Jeremy Clarkson, Meghan Markle and a Non-Apology

British presenter and journalist Jeremy Clarkson, known from shows such as Top Gear, attracted attention this week with a controversy that may now end his career altogether. He had thereby bitten the nettle with a column in The Sun newspaper – and this is the mild interpretation of what happened – when he commented on the scandals surrounding the royal family around Harry and Meghan.

In a Netflix series, Harry and Meghan speak out about racism in the royal family and the British media. What had long been suspected or known became a certainty through the Netflix series. The British public, at any rate, is divided. On the one hand there is sympathy with Meghan and Harry, on the other hand they are accused of washing dirty linen in public.

However, Jeremy Clarkson also took on the subject. What had he written? Among other things, the following:

Meghan, though, is a different story. I hate her. Not like I hate Nicola Sturgeon or Rose West. I hate her on a cellular level.

At night, I’m unable to sleep as I lie there, grinding my teeth and dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, “Shame!’ and throw lumps of excrement at her.

Column by Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun, December 18, 2022

Tens of thousands of people complained to the British Press Regulator and the Independent Organization of Press Standards about the gaffe, more in one day than in all of 2021, and The Sun pulled the emergency brake: it removed the column from its website. Other media also reacted critically and saw this column as inappropriate. A wave of outrage erupted on social media.

It didn’t take long for Jeremy Clarkson to make a comment on Twitter that sounded like an apology. But was it really an apology? I want to analyze that, because as the author of the book “Sorry Not Sorry: The Art of the Non-Apologize,” it’s a found tidbit, and as expected, the apology is not one.

But here in turn. Here’s what Jeremy Clarkson posted as an apology:

Oh dear. I’ve rather put my foot in it. In a column I wrote about Meghan, I made a clumsy reference to a scene in Game of Thrones and this has gone down badly with a great many people. I’m horrified to have caused so much hurt and I shall be more careful in future.

Does she sound like someone is only half-heartedly apologizing here? It is and so and for that we need to understand what makes a good apology and what Clarkson is omitting here and actually saying with his tweet.

A genuinely meant apology contains several steps, which American behavioral scientist David P. Boyd has captured in seven sequential steps. He sees it as the art of a public apology in these seven steps:

  1. Revelation
  2. Recognition
  3. Responsiveness
  4. Responsibility
  5. Remorse
  6. Refund
  7. Reform

He may have realized that he put his foot in his mouth here, but he sees it more in his failed joke – that is, a reference to the TV series Game of Thrones. We know this under the 23rd Artifice: It happened, but it was just a joke. And because they can’t take a joke, it went down badly with people. The 17th Artifice: People are just too sensitive says hello.

Instead of apologizing to someone, first and foremost to Meghan Markle, he shows us in the last sentence who the real victim is. He himself is namely horrified that he has caused so much pain. Himself it hits the most, which is also known as the 13th Artifice: It happened, but I’m the real victim. He will be more careful in the future, but only with what? To whom he tells his monstrosities? How quickly he will have to duck in the future to avoid becoming the target of public excitement?

In other words, this tweet is not an apology, he is actually laying it on.

For more on all the tricks of the trade with lots of examples, check out my book “Sorry Not Sorry: The Art of the Non-Apologizing,” available in bookstores.

Sorry Not Sorry

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