On Thursday, the New Jersey governor apologized to his people. But to many, he may have come off as a blubbering mess.
On Thursday, New Jersey governor Chris Christie apologized for the scandal threatening to take down his career and involving forced traffic jams in the Fort Lee area.
"I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team," he said in the first few minutes. "There's no doubt in my mind that the conduct they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed a lack of respect for their appropriate role in government and the for people we're trusted to serve."
He later added, "I am heartbroken that some who I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the past five years betrayed my trust."
The tone was somber and a wee bit downtrodden--a rare state for the notoriously boisterous, and at times combative, governor. New York Times counted 20 apologies in all, directed at everyone from Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, who did not endorse the Republican governor's re-election, to the New Jersey state legislature and the media. Two people who weren't recipients of those apologies: a senior and a top campaign adviser who played key roles in punishing the Democratic mayor.
So how was Christie's apology? Here's how he stacked up, according to Nick Smith, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of New Hampshire and author of I was Wrong: The Meaning of Apologies, whose outline of apology guidelines Inc. recapped this week:
It's prompt. Christie took a day to apologize after the emails were released--not soon enough, considering the traffic jams occurred in September.
Agree on the facts. Although multiple investigations are ongoing, Christie agreed with media and critics that closing the lanes showed, in his own words, "callous indifference," "abject stupidity," and even left him feeling "betrayed."
Take responsibility. Here's where Christie hit all the right marks. He took responsibility for his employees' action, though he denies he was part of them. "Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens under my watch, the good and the bad," he said. "And when mistakes are made, I have to own up to them and take the action I believe is necessary in order to remediate them."
Explain what you did wrong. Say that it was wrong. Christie said it was his fault for not finding out what happened soon enough. "I also have to apologize to them for my failure as the governor of this state to understand the true nature of this problem sooner than I did," he said.
Express regret. Christie's entire apology was filled with emotion: "I am sad to report to the people of New Jersey that we feel short," he said. To others, however, he came off as a blubbering mess.
Make it better. By firing those involved and denouncing them publicly, Christie appears to have taken action toward a sincere apology. He also visited Fort Lee on Thursday to apologize to Mayor Sokolich and his residents in person.
Explain why it won't happen again. There may be more details to come during the investigation, but Christie said he will personally interview staff to find out if any other information should come to light. He promises to reveal any findings and fire more staffers if necessary.
WILL YAKOWICZ is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. @WillYakowicz