Michael Flynn reveals the template for apologies without remorse

Photo: Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has pled guilty to lying to the FBI. He has also issued a self-praising statement minimizing what he did. It’s an interesting strategy. Should everyone else who apologizes do the same?

Flynn’s proud, patriotic apology

Flynn spoke to the Russian Ambassador about foreign policy during the transition, when Trump was not yet president. He then lied about it to the FBI. This is the charge to which he has pled guilty as part of his agreement to become a cooperating witness in the Robert Mueller investigation of the Trump team’s dealings with Russia.

He issued a statement on Friday. Here it is:

After over 33 years of military service to our country, including nearly five years in combat away from my family, and then my decision to continue to serve the United States, it has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of “treason” and other outrageous acts. Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done and stood for. But I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right. My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s Office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country. I accept full responsibility for my actions.

This is a very strange statement.

Flynn includes an acknowledgment of wrongdoing and takes responsibility for it, but everything else is self-serving. It is difficult to appear to have any remorse when you start your statement by wrapping yourself in glory for 33 years of military service. Here’s a simpler, clearer paraphrase:

I shouldn’t have lied to the FBI, but everything I did was right and patriotic. I am a great American who made an itty-bitty mistake in the name of a great cause.

What if Louis C.K., Equifax, and all the other apologizers took this tack?

This proud, patriotic apology expresses no remorse. As I look back at all the tortured apologies of the last few months and years (accessible on the links below), I wonder why they even struggled with how to admit their wrongdoing. Remorse complicates everything. Using Lt. General Flynn’s apology as a template, they could have made it much easier on themselves and avoided a whole lot of bad feelings. Here’s what they could have written.

Harvey Weinstein

I  have spent the last four decades producing movies with women in them. I’ve helped innumerable women’s careers through my work with Miramax and The Weinstein Company. I now recognize that I never should have lured so many of them up to my room, exposed myself to them, threatened them, and engaged my coworkers in a scheme to cover it all up. I am working to ensure that my legacy as a filmmaker continues. My only desire is to fully appreciate every woman in Hollywood.

Equifax

Equifax is a trusted global intermediary in the would of finance. Without our work and the work of others like us, there would be no easy way to check if the person you are about to hire has fallen behind on his credit card payments, or if the man you are suing has ex-wives or mortgages you could use for leverage. Yes, some loser stole information on at least 143 million consumers, but remember, those people are not our customers — our customers are you, businesses, that pay for our services. We will continue to find new ways to exploit other people’s financial information while keeping our costs for frills such as data security low, because we are all about the customer.

Uber

It’s very hard work to destroy the global taxi industry and change the way people get around, but we at Uber will never let anything get in our way as we pursue that vision. Perhaps threatening journalists, humiliating female engineers, stealing secrets from competitors, and failing to pay what we owed to drivers was a mistake. Also, perhaps we didn’t do the brightest thing by bribing the people who stole drivers’ and passengers’ information. But let’s look at the big picture. Uber is one of the most highly valued private companies in history, because we’re disruptors. Let’s not lose sight of the magnitude of what we’re trying to do for humanity here.

Volkswagen

For 80 years, Volkswagen has stood for the most rigorous of German automotive engineering. Imagine, for a moment, the corporate discipline that it takes to not only claim to have the cleanest diesel cars, but to engineer software that can determine when the car is being tested by the EPA and reduce emissions only then. By engineering our cars in this way, we ensure that you, the Volkswagen owner, have access to the full power of our impressive engines without limitations due to irrelevant emissions regulations. We will proudly continue to serve our customers with the best engineered cars on the planet — no matter how warm that planet actually gets.

Louis C.K.

I talk about the stuff other people won’t. Like this: I have a penis, OK? It’s not the best penis in the world, but hey, I like it. And women. Aren’t women the best thing ever. I tell jokes and that means I get to be around a lot of women. So I share my penis with them. I’m just doing what you would do if you could. Jeez. Nobody got hurt.

Donald Trump

I did try and fuck her. I moved on her very heavily. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful ― I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

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