The Public Apology | Famous Apologies

Extending a public apology is not very different from delivering a private one—the ingredients of any effective apology remain the same. The only real difference is that some of these apologies can become famous in their own right, or make others infamous for screwing up.

A public apology delivered by celebrities and other well-known figures in the news and popular culture has an uncanny way of reminding us that 'to err' really is human. It really doesn't matter who you are, at some point anyone can find themselves in the doghouse for something they said or did.

This section of the site will explore, comment on, and review some of the best and worst public apologies ever delivered so that we may all gain a better understand of what to do and more importantly what NOT to do.

Public apologies know no boundaries. They extend from the Vatican, to the US Senate, to sports icons, corporations, Hollywood, and beyond.

Whether these apologies succeed or fail, a great deal can be learned from them, because they often provide great insight into the art of delivering the perfect apology.

For example, in a review of a public apology delivered by John Kerry we learn how not extending a complete apology from the outset can create more damage and hurt than the original offence.

In an article on Political Apologies & American Democracy we learn how a misstatement can sometimes gain momentum of its own and overshadow good intentions.

In a commentary by Peter F. Goolpacy, he asks Where are the Duke Apologies? following the debacle of three Duke University lacrosse students falsely accused of rape.

We also learn why Don Imus' apology for insulting the Rutgers University Women's Basketball team (and the public at large) was doomed to fail.

We also cover The Perfect Terrible Apology: A Case Study of David Shuster and MSNBC after Shuster posed an inappropriate (and offensive) question regarding Chelsea Clinton's role in her mother's campaign during an on-air political discussion.

On the flip side, we take a look at David Neeleman's Jetblue Apology (which, in both its execution and delivery) is as close as one can get to crafting the perfect business apology.

In our never ending pursuit of the perfect public apology, we review some other noteworthy mea culpas in the following case studies:


Tracy Morgan Apology
Morgan apologizes for his anti-gay comments at his stand up routine
Chris Brown Apology
Brown's public apology for the Rihanna incident falls short.
Mel Gibson Apology
Gibson apologizes for DWI and anti-Semitic comments
Christian Bale Apology
Bale apologizes for a barrage of insults on a movie set.
John Mayer Apology
Mayer apologizes following his use of the "n" word in a Playboy interview.
David Letterman Apology
Two apologies: Letterman apologizes to his wife & staff, and Sarah Palin


By examining cases of how public figures succeed and/or fail to apologize we can better understand our own chances of being forgiven.

Given the sorry state of public apologies, even the media is sometimes interested in figuring out what's going on. Read a Q & A session we had a few years back with a reporter from the Sacramento Bee on apologies in the media.

As apologies continue to get media coverage, we are getting more and more requests for our take on things and why the American public in particular is so interested in these mea culpas—and given Toyota's woes in recent years, corporate apologies in particular.

Read our business apology case studies which includes a full review of the Toyota apology.

The fact that people in the public eye have well paid publicists supported by huge public relations firms makes their apologies so fascinating to witness and study. If these people can't deliver a proper apology (or public apology) then what hope is there for the rest of us?

What we've learned through all of this is that even large Public Relations firms can screw up by missing the point and by overlooking the straightforward strategies we've outlined on this site.

For some light-hearted insights into the public apology approaches most commonly used by celebrities and other well known individuals, take a look at this article from the National Post.

Finally, take a look at a complete listing of quotes for Bill Clinton's public apologies following the Monica Lewinsky affair back in the late 90's.

Check back often for interesting reviews of famous apologies and learn what they can teach us about apologizing more effectively.