Progressives, civility, & Palin: Anatomy of an apology

Or rather, an apology that tried to be an apology, but fell down on the job.

PA's apology to Palin

Phil Munger of Progressive Alaska apologizes to Palin: A classic example of an apology that is not an apology.

I took this screenshot just 44 seconds before Phil’s poll closed — lucky for me, because I didn’t want to directly advertise the results of a poll that I found offensive from the get-go.  Note that Phil has since changed the title of his post to simply “PA’s Apology to Sarah Palin” after a commenter pointed out that “the liquor gig isn’t until April.”

Here’s why Phil’s attempt at apology doesn’t actually do the job:

Dear Ms. Palin,

Last week, I wrote a column at my blog, then posted a poll there, both of which used the term “slut” toward you in a demeaning, offensive way.

The column headline was sexist. The poll limited options for voters to having to choose whether one thought you to be a saint or slut. I’m sure you regard yourself to be neither, so the poll was more offensive than the earlier headline had been.

So far so good.  All, in my opinion, completely accurate.  I could further add that a good many commentators on Phil’s blog & on my own, where I first criticized Phil for his poll last week, also did not find either of these forced choices to be accurate — no matter how much they dislike Palin or the views she espouses.  Not to mention that many women, myself included, find use of the word slut problematic no matter to whom it is applied, given the historical use of that word as a way to demean & control women in general.

But still, to that point the apology was doing its job.  Then it fell down:

The poll is still active.

If one has committed an offense, & is still actively committing the offense, in what sense is the apology an apology?  Answer: it isn’t one.

Rather than dilute this apology, I might expand on why I was so upset in a later letter.

No need to dilute the apology further anyway: it’s already ceased to be an apology. The poll is still active.  At the moment of this writing, one can still visit Phil’s blog & see its results.

Though it’s a good impulse to separate the “why I said it” from the apology itself.  I think a lot of us would like to know why Phil was that upset.  But apologies are best undiluted by any excuses or attempts to rationalize the wrong.

Or not.

I’m truly sorry.

Phil Munger

Funny thing is, I think that Phil truly is sorry, truly does believe he was wrong to put up the poll.  Just not sorry enough to take it down.

I thought the original title of Phil’s post — “PA’s Apology to Sarah Palin on the Eve of Her $$$100K Appearance Before the National Liquor Sellers’ Convention” — was a red flag too.  Apologies that attempt to present mitigating circumstances or rationalizations for the offense aren’t really apologies.  Save the explanations for later, after the real apology has been made.

Apologies aren’t easy.  Some people seem to believe that if they make a full & true apology for wronging someone they are strongly opposed to, that they’re somehow letting the person they’ve wronged win on every other count.  Well, no.  In November, I found myself having to apologize for misconstruing something Palin & her ghostwriter said in her book.  My apology doesn’t put her on the side of what is true and honest.  My apology is me doing my best to keep me honest.  But there’ve been plenty of times in my life when I’ve been unable to make honest apology for a long time, because sometimes it takes a long time to even admit I’ve done wrong.

Phil, maybe now’s not the time.  Having read comments on your blog, seems that some of your defenders don’t think you should even apologize at all.  I obvi0usly disagree, but in the end I guess it’s a matter between you & your own conscience.

The conversation since Phil first used the word slut to describe Palin, & since he put up his poll, has now appeared on at least four blogs & lots of comments to those blogs.  For anyone who wants to play catch up, here they are:

Update 5:00 PM

Phil has now taken down the offensive poll (because “it was over”), & has written a second apology post, this time apologizing for those of his readers including me who found his use of the term “slut” offensive.  I’ve added the post to the list above.

I’m not overly fond of his other term for Palin, which he uses in the title of this post — “PA’s Apology to Readers Who Were Offended by PA’s Use of a Controversial Term for the Crazy Woman” — but I can live with his use of it.  I appreciated his post: he’s clearly been reconsidering things in light of criticism — not only from me & Steve, but also other’s of his readers.  He ended the post,

Anyway, for the time being, I’m going to try to clean up my language at PA. I think that both Steve and Mel are right in sensing that use of overly derisive terms puts some off who would otherwise appreciate what I write here.

Thanks to everyone who commented either pro or con on how I termed Palin, and on the poll.

And to those who were offended, I really am sorry.

Thanks, Phil. As one of those offended, I accept your apology.  I also really appreciate the respect & consideration with which you’ve treated my criticisms over the past week.

Meantime, I have been privately informed about a post at the Conservatives for Palin (C4P) site which has taken it upon itself to congratulate me for being one of those “with the courage to criticise those whose lives seem committed to a downward spiral of abusive tabloideeze about all things Palin.” And then demonstrating my “courage” by selectively quoting from a number of my comments over at Phil’s blog, being very careful to exclude any of the numerous things I said in those comments that were in any way critical of Palin or her followers.   I’ll be writing a post later to correct the imbalance.  (At least they had the courtesy to recognize that I’m not a C4P fan, & also to notice that I’m a she not a he — since I sign my comments Mel, I’m sometimes mistakenly assumed to be male.)

I’ve also taken a bit of criticism for being “holier than thou,” “sanctimonious,” & “self-righteous,” & for some other stuff too complex to go into right now for how I’ve conducted myself during the course of these discussions.  I’ve appreciated Phil’s self-examination in his second apology post today; I feel it’s only fair to do my own.  So I’ll be writing one of those later too, in the next couple of days.  Thanks.

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