Opinion

Renée Graham

Sorry, guys, apology not accepted

This June 2, 2017 photo released by HBO shows Bill Maher, host of "Real Time with Bill Maher," in Los Angeles. HBO says academic Michael Eric Dyson will be filling this week’s guest slot after Sen. Al Franken bowed out of “Real Time with Bill Maher” in the wake of Maher’s use of a racial slur last week. Maher was roundly criticized for using the N-word in a joking reference to himself as a house slave. Although he later apologized, Franken called his remark “inappropriate and offensive.” (Janet Van Ham/HBO via AP)
Janet Van Ham/HBO via AP
Bill Maher, host of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” in Los Angeles. HBO says academic Michael Eric Dyson will be filling this week’s guest slot after Sen. Al Franken bowed out of “Real Time” in the wake of Maher’s use of a racial slur last week.

How hard is it to offer an apology and get it right?

Recent weeks have brought racist jokes, culturally myopic observations, and a physical attack — all followed by apologies designed to quell social media outrage, not admit wrongdoing.

The day after Boston Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy said it “shouldn’t be legal” for translators to assist non-English-speaking pitchers on the mound, he tweeted his apology: “I sincerely apologize to those who were offended by my comments during the telecast last night.”

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This is a classic non-apology apology. Remy tried again during the next broadcast, with the same underwhelming results: “I made some comments that offended a number of people,” he said. “I sincerely hope you accept my apology, thank you very much.” In other words, he’s sorry you were offended, but at no time did he acknowledge his suggestion that foreign pitchers should “learn baseball language” as bigoted and obtuse.

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Bill Maher, host of HBO’s “Real Time,” did his own apology dance after he oh-so-casually dropped an N-bomb, in a vile context straight out of the antebellum South, on a live broadcast. (For the record, the predominantly white audience responded with as many giggles as groans.) HBO called Maher’s comment “inexcusable,” though the network is apparently excusing it and keeping him on the air. Maher has a history of intolerance, especially against Muslims. Referring to his latest slur, he said, “I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment.” Of course, in the banter of all those live moments that followed, he expressed no remorse and told his audience it was “a joke.”

As usual, the apology only arrived after a wave of public outrage.

Both Remy and Maher emerged unscathed, as did Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, who physically assaulted a reporter, lied about what actually happened, and still won a Montana congressional seat the next day. It took him two weeks to admit the truth, and he did so in the most cowardly way: “Notwithstanding anyone’s statements to the contrary, [the journalist] did not initiate any physical contact with me,” Gianforte said.

“Anyone’s”? Those false statements “to the contrary” came from Gianforte’s own team.

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What does a person have to do to be punished? Oh, that’s right: be a woman.

Yes, that photo of comedian Kathy Griffin staring at a camera while holding a bloody replica of President Trump’s head was grotesque. Yet once it was posted, her apology was as swift as the backlash. She said she understood why people were offended and that the image “wasn’t funny.” Griffin concluded, “I beg for your forgiveness. I went too far. I made a mistake, and I was wrong.”

Griffin was straightforward. She admitted fault, blaming no one but herself. Yet she’s also being punished more severely than Remy, Maher, and Gianforte combined. CNN dumped her from a decade-long gig co-hosting its New Year’s Eve show with Anderson Cooper. (A longtime pal, Cooper tweeted that he was “appalled” and found the photo “clearly disgusting and completely inappropriate.”) She was widely denounced, most boisterously by Trump himself, investigated by the Secret Service, and had a bunch of upcoming stand-up performances canceled.

Griffin’s Emmy-winning career will be in tatters for a while, if it ever recovers at all. Whether or not you like Griffin’s acerbic brand of comedy (for the record, I do not), she didn’t physically assault anyone like Gianforte did. Unlike Maher, she did not spew one of the most hateful words in the English language and attempt to pass it off as a “banter.” And she did not make a bigoted statement, then issue an apology without acknowledging the offensiveness of that statement, which is what Remy did twice.

As usual, a woman is being held to an absurd standard, even though her apology is the only one that was timely, showed contrition, and claimed personal responsibility. She got it right, but will continue to suffer because she wasn’t smart enough to insult journalists, immigrants, or African-Americans — groups whose feelings, apparently, can be casually dismissed. Unlike Remy, Maher, or Gianforte, Griffin’s misfortune is being a woman who mocked a would-be despot intent on intimidating any opposition, whether it comes in the form of protests, legislative inquiry, media reports, or a tasteless provocation.

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And for that, we should all be sorry.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.