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Regrets, we've had a few

April 28, 2006|Paul Slansky and Arleen Sorkin | PAUL SLANSKY and ARLEEN SORKIN are the authors of "My Bad: 25 Years of Public Apologies," which will be published next month.

OUR CULTURAL LANDSCAPE IS INCREASINGLY cluttered with public mea culpas. Be they famous, infamous or previously unknown, anyone who is caught doing or saying something that crosses the baseline of acceptability -- joking about rape or wife-beating, for example, or revealing a bare breast on national television, or praising Hitler -- is required to atone for it with a mass-media apology. Some are sincere; some are transparently coerced; some are just plain ridiculous.

Every week brings new shame. In the last seven days, Keith Hernandez, baseball color announcer and former Met first baseman, had to beg our pardon for being sexist, and a Harvard sophomore apologized for borrowing language from another writer in her first novel.

Herewith, some exquisite examples of the "sorry" form:

The not-even-slightly-contrite apology

"Well, my analysis was wrong and I'm sorry.... What do you want me to do? Go over and kiss the camera? What do you want me to do?"

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-- Bill O'Reilly, after being confronted on "Good Morning America" with videotape of him saying that if no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, "I will apologize to the nation and I will not trust the Bush administration again." Feb. 10, 2004

"I'm sure that I'm supposed to act all sorry or sad or guilty now that I've accepted that I've done something wrong. But you see, I'm just not built that way .... I'm sorry it happened, and I'm sorry for all the people, fans and family that it hurt. Let's move on."

-- Pete Rose, after finally admitting that he bet on baseball, in his book "Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars." Jan. 6, 2004

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The did-it-really-happen? apology

"I'm sorry if she felt she was harmed."

-- Sportscaster Marv Albert, in court on sexual assault charges for biting a woman on the back more than a dozen times. Oct. 24, 1997

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"If I did the things that they say I did, am I sorry, do I apologize? Yes."

-- Bob Packwood, after announcing his resignation from the Senate following years of apologizing for decades of unwanted sexual advances toward various women, or as he once put it, "for the conduct that it was alleged that I did." Sept. 10, 1995

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The no-fault apology

"The comment was not meant to be a regional slur. To the extent that it was misinterpreted to be one, I apologize."

-- Lawyer Kenneth Taylor, after referring to people living in the mountains of Kentucky as "illiterate cave dwellers." Oct. 17, 2003

"If it's an insult, I certainly didn't think it was, but if they are offended, then I certainly offer an apology."

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-- Jimmy Swaggart, after threatening to kill any homosexual who looked at him with lust. Sept. 22, 2004

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The 'I am not a ...' apology

"If anyone has been offended, I'm sorry for that."

-- Former Los Angeles Police Chief Darryl F. Gates, after telling The Times that one possible reason that far more blacks than whites died from police chokeholds was that blacks' carotid arteries "do not open as fast as normal people." May 11, 1982

"I'm sincerely sorry.... There was no anti-Semitism whatsoever on my part."

-- Major League Baseball umpire Bruce Froemming, after calling an umpiring administrator a "stupid Jew bitch." Jan. 31, 2003

"If my comments brought pain to anyone, I certainly did not intend for this to happen and apologize for any such reaction."

-- MSNBC talk show host Michael Savage, after telling a caller, "Oh, you're one of the Sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig." July 8, 2003

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The 'I forgot the Holocaust isn't funny' apology

"It was just a flippant remark ... and then I said, 'Just kidding....' It was not a thought-out response.... It was a joking response ... with no malicious intent.... I wholeheartedly apologize."

-- Earl Woods, Tiger's father, after answering a question about the book that had most inspired him with the unexpected reply, "Mein Kampf." Nov.10, 1998

"In the heat of the moment, I made a stupid remark. I apologize for it."

-- Blood, Sweat and Tears singer David Clayton-Thomas, after telling his audience that the weather was "as hot as the last train car going to Auschwitz." July 25, 1995

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The serial apology

"I really, from the very bottom of my heart, want to apologize.... At one time or another, I've offended almost every group. I'm sure I'll be apologizing again."

-- Ted Turner, who has offered half a dozen apologies over the last 25 years, after calling Christianity "a religion for losers." June 13, 1990

"I made a terrible mistake, used horrible words, caused hurt. I'm sorry about that. I apologize for it. I've asked for forgiveness and I'm going to continue to do that."

-- Trent Lott, who offered half a dozen such apologies in eight days (culminating in a surreal appearance on Black Entertainment Television) in a futile effort to convince the public that his comments about how much better off the country would have been if then-segregationist Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948 did not reflect any racism on his part. Dec. 16, 2002

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The through-the-looking-glass apology

"My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week."

-- Texas lawyer Harry Whittington, expressing his remorse for having stuck his face in front of Dick Cheney's shotgun. Feb. 17, 2006

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