McGinnis: Learning a Lesson: How to apologize for offending — and how not toWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In their book “The Big Show,” a behind-the-scenes look at the workings of ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann write a list of advice to sportscasters. One of the most important notes involves never being too overly specific in the name of being clever. The example they gave — one that came to mind vividly this week — was of a local broadcaster reading scores, who, instead of just doing the simple, noncontroversial thing and saying “defeated,” announced that “Colorado *buffaloed* Colorado State, Harvard *outsmarted* Yale and the Air Force *shot down* Kent State.”
The announcer in question didn’t mean anything by it, of course, but a moment’s thoughtlessness can cause a lot of pain. The best we can do is atone, apologize, and try our best to not offend again in the future. There were two examples this week which reminded me of the Air Force anecdote, though for very different reasons. One, I believe was a stupid mistake, and sincerely apologized for. The other, I remain less than convinced.
Let’s start with the former. It should surprise no one in this day and age that DiGiorno frozen pizza has a Twitter account. Everything has a freaking Twitter account. What’s surprising is that people seem to enjoy following the DiGiorno one, whose moderators seem to have a fairly decent history of making their feed entertaining.
Then, in the wake of the Ray Rice video being released on September 8, the hashtag #whyistayed began trending on the social media site. The tag came attached to posts from victims of domestic violence, sharing their stories and explaining — to those engaged in victim-blaming — the awful ways those who abuse their partners can convince them to stay, that they can change, that the abuse is the victim’s fault.
In the midst of all this, though, the minds behind DiGiorno’s account saw only a hashtag trending, and jumped on. “#whyistayed You had pizza,” their tweet read on September 8.
Reaction was understandably outraged. DiGiorno immediately deleted the tweet and apologized, explaining they didn’t understand the context of the hashtag before making the joke. But what followed was rather refreshing. The DiGiornio authors began responding with personal, clearly not form-written tweets to every single person who wrote to their account — apologizing individually to all of them.
The original tweet was amazingly callous, without doubt. But owning up to it, engaging with the mistake and trying to make amends in a very public, yet very personalized way — in an era where so many companies who mess up simply delete and ignore, waiting for the firestorm to go away — DiGiorno’s reps are showing a certain level of understanding, not to mention guts.
Compare that to the response of Urban Outfitters, in the wake of their sale of a “vintage” Kent State sweatshirt, mocked up to have what appeared to be blood stains. The shirt’s sale was overwhelmed with outrage from the second its presence was known. As with the infamous sports announcer Patrick and Olbermann referenced, the identification with the tragic 1970 shootings at the university was unmistakable.
As DiGiorno’s representatives did, an apology (just one) was posted to the Urban Outfitters Twitter account. “It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970,” it read, “and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such.”
The trouble, however, is twofold. One, how else was such an item to be perceived? You have a shirt, covered in faux-blood stains, representing a “vintage” design from a university where one of the most infamous shootings ever occurred. What else could it be referencing? What, did Urban Outfitters think the shirt needed bullet holes if it was REALLY going to invoke the tragedy, thus this design was A-OK?
Second, it’s not like Urban Outfitters has a squeaky-clean history. The company tends to ride the line of bad taste, if not outright jump over it. Many of its products have courted controversy, seemingly by design — from garments covered with what looked like the star Jewish people were forced to wear during the Holocaust, to acting as retailer for “Ghettopoly,” an amazingly offensive version of the board game. The impression one gets is that the company seems to pride itself in seeing what it can get away with.
As such, it’s hard to take Urban Outfitters’ apology at face value. DiGiorno could plausibly have screwed up and then tried to atone. Urban Outfitters, well, we’ll have to wait and see. How they conduct themselves in the future will really determine if they have learned any lesson. The past, however, suggests they are hard to teach.