HBO Gives Apology a Bad Name

By James E. Lukaszewski, Founder, The Lukaszewski Group

What’s with the “apology” HBO and the two media clowns who chose to use a plastic head of former president George W. Bush in a videogame? First of all, all former presidents including George Washington have periodically been insulted, negatively reinterpreted, parodied, and some even vilified.  Former presidents are fair game whatever the context. Welcome to the ultimate open society.

However, if you are going to “apologize” then you’ll have to truly Apologize. There are rules and expectations.

Here is HBO,” We were deeply dismayed to see this and find it unacceptable, disrespectful and in very bad taste.

Deeply dismayed? Unacceptable?  Disrespectful?  In bad taste?  What this language like this really mean, and what do any of these words have to do with apologizing?

Then there’s the comment by the perpetrators,” We use a lot of prosthetic body parts on the show: heads, arms, et cetera. We can’t afford to have these all made from scratch, especially in scenes where we need a lot of them, so we rent them in bulk. After the scene was already shot, someone pointed out that one of the heads looked like George W. Bush.”  Isn’t the real question,” Why is it that you have George W. Bush look-alike heads on pikes lying around anyway?” But, I digress.

Total bull. What does this have to do with apologizing? But they went further:

The perpetrators continued,” In the DVD commentary, we mentioned this, though we should not have. We meant no disrespect to the former president and apologize if anything we said or did suggested otherwise.”  This sounds a lot like those two truly memorable ageless denials,” I did not have sex with that woman,”” I am not a crook.” Then there’s that wonderful conditional phrase, full of self forgiveness,” if anything we said or did blah blah blah.”

In both cases the statements are about the perpetrators rather than the victim. True apologies, those that pass the straight face test with  victims, in every culture, have six generally similar components which are about the victims, and what the victims need, rather than self forgiving perpetrator talk. The serious apology has all of these ingredients:

  1. The admission (taking responsibility)for having wrongfully done something that was hurtful, damaging, humiliating, and offensive or perhaps injurious or deadly.
  2. An immediate, unconditional expression of sorrow and regret for having thoughtlessly, carelessly, stupidly or arrogantly caused  serious damage
  3. Acknowledgment of wrongness  coupled with talking about the lessons learned from the experience
  4. Conclusive steps and action leading to new behaviors that have been installed to detect, deter and prevent similar circumstances from occurring again
  5. An explicit, broad and public request for forgiveness from the victims
  6. Immediate, appropriate, and significant penance and/or restitution.

Anything less is then these ingredients and the apology fails to pass the laugh test. I doubt that there is a straight face at HBO or among their perpetrating buddies on this one. For them it’s just another big horse laugh.


James E. Lukaszewski is the funder of The Lukaszewski Group, where he advises, coaches, and counsels the men and women who run very large corporations and organizations through extraordinary problems and critical high-profile circumstances. He is listed in Corporate Legal Times as one of “28 Experts to Call When All Hell Breaks Loose,” and in PR Week as one of 22 “crunch-time counselors who should be on the speed dial in a crisis.”