Apologies are so on trend right now. In the span of a week, Bill Maher, Kathy Griffin and Piers Morgan have all said sorry, even though the three provocateurs normally revel in making people uncomfortable.
It seems like we get another celebrity apology every few days, each a little more ridiculous than the last. There was the time Jennifer Lawrence apologized for using a sacred rock to get to a difficult-to-reach itch and the day Johnny Depp and then-wife Amber Heard said they were sorry for smuggling their tiny dogs into Australia.
The proliferation of apologies these days is most likely compelled by social media; if outraged Twitter users have taught us anything, it’s that there’s no shortage of things to atone for.
But not everyone expresses remorse. Or, at least, they didn’t used to.
Over the course of her career, Griffin has been nothing if not unapologetic, despite mocking Oprah’s weight gain, stripping on Letterman, dropping an f-bomb on live television and announcing during a red carpet special that Dakota Fanning — who was a small child at the time — had just checked into rehab. E! apologized for that last (false) comment and made a donation to UNICEF in Fanning’s name as a public display of penance.
If Griffin was ever contrite, it was always couched with a joke. “Am I the only Catholic left with a sense of humor?” she asked after sort of apologizing for telling Jesus to “suck it” during an acceptance speech.
Griffin’s apology last week, however, was unequivocal. After a gruesome photo by Tyler Shields of her holding what looked like President Trump’s bloodied, severed head started making the rounds online, the backlash was extreme.
“I went way too far,” she said severely in a video she posted to Twitter. “The image is too disturbing, I understand how it offends people. It wasn’t funny, I get it.”
“I beg for your forgiveness,” she added.
I am sorry. I went too far. I was wrong. pic.twitter.com/LBKvqf9xFB
— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) May 30, 2017
CNN responded by firing Griffin from her gig co-hosting the network’s annual New Year’s Eve bash. It’s funny that this is what got her axed considering all the outlandish, button-pushing she’s done during the telecast over the years, including simulating a sex act on co-host Anderson Cooper.
Griffin’s firing means the comedian now has more than one thing in common with Morgan, who was also booted from CNN.
The editor and television host is best known for delighting in the outrage that follows his provocative declarations. He likes using the word “feminazi” and criticizing women’s clothing choices; he also has some kind of weird obsession with taking down the Kardashians. He’s publicly trolled Emma Watson, Cher, Beyoncé, Madonna, Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Aniston and Theresa May, among many others, and guess what? He hasn’t apologized for any of it. Until now.
After the terrorist attack in Manchester, England, following an Ariana Grande concert, Morgan criticized the singer on Twitter for quickly leaving town. But he changed his tune after she hosted a huge benefit concert Sunday that raised $13 million for the British Red Cross’s Manchester Emergency Fund.
In an op-ed for the Daily Mail, he apologized to Grande.
“I want you to know this: I seriously misjudged you,” he wrote. “I had you down as just another self-obsessed millionaire pop star prepared to put her own safety before that of her fans. I was completely wrong.”
Morgan’s column wasn’t entirely contrite. He still stood by his earlier assessment that Grande should have stayed in Manchester to see the wounded concertgoers, but he also said that she showed more compassion to her fans than Morgan ever showed her.
That brings us to Maher. In fact, Maher has apologized before: shortly before ABC canceled his show “Politically Incorrect” in 2002. The network said the cancellation had nothing to do with the uproar that ensued after Maher piggybacked off the opinion of one of his guests, Dinesh D’Souza, who said the 9/11 terrorists weren’t cowards since they were willing to go down with the planes.
“We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away,” Maher said at the time. “That’s cowardly.”
Some critics read Maher’s comments as anti-American and anti-military, so Maher issued a statement apologizing and also attempted to clarify his remarks.
“In no way was I intending to say, nor have I ever thought, that the men and women who defend our nation in uniform are anything but courageous and valiant, and I offer my apologies to anyone who took it wrong,” the statement read.
Fast-forward a decade-and-a-half and Maher is once again in hot water after his Friday night episode of HBO’s “Real Time.” During the program he said the n-word during an exchange with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). In the course of the conversation, Sasse told Maher he’d be happy to have the host come to Nebraska and work the fields with his constituents.
“Work in the fields?” Maher retorted. “Senator, I’m a house n—–.”
The next day he issued a statement, saying, “I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment. The word was offensive and I regret saying it and am very sorry.”
HBO did its own damage control, calling the use of the slur inexcusable and saying the network would scrub the exchange from the episode.
In the past, Maher — an avowed First Amendment crusader — lamented that Barack Obama wasn’t a “real black president” because he didn’t threaten people with a gun he kept hidden in his waistband. He has also made a number of incendiary comments about Islam.
I can't believe Bill Maher said something racist, said no Muslim ever. #realtime
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) June 3, 2017
All boundary pushers are going to cross the line at some point, especially in an era when social media keeps celebrities accountable. But you’ll notice these three still did the public apology their own way.
In truth, Morgan’s column was simply an example of what he does best: drumming up publicity. His op-ed was less contrite than condescending, frankly.
Griffin followed up her apology with a news conference during which she painted herself as the victim of the Trump family, whom she claims is bullying her. She had to cross the mea culpa off her to-do list before she could tackle the important business of gathering sympathy.
And then there’s Maher, whose word choice was met with many calls to #fire him. Considering his track record, it’s only natural to wonder if his apology came at the urging of the network — or if he just did it because he thought it would save his job. Unlike during his 9/11 snafu, he didn’t feel misunderstood; his comment, however culturally insensitive, still jibes with his First Amendment-loving worldview.
How much weight should we give to celebrity apologies? At this point, they’re a pointless ritual, if also a necessary step in the rehabilitation process. It’s a good way to get the angry tweeters to settle down, at least — and even the instigators need that sometimes.
An earlier version of this post stated that Maher called Islam “the motherlode of bad ideas.” It was his guest, Sam Harris, who said that.