The Year in Assault Apologies

Published in SPIN's year-end-review // December 21, 2017

Since the blockbuster New York Times report on dozens of sexual assault and harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, 47 high-profile men— particularly in the entertainment and media industries— have resigned or been fired for sexual misconduct. An additional 26 have been suspended, taken leaves of absence, or experienced other professional repercussions. In the wake of these allegations, a slippery genre of “non-apology-apology” statements has emerged. Seeking to downplay or deflect attention from the allegations, a boilerplate version typically defends the accused by claiming that these actions were once viewed as harmless, or even expected. Weinstein’s statement began, “I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”

A vague gesture of praise for this “watershed moment” and “all of the brave women coming forward” is also customary. Russell Simmons called it “the birth of a new consciousness about women.” In describing one of his accuser’s version of events as “different than mine,” Simmons also invoked another common refrain. Many men have used hackneyed language to describe how the accusations against them have encouraged “deep reflection.” In a statement read by his co-host Savannah Guthrie live on air, Matt Lauer said, “The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling.”

Other statements have been brazenly casual and truly bizarre, such as Mario Batali’s email apology that ended with a holiday recipe for cinnamon rolls, or Garrison Keillor’s, which attempted to excuse his behavior by pointing out that women frequently ask to take selfies with him. In a profanity-laden interview with Rolling Stone, James Toback labeled the accusations against him “too stupid to waste time on.”

The phenomenon of toothless public apologies is nothing new. And certainly, there can be no “ideal” statement of this kind. But these convoluted attempts to obfuscate the truth, shift blame, or shamelessly mock women represented an infuriating, pernicious continuation of the silence and fear-based culture that brought us to this moment of reckoning.