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I'm Sorry, but "I'm Sorry" Isn't an Apology

O'Reilly used enough words to express regret -- all the while suggesting that he didn't do anything wrong, others are wrong to have made him respond, and nasty liberal media outlets have done worse.
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I've been waiting a week, hoping dearly and foolishly that he would see the light. That Bill O'Reilly would perhaps clarify his lynching comments last week.

As we know, it was reported last week that Bill O'Reilly apologized. Well, sort of apologized.

As we also know, media standards have plummeted. So, it's not terribly surprising that Mr. O'Reilly's words were considered an apology.

To some degree their confusion is even understandable. After all, most people never expected to ever hear the words, "I'm sorry," out of Bill O'Reilly's mouth. Unless it was, "I'm sorry but you're an idiot, you pinhead, now shut up!!"

Bill O'Reilly did not apologize. Bill O'Reilly uttered compound phrases which sometimes can mistakenly appear to express regret. Unfortunately, even when real, expressing regret and apologizing are two different concepts.

Expressing regret can be simply a reaction to getting caught doing something you don't think is a problem. What you regret is that someone got upset at you. (This is the popular "Hey, sorry I kept you waiting two hours. Ready to go?!" syndrome.)

We all know what we want said when someone has hurt us. An apology is not "regret," an apology is understanding that you did something wrong, understanding why it was wrong, feeling badly about your actions and acknowledging that you will correct them.

After Bill O'Reilly talked about whether the wife of a public figure should be lynched, and then compounded his actions the next day, he finally said the following:

While talking to a radio caller, I said there should be no lynching in the case, that comment off Clarence Thomas saying he was the victim of a high tech lynching (he said that on 60 Minutes, you may remember). I'm sorry if my statement offended anybody. That, of course, was not the intention. Context is everything.

That is not an apology. We know what an apology is. This is an apology:

The other day I said something glib, and thoughtless. Worse, it was hurtful. I used a wrenching phrase that has such profound harmful meaning to it, and though I meant something else entirely, I should have known otherwise and I was wrong. I deeply apologize for the hurt I caused many people. It was not ever my intent, but that doesn't excuse it. I know better, and I have a responsibility to do better. I will see to that I don't repeat that error. I can be critical -- and I will be if it's deserved -- but I will work hard to not be hurtful. So, again, I'm very sorry.

That's an apology.

Saying only that you're sorry "if" you offended someone -- and leaving it at that -- is a snide way to say that no one should have been offended, and they're at fault if they were. Further, by tossing mention of 60 Minutes not only intentionally detracted from his apology (magicians call it misdirection), but it served as a snide attempt to smear 60 Minutes by false association.

Moreover, the issue wasn't whether it was his intention to offend anybody. No one has suggested that. Rather, he was trying to slam Michelle Obama for what she didn't say. He was trying to attack Barack Obama by association through the senator's wife. But he was not trying to "offend" her.

But ultimately, it's his final defense, that "context is everything" that attempts to dismiss every word he said. It's an attempt to suggest that nothing he said was wrong, only that others misinterpreted him. Not only is that disingenuous enough -- but it's also incorrect. Everyone got the context spot-on.

Here's what the context actually was:

I don't want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels. If that's how she really feels -- that America is a bad country or a flawed nation, whatever -- then that's legit. We'll track it down.

There it is, that pesky word "unless." Unless there's evidence. What that means is: "If I do find she said something I don't like, then I will go on a lynching party."

Lost in all this is that Mr. O'Reilly has never "tracked down" that Michelle Obama said America is a bad country -- because she didn't. Don't wait for his fair and balanced correction about that.

Bill O'Reilly wasn't apologizing to anyone. Bill O'Reilly was no doubt told that his smarmy statement was getting out of hand, and could get him in big trouble, even with racists who more than anyone knew what he was saying, and that he'd better respond to save his job. So, Bill O'Reilly used enough words to express regret at having to respond -- all the while suggesting that he didn't do anything wrong, that others are wrong to have made him respond, and nasty liberal media outlets have done worse. Even though none of that is true.

If any racists are offended by what I'm saying here, that was not my intention. Hey, I'm sorry. Ready to go?