On April 20, the Naples Daily News ran an Associated Press story headlined "Trayvon Martin case: Zimmerman apologizes for shooting; gets $150K bail." The article describes Zimmerman appearing in court in a gray suit, shackled, and apparently wearing body armor under his clothes. Addressing Trayvon Martin's family, Zimmerman is quoted as follows: "I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son. I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. I did not know if he was armed or not."
Is Zimmerman suggesting that, had he known how young Trayvon Martin was, he wouldn't have shot him?
Putting this aside, if we assume Zimmerman wanted to persuade others that he felt remorse, his apology fell short. Timing could explain why: the apology came almost two months after the shooting. When asked why he had taken so long to express regret, Zimmerman said his lawyers had told him not to.
The Daily News for Sunday, July 8, published an editorial headlined "One word, 'sorry,' unplugs roadblock." Readers learned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had used the word in an effort "to persuade Pakistan to lift its seven-month blockade of trucks hauling NATO supplies to Afghanistan." The specific incident giving rise to the apology involved U.S. airstrikes in November. They had killed 24 Pakistani soldiers inside their country's borders.
But wait. As the article then explains, "according to U.S. officials 'sorry' is not the same as an apology, although the Pakistani government is treating it as such…." Clinton had said "We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again."
The editorial offered a reaction to Clinton's promise to work closely, etc: "One would certainly hope so, although it's still puzzling why it took more than seven months to get to this point."
Heartfelt or not, Clinton's choice of word bore fruit: "After the non-apology apology was issued and accepted, both sides promised greater cooperation in counterterrorism. Meanwhile, the first trucks had begun rolling to Afghan border crossings."
On July 13, Mitt Romney made five TV appearances. Knowing he would never get one, he demanded an apology from President Barack Obama for a campaign staffer's claim. The staffer had said it was possible Romney committed a felony by neglecting to identify himself as the principal figure at Bain Capital in the years 2000-2002. The charge was neither proved nor disproved, and predictably, Obama refused to apologize.
In Michigan, the Republican majority leader in the state House of Representatives has been outed for a plan to have a Democrat change his party affiliation an hour before the deadline for doing so. The Speaker had then helped to arrange for a 23-year-old man with no political experience or intentions to be the Democratic candidate. Had the plan not been uncovered, the newly minted Republican would have run unopposed.
Numerous letters demanding the Speaker resign were published in the Detroit Free Press. In his response of July 21, "Apology for losing focus," he expressed disappointment in himself.
He begins by insisting his first priority is to gain "real results for Michigan's hard-working taxpayers." Then comes the apology: "I recently made a mistake when state Rep (name) left the Democratic party because of its lack of focus on results. My mistake was being drawn into political gamesmanship. We lost focus on lowering the unemployment rate, eliminating chronic structural deficits and making sweeping reforms that were needed for state government."
The writer then quickly declares that "no laws were broken and no rules were violated…."
(Note: The word "focus" is a favorite among public figures. The implication here is that the Speaker just blinked, or got something in his eye. This way, dubious moral or ethical behavior is repackaged as a vision problem, easily corrected with eye drops or a change of prescription.)
The three non-apologies sketched above — and one pointless demand for an apology — are meant to illustrate how public figures often debase the meaning of language. In the instances cited, the words remorse, sorry, regret and apology are the victims. Readers/viewers are urged to treat insincere or self-serving statements with skepticism. Often, such statements reveal just one thing: the speaker or writer's character.