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Dissecting George H.W. Bush's Non-Apology

The 41st president attempted to frame a groping allegation as a lighthearted misunderstanding exacerbated by the stodgy humor of an aging man.
President George H.W. Bush.

President George H.W. Bush.

Apologizing is not a Herculean task. It requires admitting fault for the incident, acknowledging that your actions have harmed others, and affirming your commitment to doing better in the future.

It's a lesson few public figures seem to have internalized.

Wednesday morning, the actress Heather Lind posted a message on Instagram that described an encounter with former President George H.W. Bush. Four years ago, Lind wrote, Bush groped her—twice—and told her dirty jokes while posing for a photo opportunity in promotion of a historical television show she was working on. His wife, former First Lady Barbara Bush, "rolled her eyes as if to say 'not again.'"

Bush didn't deny the contents of Lind's message, which has since been deleted; instead, his spokesman issued a brief response Wednesday morning that brushed the allegations off as an "attempt at humor."

"President Bush would never—under any circumstance—intentionally cause anyone distress, and he most sincerely apologizes if his attempt at humor offended Ms. Lin," the spokesman told Fox News.

Experts aren't buying the sincerity. Edwin Battistella, a linguist who authored 2014's Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apologynotes that Bush's response "omits any reference to the groping allegation."

"His apology is one of those conditional apologies ... it's a type of verbal jiu jitsu where an apologizer attempts to flip reverse the situations so the onus is on the person who was offended," Battistella says. "A serious apology would name and explore the nature of the situation. This is an attempt at image control rather than a serious apology."

The lack of specificity in Bush's response, as well as his attempt to frame the incident as a lighthearted misunderstanding exacerbated by the stodgy humor of an aging man, is as ubiquitous a cop-out to allegations of assault as the frequency of the allegations themselves.