It was a mean, boneheaded, thoughtless and harmful thing to do — just like a lot ot things that go down on Twitter: Spike Lee retweeted an address to his hundreds of thousands of followers. The address he thought he was retweeting was that of George Zimmerman, the man at the center of the Trayvon Martin case.
It was instead the address of septuagenarians Elaine and David McClain, who claim to have a son named William George Zimmerman, who was a previous resident of Sanford, Fla. That’s the city where the famous, deadly encounter between George Zimmerman and Martin occurred. The mistake cost the McClains, who had to vacate their home and have suffered much stress.
But look at how Lee has responded. He tweeted contrition:
I Deeply Apologize To The McClain Family For Retweeting Their Address. It Was A Mistake. Please Leave The McClain’s In Peace.
He repeated the apology in a phone call, a conversation that left the couple feeling better about the ordeal: “He was really kind,” Elaine McClain told the Associated Press. “And when he called us, you could just tell he really felt bad about it. And it was just a slip, and I just know that he really, really has been concerned.”
Lee also compensated the family in an undisclosed settlement, the AP reported.
Good thing Lee didn’t take the advice of Bill Maher. “Please Stop Apologizing” was the headline of the op-ed by the HBO comedian that ran last week in the New York Times. Maher, to be fair, wasn’t addressing the same situation that Lee had created; the comedian was talking about the use of offensive words by public figures that invariably prompt calls for mea culpas. Wrote Maher: “Let’s have an amnesty — from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront.”
Lee didn’t use epithets but rather spread information in the spirit of frontier justice, a greater offense than insulting someone. Yet his reaction to the mishap rehabilitates the good name of an honest apology. Lee used no qualifiers, no minimizers, no excuses — and no “I am sorry if anyone took offense to my actions.” Just plain regret and shame. Score a victory for the apology.