Apologizing? Keep it real

Brian Williams is just the latest in a series of high-profile apologists whose stilted prose made their mea culpa sound disingenuous.

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So it struck me as odd that when it came time to set the record straight on the helicopter attack that wasn’t, he elected to use a strange word in his apology: “conflate.”

His statement read: “I think the constant viewing of the video showing us inspecting the impact area—and the fog of memory over 12 years—made me conflate the two, and I apologize.”

Williams might have been better served to say he got the choppers mixed up, or that he clearly was confused in the aftermath of the incident. “Conflate” is a word that jumps off the page and gives you pause. So is “misremember.”

Given my line of work, I always read statements of apology or explanation from a public figure in mid-crisis with a discerning eye. A good one sounds genuine and has no hint that a reputation management SWAT team carefully crafted it in a PR war room.

So, if you’re ever in that unenviable position, don’t use words that aren’t spoken in regular communication. Obscure words or stilted phrases make the apology sound contrived. Brian Williams, who has been suspended by NBC for six months, isn’t alone.

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