Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An apology ... almost

Michael Ellis picked a terrible time to refine his message.
  
My friends like to call it “spin” – the practice of finding just the right words to make a wrong appear, well, less wrong.  To revise history to suit today’s purpose.  To answer a question with a totally unrelated remark that has nothing to do with the flippin’ question.  To me, the sound of spin is akin to the sound of reality TV – grating and, nearly always, disappointing.

Hand me the remote.

The venerable state senator from Neenah, who after decades in office has earned a reputation for “telling it like it is,” missed the mark late last week.  Caught on tape last Wednesday evening describing Green Bay Preble High School as “a sewer”, it seemed reasonable that Ellis would act quickly to remedy the situation.  After all, he’s known for his candor and a mistake is a mistake, right?

In a letter ofapology to Preble’s principal and also in media interviews, Ellis repeatedly tried to shift at least some of the blame to the person who recorded the comments and made them public.  “Someone who was not part of our group secretly recorded our private conversation,” the letter explained.  (Aha, I get it.  No invasion of privacy, no video, no mistake.)  Once the witness and the video recorder were sufficiently discredited, the senator did go on to say that the comment he made was “simply wrong and should not have been uttered at all.”

To be fair, I’m not a fan of using cameras and cellphones to record others in private without their approval. (Technology would be banned from our home’s dinner table if I were king.)  But a restaurant isn’t exactly a private location and Ellis has long been a very public figure.  He knows better.

So why the need to blame others?  Why isn’t personal accountability enough?  Do politicians really think the public holds them to a standard of perfection?  REALLY?

That Ellis’ apology fell short is another reminder of wrong-headed thinking by people in positions of influence.  Somehow they’ve come to believe we desire perfection when what we really want is honesty.  And integrity.  And accountability.   In other words, forget the spin.

What would have been wrong with, “I screwed up and I’m sorry.  I’ve been an elected official for a long time and should know better.  It it won’t happen again.”

And, if Ellis felt the need to share the blame, it might have been OK for him to add, “I’m human.

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