It's been a long year with a lot to say sorry for--and a lot of heinous culprits who compounded their misdeeds with woefully inadequate apologies

Believe it or not, the worst apologist of 2017 wasn't alleged sex offender Harvey Weinstein, and it wasn't even United Airlines with that whole dragging-a-passenger off the plane thing.

Instead, it's the culprit behind a transgression whose initial sorry-not-sorry apology actually affected millions of us--very likely you, even. Yet with all that's gone on, this one has almost been forgotten.

It's easy to forget everything we've been through. So enough preamble--here's the authoritative list of the 17 worst of the worst, ranked in order of pure despicableness. Let us know in the comments if you agree with the list--especially the worst of the worst.

17. Senator Al Franken

Senator Franken's first apology for alleged sexual misconduct was a mess. His second was a lot better. Unfortunately for him, he then had more and more opportunities to apologize--the sheer number of accusations led to a spiral of sorry.

End result: Resignation from the U.S. Senate (at least, that's the story as of this writing), so it seems we won't have Franken to kick around anymore. But at least he had the decency to address it all, on camera, with a 10-plus minute speech. 

16. The owner of the Houston Texans

"We can't have inmates running the prison," Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said while meeting with fellow owners about the national anthem protests. It was a stupid choice of words, and players reacted angrily.

But McNair gets credit for how he handled it afterward: Meeting with his team in person, apologizing (although he does apparently couch it with "if any of the players were offended"--um, yeah, of course they were), and asking them to work together going forward.

The team went 1-6 in their next seven games, by the way--and McNair winds up with the 16th-worst apology of 2017. 

15. Travis Kalanick of Uber 

Kalanick had a rough year, culminating with the exposure of the sexist culture at Uber and his subsequent forced removal from the company he founded. But his apology ranking stems from a half-forgotten incident from back in February: when a video came out of Kalanick going off on an Uber driver, and he had to apologize for it:

It's clear this video is a reflection of me--and the criticism we've received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I've been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it. I want to profoundly apologize to Fawzi, [the driver] as well as the driver and rider community, and to the Uber team.

As apologies go, it wasn't too bad, but the context of everything else going on means it's not enough to keep him off the list. The "leadership help" he needed, his board later decided, was not to be a leader of the company at all.

14. Pepsi 

Stepping away from sexual misconduct, let's go back to April. Remember when Pepsi ran that ridiculous ad that seemed to suggest racial discrimination and police distrust could be solved if protestors would just stop and have a soda with cops?

Bad commercial, and the corporate apology might have been OK--except that Pepsi spent 10 words out of the 40-word statement apologizing to Kendall Jenner for "putting [her] in this position."

13. Dove

Again with this: "We missed the mark." In October, Dove rolled out a commercial in which a black woman uses their product and then transforms into a white woman.   

Something tells me this was all done by committee--like one person came up with the idea of the video transition, and somebody else was like, hey, let's make sure we make it really diverse! At least they deeply regretted it and killed the ad.

12. Mario Batali

This one is just a few days old, but in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, Batali gets credit for the first part of his apology--"I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt."

He falls into some dangerous territory where he seems to conflate sexual harassment with just having fun ("We built these restaurants so that our guests could have fun and indulge, but I took that too far in my own behavior"). But given the overall tone and fact that he's stepping away from the business, he's only number 16.

11. Kathy Griffin

It seems like ancient history, but back in May, comedian Griffin posed with a mask of a severed Donald Trump head. It was pretty tasteless, and she faced a harsh backlash--and ultimately apologized:

I'm a comic. I crossed the line, I moved the line and then I crossed the line. I went way too far. The image is too disturbing. I understand how it offends people, it wasn't funny. 

Which wasn't bad as apologies go--but then in November, she decided to take the whole thing back. "I'm no longer sorry," she told the BBC. She can apologize, or not--but trying to have it both ways like this is weaselly. So, welcome to the list.

10. Lena Dunham

The short version is that having been a prominent feminist voice--one who sort of thinks she's the voice of her generation--Dunham decided that women who say they've been victims of sexual assault need to believed, unless the alleged perpetrator happens to be a friend of hers.

That's what happened when she came out against a woman who accused her friend Murrary Miller of sexual assault: She said she had "insider knowledge" that the charge was untrue. Facing a backlash, she apologized, but really more for having chosen "absolutely the wrong time to come forward," rather than for having made the hypocritical statement at all.

9. Louis C.K. 

C.K., or whatever I'm supposed to call him on second reference, was a conundrum for me in putting together this list. He gets credit for promptness and for directly addresses his victims. But his rationale is utterly stupid (oh, sorry, I didn't realize exposing myself to women wasn't OK), and he also selectively addresses only some of the stuff he's accused of. 

Finally, he uses mild profanity or slang in his written apology, referring to his penis as "my dick" multiple times. Which not only makes the whole thing seem like more of a joke, but also seems like a calculated way to get that language into major media--which had little choice but to quote him. Also, he never uses the word "sorry" or actually apologizes. Anyway, in a more normal year he'd have the worst apology on the list. But this wasn't a normal year.

8. Charlie Rose

Who's worse, Charlie Rose or Matt Lauer? So tough to say, and the circumstances are fairly similar--even anchoring competing network morning shows. It's close, but in lieu of just calling it a tie, we'll say Rose's was only the eighth-worst apology--with Lauer's to come.

"It is essential that these women know I hear them and that I deeply apologize for my inappropriate behavior," Rose said in part. "I am greatly embarrassed. I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken."

At least Rose does use the word "apologize," even as he portrays himself as more clueless (and thus theoretically sympathetic) than predatory. 

7. Southwest 

It's crazy to imagine Southwest has only the second-worst apology by an airline in 2017. (Spoiler alert: The United one you're maybe thinking of was worse--but it wasn't quite the worst apology of 2017. You'll see.)

Months after the more famous United incident, Southwest called the cops on a passenger who said she was allergic to another passenger's service animal, and chaos ensued. The airline's sort-of apology afterward was full of passive-voice squishiness: 

"We are disheartened by the way this situation unfolded and the customer's removal by local law enforcement officers," Southwest Airlines said, as if the airline hadn't been the ones to call law enforcement to begin with.

6. President George H.W. Bush

At the start of this year, would any of us have thought George H.W. Bush would be the former Oval Office occupant we'd be talking about for an inadequate apology for alleged sexual misconduct? Reportedly, the former president has a penchant for grabbing women's rear ends during photo opportunities. (At least eight women have made the allegation.)

Clearly unacceptable, perhaps not quite in the same league as the allegations against so many other powerful men this year. But Bush's "apology," such as it was, is pretty pathetic. There isn't even a statement yet by the former president; he simply trotted out a spokesperson.

5. Matt Lauer

Oh Matt Lauer. Another of the privileged few who apparently has been abusing and harassing women for years. Yeah, he apologized, sort of, although he claims that some of what he's accused of didn't actually happen. No further details offered, of course. 

Mostly, he's high on this list because he's a guy who was on TV for hours every day, for like 5,000 days in a row. And now that he's caught with his pants down (literally? figuratively?), he issues a statement. He's 100 percent disappeared. Sorry Matt, apology not accepted.

4. Kevin Spacey 

What a punk. Accused of attempted sexual assault of a 14-year-old back years ago, Spacey claimed not to remember the event--apologized "if" it happened--and then changed the subject:

"This story encouraged me to address other things about my life ... As those closest to me know, in my life, I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic relationships with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man."

So for making the story all about himself, for trying to change the subject within the apology itself, and for conflating the idea of homosexuality with alleged child sexual assault, Spacey winds up high on the list.

3. Harvey Weinstein 

Weinstein's rambling apology, if it can be called that, basically comes down to, Hey, it was the 70s, everybody sexually harassed people! Sorry about that!

Only it wasn't just the 1970s, it was also allegedly much more recent, and it allegedly involved criminal forcible rape, with investigations reportedly underway by police in New York, Los Angeles, and London. 

Weinstein also goes on about some charitable contributions he's made during the past year--arguably after he knew The New York Times and other media were looking into the story--but honestly, who cares? Save it for sentencing, pal.

2. United Airlines

It seems like ancient history, but CEO Oscar Munoz and the crew at United Air Lines take the second prize for the way they handled the dragging and beating of passenger David Dao. They offered a a ham-handed, self-serving, victim-blaming series of statements, as if the entire world were not watching the video nonstop. Heck, I wrote about this myself .

The New York Times did a really good job of chronicling United's shifting and evolving statements. Why the company couldn't have just apologized and moved on, I'll never know. Despite hordes of people swearing they'd never fly United again as a result, they didn't suffer any lasting effects. A month after the incident, United's stock was up about 12 percent over the day of the dragging (although it's way down now since then).

1. Equifax (the worst apology of 2017)

The worst apology of the year goes to Equifax, for its bungled, self-serving response to a data breach that exposed personal information of 145 million Americans!

That's literally 44 percent of the population of the United States--and there's a pretty good chance it includes you, too. Of course, you probably don't know for sure, at least if you tried to find out when the story broke by punching your name and part of your social security number into the easily spoofed website Equifax set up for the purpose.

It was even worse if you were one of the 200,000 people who reportedly, instead, went to a phishing site, the url for which Equifax accidentally tweeted four times. Of course, if you were affected, you might have already been victimized as a result, since Equifax waited months after learning of the breach before telling the public. The whole thing goes on and on and on

This was a security breach so bad, that it has the United States government thinking of doing away with social security numbers, so as to make those millions and millions of bits of stolen data a little less valuable. (Although I haven't heard anything more about this in the nearly three months since the idea was first floated.)

Honestly, given that the company's CEO resigned over this whole thing, and that the new CEO issued a "sincere and total apology," I'm not sure Equifax would even argue with its ranking here. There was a lot of competition for this dubious honor, but since this is the one that most likely impacted you and me personally, we'll call it the so-called winner.

Published on: Dec 20, 2017
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