of masturbating in front of fellow comedians, does not cast doubt on the women coming forward, but also mentions three times in three paragraphs that the women admired him so much. He does not ever use the phrases “I’m sorry” or “I apologize,” and he conveniently manages to mention every project he currently has in production.
5) Jesse Lacey, frontman of Brand New, accused of soliciting nude photographs from a minor and masturbating in front of her, along with allegations of sexual abuse from other women: I’ve cheated on my wife a lot, I’m sorry. I was addicted to sex and used sex in a way that was bad for me and I needed to get better for me, but I’m working on shedding my narcissism
4) Richard Dreyfuss, accused of repeatedly harassing and exposing his dick to a writer: I flirted a lot, every man has to think about this, I’m not an assaulter.
3) Kevin Spacey, accused of sexual assault and harassment, now by dozens of men, including some who were underage at the time: I don’t remember this, but it sounds bad, I’m sorry. I’m gay, you can pay attention to that instead of this.
2) Tech blogger Robert Scoble, accused of sexual and verbal harassment by several women on the record: My behavior at conferences and in other professional contexts wasn’t sexual harassment since I wasn’t any of these women’s boss, duh. (This one came in the form of a very long and bizarre blog post after Scoble issued a preliminary apology through USA Today, so here’s a condensed version.)
In the past week several news outlets reported that I had committed numerous sexual indiscretions against numerous women. I am sorry that so many women feel wronged by me, but I hope to set at least some of the record straight. I apologize for the delay in the response, the allegations are quite serious, and many are from a number of years ago, and before responding I needed to consult with a lawyer, witnesses, my wife and others.
I have rejected my lawyer’s advice to not make a statement and in a spirit of healing I would like to address the issue head on with open and honest dialogue.
...If I were guilty of all the things said about me I would still not be in a position to have sexually harassed anyone. I don’t have employees, I don’t cut checks for investment. None of the women who came forward were ever in a position where I could make or break their careers. Sexual Harassment requires that I have such power. That is not to say that the allegations aren’t serious.
[proceeds to go through all of the on-the-record allegations, explaining that these women are exaggerating and showing why they were clearly wrong to interpret his actions as they did]
I am deeply apologetic that I have wronged my wife. I apologize to women in general that I could have been a better man and husband. Every act of infidelity, every time I have watched an adult video online, every time I have made an inappropriate joke, or laughed at one, I have wronged women.
1) Harvey Weinstein, accused of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment by dozens of women: Sorry, but it was okay to grope ladies in the office back in the ‘60s, here is a Jay-Z quote, please remember that guns are bad.