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So many celebrity apologies, so little sincerity

When famous people attempt their own crisis management, they usually end up deepening the crisis.

Jann Wenner, a cofounder of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, has been removed from the hall’s board of directors after denigrating Black and female musicians.Evan Agostini/Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone magazine cofounder, said he is sorry for saying in an interview that no female or Black musicians were “articulate enough” or on an “intellectual level” to be included among the white men — and only white men — in his new book.

Hollywood couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis said they are sorry for writing letters to a judge asking for a lenient sentence for their friend and former “That ’70s Show” castmate Danny Masterson, who was convicted of raping two women. He received 30 years to life in prison.

Drew Barrymore is sorry for attempting to get her talk show back on the air despite the ongoing strikes by actors and writers.


Recently — and with diminishing degrees of efficacy — there’s been a wave of famous people apologizing for their offensive words and deeds. Even House Republican chaos demon Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado apologized for behavior that was so outrageous during a performance of the “Beetlejuice” musical in Denver that she and her date got kicked out of the theater. And she apologized only because security video proved that she was vaping in the theater, which she initially denied.

We all fall short of glory and people should apologize for wrongdoing. But these high-profile apologies drop only after a ferocious backlash. It’s as if self-awareness suddenly kicks in when the public’s roar blows celebrities back on their heels as they’re trying to scramble away from the mess they alone created.

In his interview with Wenner, David Marchese, a New York Times reporter, gave his subject ample opportunities to explain why the only people who met his “criteria” to be in a book called “The Masters” — let that marinate for a minute — are white men. But Wenner, wrapped up in his Great White Male view of the world, was having none of it.


Joni Mitchell, he said, was “not a philosopher of rock ‘n’ roll.” Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield “just didn’t articulate” at the “level” of “masters.” (Black women, like Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner, and hip-hop, the most influential musical and cultural revolution of the past 50 years, didn’t even figure into this conversation, but then, as Wenner said, Black musicians were not in his “zeitgeist.”)

This from a man who has spent nearly his entire life around popular music and the people who make it, and started a magazine that took its name from “Rollin’ Stone,” a song by Muddy Waters, a Black bluesman. (So did The Rolling Stones.) The music Wenner loves would not exist without the ingenuity and artistry of the Black people he ignored.

After a thorough social media thrashing, Wenner in a statement said, “I totally understand the inflammatory nature of badly chosen words and deeply apologize and accept the consequences.” He was booted from the board of directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. Wenner cofounded the rock hall, which has long been criticized for having an overwhelming majority of inductees who are white men.

Unlike Wenner, Kutcher jumped before he could be pushed. Recognizing that seeking mercy for his convicted rapist pal while serving on the board of an organization he cofounded to combat child sexual abuse was a very bad look, he resigned — with yet another apology.


Meanwhile, Barrymore now says her show won’t return until strikes by the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists are over. “I have no words to express my deepest apologies to anyone I have hurt and, of course, to our incredible team who works on the show and has made it what it is today,” she said in a statement. Other shows including “The Talk,” “Real Time with Bill Maher,” and “The Jennifer Hudson Show” also backed off on plans to return.

Of course Wenner, Kutcher and Kunis, and Barrymore should have recognized the potential fallout from their actions and avoided them entirely. But that’s a pitfall of living in a bubble inhabited only by sycophants whose job it is to tell celebrities that every decision they make is right. That’s if they listen to anyone at all.

Instead of letting their well-paid PR teams do what they were hired to do, celebrities try to execute their own crisis management which, more often than not, only deepens the crisis. They run to social media to post videos of themselves speaking directly into cameras with a rehearsed, sometimes teary intimacy they think viewers will see as sincerity and regret.

But often it comes off as contrived and just another performance — one designed to make a problem go away as quickly as possible. Some apologies are so wobbly they end up needing their own mea culpas.


In an age when celebrities have direct, unfiltered communication with the public, they always seem shocked that their fame (or in Boebert’s case, infamy) doesn’t inoculate them from repercussions. But instead of contrition, these phony apologies only reveal just how laughably sorry these people really are.

Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @reneeygraham.