Thursday, August 25, 2005

Robertson Apology ... Robertson's apology yesterday for his now infamous remarks concerning Hugo Chavez brings to mind a post by J. David Velleman last June. Written when Karl Rove was being pressed for an apology, Velleman noted that "the difference between rejecting the content of a remark and condemning the act of making it is mirrored, on the speaker's side, by the difference between retracting the remark and apologizing for it."

To an extent that is a trite point to make, a matter of semantic relevance alone. Most people would probably view the retraction of a particular statement and an apology for it as more or less synonymous acts.

But the perceived synonymy also underscores the need to distinguish between the two actions. If you make an offensive comment and later have a change of heart, then you may apologize for the offense. But if you make an offensive comment and later regret only the fact that you spoke, then you should only retract the comment. The difference lies in regretting what you said versus having spoken at all.*

In Robertson's case, he should only have offered a retraction. Anyone who has seen the clip would likely concur that he appeared acutely convicted assassination was the way to go. However offensive -- and arguably insane -- that conviction may seem, he is entitled to it. If he now regrets having aired that conviction, he apologize neither for it nor for having aired it. Rather, he should demonstrate some biblical "courage of conviction" and retract the comment alone.

*Because Velleman argues from the negative, this is slightly different from what he is saying. Since I don't have the time to elucidate the point further, all I can say is just trust me that our arguments ultimately are in fact the same.


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