Sorry not sorry: the art of Hollywood non-apologies

If Trevor Noah's Kashmir apology seemed insincere, brace yourself for these celebrity classics

Trevor Noah came under fire for making comments about Kashmir. EPA
Trevor Noah came under fire for making comments about Kashmir. EPA

Celebrities seem to spend an inordinate amount of time apologising in the social media era, though whether that’s because they’ve become more offensive or because our social media fixation increasingly finds us residing in an echo chamber of manufactured righteous rage is a matter for debate.

Trevor Noah was the latest celeb to find himself the object of online rage last week, after he made a joke comparing the current conflict in Kashmir to a Bollywood film.

After attracting a wave of criticism accusing him of being “racist” and “insensitive,” Noah took to Twitter to issue a classic non-apology to one irate Twitter user, falling back on the timeless line “I am sorry that this hurt you and others, that’s not what I intended,” as well as giving an explanation of his comic process.

Unfortunately, this classic non-apology tactic essentially deflects blame on to the recipient of the apology for being “hurt” or “offended," and is a favourite among celebrity apologies.

Most of the responses to Noah’s tweet seem to accept that as a topical comedian, it’s part of Noah’s job to find humour in some fairly dark places, though there were still some netizens who continued to demand that the comic be more contrite and take back his words.

If they thought Noah’s apology was insincere or didn’t go far enough, however, they should check some of these other disastrous celebrity apologies from the last few years.

Ted Nugent

Rocker and celebrity gun fan Ted Nugent found himself in hot water in 2014 when he referred to President Barack Obama as a “subhuman mongrel” in an interview with, where else, No one says you have to like the president, but the racial overtones of Nugent’s statement were clear. A few days later, Nugent took to the Ben Sherman Radio Show to offer one of the least convincing apologies in history.

“I do apologise — not necessarily to the President — but on behalf of much better men than myself,” he told Ferguson. We’re not even sure what that means, but he did go on to to question his own choice of words, saying he should have used “more understandable language,” such as “violator of his oath to the Constitution.”

So, we just misunderstood the words it seems.

Kevin Spacey

Spacey’s non-apology when accused of the sexual assault of a young actor in 2017 was truly a thing of wonder. First of all, he claimed he did not remember the incident, which had happened around 30 years ago. Next he issued a cringeworthy conditional apology that “if I did behave then as he describes” then it would be “inappropriate.”

With that neatly put to bed, Spacey went on to deflect the attention to himself, and come out as a homosexual, in one of the most bizarre non-sequiturs imaginable.

Surely the only way Spacey could make his masterclass in insincere apologies any worse would be by waiting a year then, with allegations mounting, release a bizarre video in which he tackles the accusations in character as House of Cards’ Frank Underwood, and still appears to neither accept responsibility or express regret. But he wouldn’t do that, surely?

Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein’s myriad sexual offences against women shook up Hollywood like never before, giving rise to the #MeToo movement and leading to some serious discussions — and action — around the gender imbalance in Hollywood.

Despite losing his business, his reputation, and quite probably his liberty once the multiple court cases are over, Weinstein did not actually apologise for his actions, opting instead for the “things were different then” approach.

The once-legendary producer said in a statement to The New York Times: “I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different. That was the culture then. I have since learned it’s not an excuse, in the office — or out of it. To anyone. I realized some time ago that I needed to be a better person and my interactions with the people I work with have changed.”

Weinstein went on to describe how he’s taken on therapists to address his behaviour, started a scholarship fund for women directors, and will make his mum proud. The one word he never said is “sorry.”

Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin was caught out in 2007 when a voice mail in which he called his 11-year-old daughter, Ireland, a "rude, thoughtless little pig." was made public. Baldwin angrily went on: "Once again, I have made an ass of myself trying to get to a phone, you have insulted me for the last time. This crap you pull on me with this goddamn phone situation that you would never dream of doing to your mother, and you do it to me constantly over and over again."

Screaming abuse at a minor is never a good look, but then nor is an apology in which you appear to clarify that the sentiments were correct, though the language could maybe have been different, and then blame the whole incident on your ongoing, bitter divorce from Kim Basinger:

"Although Alec acknowledges that he should have used different language in parenting his child, everyone who knows him privately knows what he has been put through for the past six years," said a spokesman, to widespread amazement.

Michael Richards

Michael Richards came under fire for racist comments he directed at hecklers during one of his gigs. Getty 
Michael Richards came under fire for racist comments he directed at hecklers during one of his gigs. Getty 

The stand-up comic, better known as Kramer from Seinfeld has never really recovered from his 2006 racial tirade at a group of black audience members he felt were causing a disturbance at one of his gigs. The blow out featured the N-word, and references to lynchings and the Jim Crow era of US racial segregation.

As a star of one of the most successful sitcoms of the time, Richards was lucky to get a chance to redeem himself on the Late Show with David Letterman, but utterly failed to do so with a rambling, nonsensical, non-apology: "You know, I'm really busted up over this and I'm very, very sorry to those people in the audience, the blacks, the Hispanics, whites — everyone that was there that took the brunt of that anger and hate and rage and how it came through, and I'm concerned about more hate and more rage and more anger coming through, not just towards me but towards a black/white conflict," the comic rambled.

Richards also went on to reference Hurricane Katrina, and make a particularly odd comparison between American foreign policy and his audiences: "...why the trash takes place, whether or not it's between me and a couple of hecklers in the audience or between this country and another nation, the rage..."

Nobody was any the wiser.

Mark Wahlberg

Wahlberg wasn’t exactly a picture of sensitivity to thousands of 9/11 victims’ families when he told Men’s Journal in 2012: “If I was on that plane with my kids, it wouldn’t have went down like it did. There would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, ‘OK, we’re going to land somewhere safely, don’t worry.’”

Unsurprisingly, the backlash was swift. To be fair to the actor, he had actually originally been scheduled to be on one of the planes that crashed into New York’s World Trade Center, and the comments were made in that context, but families were still, understandably, upset. His apology didn’t entirely help, falling back on the “if my comments appeared insensitive” school of non-apologies.

“To speculate about such a situation is ridiculous to begin with, and to suggest I would have done anything differently than the passengers on that plane was irresponsible. I deeply apologise to the families of the victims that my answer came off as insensitive, it was certainly not my intention,” said Wahlberg in a statement.

Roseanne Barr

Comedienne Roseanne Barr has surely crowned herself the queen of the insincere, and sometimes plain bizarre, apology, with a long-running series of non-apologies since she tweeted last year that former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett was equal to the “Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes”.

First of all, on May 30, a day after ABC had cancelled her show, Barr tried blaming her tweet on the prescription drug Ambien: “It was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting — it was memorial day too — I went 2 far & do not want it defended — it was egregious Indefensible. I made a mistake I wish I hadn’t but … don’t defend it please.”

This prompted Sanofi, the makers of Ambien, to offer this hilarious response:

Next, in June, she took to the podcast of her friend Rabbi Shmealet Boteach to offer the “sorry if you’re so stupid you misunderstood” approach: “But I apologise to anyone who thought, or felt offended and who thought that I meant something that I, in fact, did not mean,” Barr told the Rabbi.

Barr then doubled up with the “I didn’t do the thing you just saw me do” tactic, beloved of seven-year-olds the world over: “I never would have wittingly called any black person…a monkey. I just wouldn’t do that. I didn’t do that. And people think that I did that and it just kills me. I didn’t do that. And if they do think that, I’m just so sorry that I was so unclear and stupid. I’m very sorry,” she claimed.

Skip to July, and Barr posted two videos on her YouTube channel. In one, she calmly, but incredulously, explained that she thought Jarrett was white and that she had only been sacked because she voted for Donald Trump. In the other she screams at an off-camera interviewer “I thought the b**** was white.”

Finally, on July 27, chat show host Hannity had one last stab at eliciting an actual apology from the disgraced star. Barr initially played for sympathy: “It cost me everything,” she said to few tears from the audience.

Next she blamed her wording: “I wish I worded it better,” she offered, without specifying what might be a better word than “ape.”

Hannity kept going, and eventually got as far as a “sorry you feel hurt.” This is usually the number one go-to of non-apologies, but congratulations to Barr for keeping us in suspense with so many brilliantly creative variations before she got there.

“I’m sorry that you feel harm and hurt, I never meant that. I never meant to hurt anybody,” Barr eventually offered Jarrett.

Published: March 5, 2019 01:56 PM


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