Misspeaking and Apologizing

When my brothers and I were in school, we believed that if we were ever caught doing or saying anything “bad,” we’d claim we were rehearsing for an upcoming play and all of our real or imagined transgressions would be erased.

We never had to use that excuse. Luck, I guess.

I remember this every time a politician is quoted saying something nasty and then claims s/he misspoke. Or, when the same or a similar politician says or does something really awful and offers a public apology. In both cases, the misspeaking claim and the apology are expected to erase the reality of the moment and restore those politicians real or imagined good graces to the media and the public.

I don’t buy it. And, because the Campbell family motto is Ne Obliviscaris (Forget Not), I don’t forget. Perhaps I’ve been too harsh. After all, like most people, I have good friends who–in one desperate state or another–have said some pretty awful things. But I know them, their history, their deeds, and I see the awfulness as an aberration and not a lifestyle.

With politicians, I’m less sure. Perhaps it’s because even the best of them sooner or later turn out to have skeletons in their closets and tapes of conversations where they misspeak at great length of multiple occasions.

The old reporters’ joke is asking a candidate, “When did you stop beating your wife?” There’s no good way to answer that question that doesn’t lead to political ruin. So, with that in mind, if I were a reporter covering a news conference in which a politician said s/he misspoke, I would ask, “When did you stop misspeaking?”

After they hemmed and hawed, my follow-up would be, “Was it when you got caught?”

It has saddened me over a lifetime that so many people I adored, trusted, and believed in, were caught, claimed they misspoke, (and possibly) apologized. I expect better than that of people. All of us make mistakes. Yet I’ve come to believe that a history of misspeaking is a way of life rather than a mistake.

In fact, misspeaking has become so rife, it’s hard to tell whether people are misspeaking when they claim to have been misspeaking or if they are referring to what they did or said that got them into hot water.

A popular and hackneyed line out of lawyer TV shows is when the witness is asked, “Were you lying then or are you lying now?” I’d enjoy interviewing politicians and beginning with the question, “Will you be misspeaking today or is all that over and done with?”


My alterego Jock Stewart asks what I can’t: