by John Schachter
When my son was maybe six years old, he learned an important life lesson: when you start an apology with the words, “I’m not really sorry,” it doesn’t count as an apology. Unfortunately, in his almost 63 years, Bill O’Reilly has yet to grasp that valuable rule.
In late March, when the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, O’Reilly had ACS President Caroline Fredrickson on his show to “discuss” the issue. Much of the so-called discussion consisted of O’Reilly condescendingly lecturing Fredrickson with faulty analysis, but she was able to calmly explain how the taxing power could very well support the law’s constitutionality.
O’Reilly staked his ground (and reputation) quite clearly when he said, “Ms. Fredrickson, you are going to lose and your arguments are specious … and it's going to be 5 to 4. And if I'm wrong, I will come on, and I will play your clip, and I will apologize for being an idiot.”
When he returned to his show from vacation four days after the high court’s ruling, O’Reilly addressed the issue, which mainstream and social media representatives had been highlighting for days.
“I’m not really sorry,” he opened.
“But I am a man of my word,” O’Reilly continued, showing no apparent recognition of the irony. “So I apologize for not factoring in the John Roberts situation. Truthfully, I never in a million years would thought the chief justice would go beyond the scope of the commerce clause to date and into taxation. I may be an idiot for not considering that.”
(Childhood translation: “Billy, tell your sister you’re sorry.” “OK. I’m sorry … that she’s such a jerk.”)
But what was poor O’Reilly to do? Perhaps he should have said in the first place, “I will say I apologize for being an idiot” or “I will disingenuously apologize for being an idiot,” or “I have never really apologized for anything ever, so I don’t know what I’ll end up doing.” But he didn’t.
Apologies (or non-apology-apologies), particularly in the political world, are often a work of art.
O’Reilly now ranks right up there with the other greats, such as Newt Gingrich. Gingrich explained and apologized for cheating on his wives by saying, “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard, and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.” Yes, that’s correct, his patriotism drove him to infidelity.
Perhaps O’Reilly should have tried that tack and explained that it was his love of freedom and passion for America that caused his flawed analysis, erroneous prediction, and wide-ranging idiocy. It might have come across as more ingenuous.