Did I Say the World Was Flat? Sorry, I Misspoke

We’ve all said some pretty outrageous things that have no basis in fact or in any kind of reasoned analysis. Most of what college sophomores say, if I remember correctly, falls into that category. And when you think about it, the rhetoric during a heated political campaign season sounds a lot like the late-night rantings of dorm creatures with stacks of unread books. Like college sophomores, politicians exaggerate, make wild assumptions and get worked up over subjects they only dimly understand.

Maybe Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican from Missouri who’s running for U.S. Senate, was sleep-deprived and running on NoDoz when he said on an Aug. 19 broadcast of KTVI-St. Louis’ “Jaco Report” that “if it’s a legitimate rape the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Judging from the way Akin delivered that pronouncement on the show, he believed at the time that what he was saying was a true, medical fact, based on what he “understands from doctors.” The congressman was riffing on his beliefs, but this was no dorm room.

Party leaders were soon calling on Akin to pull out of the election and, to save himself, Akin turned to the most misused, abused and vague form of public apology: he said that he “misspoke.”

Hiding behind “misspoke” is not a Republican tactic—Democrats use it, athletes use it, CEOs use it. To the reader or listener, “misspoke” connotes the inability to be held accountable for one’s actions and the unwillingness to apologize for saying something dumb, hurtful or both.

Inevitably, Akin gave a real apology, saying that his comments were “ill-conceived” and “wrong,” and that he just wants “to apologize to those that I’ve hurt.”

We’re all susceptible to thoughtless riffs, but our apologies need to be seriously considered and meaningful, even if our sketchy opinions are the opposite.

—Steve Goldstein

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI