Sorry I’m not sorry: Some classic non-apologies

Donald Sterling, V. Stiviano

NEW YORK (AP) — Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling only dug himself in deeper after slamming Magic Johnson when he was supposed to be atoning for his own racist remarks. But he’s not the first celebrity to learn the perils of making a non-apology apology.

Sterling is facing fresh rebukes for repeatedly bringing up the former NBA star’s HIV status and calling him an unfit role model during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Communications experts say this was among the worst apologies ever.

“People should be watching this for a long time and understand what not to do in a television interview,” says Steve Adubato, who teaches crisis communications at New York University.

Sterling made the classic mistake of dragging other people into a conversation that should have only been about him. An apology should be straightforward and sincere, not about what others may have done.

“The apology has to be absolutely genuine,” says Amiso George, who teaches strategic communication at Texas Christian University Texas. “It has to be from the heart. Not something that the person has to do.”

Here’s a look at other public figures who failed to simply say “I’m sorry” and why it didn’t work.

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LANCE ARMSTRONG

Lance Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey
In this Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, file photo provided by Harpo Studios Inc., Lance Armstrong appears on a taping for the show “Oprah and Lance Armstrong: The Worldwide Exclusive” in Austin, Texas. Armstrong admitted that he led a doping scheme but peppered his apology with excuses rather than contrition. (AP Photo/Harpo Studios Inc.,, George Burns, File)

Disgraced Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong admitted last year to Oprah Winfrey that he led a doping scheme but peppered his apology with excuses rather than contrition.

“I went and looked up the definition of cheat,” he said. “And the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.”

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PAULA DEEN

In a clumsily edited video on YouTube last year, Paula Deen tried to apologize after court documents revealed she had admitted using racial slurs. But her apology was defensive, and it looked like a hostage video.

That video was quickly scrapped and replaced with a second video and more defensiveness. “I want people to understand that my family and I are not the kind of people that the press is wanting to say we are,” the celebrity chef said.

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CHIP WILSON

Chip Wilson, founder of Lululemon Athletica Inc., apologized to his employees, not the general public, after saying in a television interview that some women’s bodies “just don’t actually work” in his company’s exercise pants.

In a video posted online last year, Wilson said to his workers: “I’m sorry to have put you all through this.” But he didn’t retract his original statements.

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Rob Ford
In this Dec. 10 2013 file photo, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford attends a news conference at City Hall in Toronto where he said he stood by every word he said during a televised interview in which he suggested a Toronto Star reporter was a pedophile. Ford was forced to apologize twice in order to convince the journalist to drop a defamation lawsuit. The libel noticed called for the mayor to issue an “unreserved, abject, complete apology” of all false claims. The second apology was accepted. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young, File)

ROB FORD

After Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was accused of smoking crack, he lashed out at the media, and then made a non-apology apology for an interview in which he suggested a reporter was a pedophile.

Ford said it is “unfortunate that the word I did not say has been ascribed to me by the media, but I wish to sincerely apologize.”

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TED NUGENT

After calling President Barack Obama a “subhuman mongrel,” rocker Ted Nugent apologized “for using the street fight terminology of subhuman mongrel.”

He went on to say that he should have called Obama a “violator of his Constitution, the liar that he is.”

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PAUL LEPAGE

Maine Gov. Paul LePage used a sexually vulgar phrase and said a Democratic senator had a “black heart” and “ought to go back in the woods and cut trees” for criticizing a LePage budget proposal.

He later apologized to pretty much everyone except the senator, saying he was sorry if he offended anyone, but was trying to “wake the people of Maine up” to the fact that lawmakers are raising taxes.

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RONALD REAGAN

Former President Ronald Reagan was a master of the non-apology apology. In a 1986 radio address admitting to missteps in the Iran-Contra scandal, the president famously said “mistakes were made” — a passive acknowledgement of wrongdoing that didn’t directly implicate anyone.

Sorry Not Sorry
In this March 19, 1987 file photo, President Ronald Reagan taps his forehead at the White House while responding to a reporter’s question during a news conference at which he said he never deliberately lied to the public, despite admitting to a misstatement about Israeli involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. In a 1986 radio address admitting to missteps in the Iran-Contra scandal, the president famously said “mistakes were made” – a passive acknowledgement of wrongdoing that didn’t directly implicate anyone. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook, File)
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