Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Great Thing about the Internet Is That You Can Still Type with Your Foot in Your Mouth

Regular readers of this blog know that I am fascinated with official apologies on the websites of lawmakers, government agencies, or universities. Of course, sometimes the web page of an office-holder just disappears when a scandal breaks, but often a certain amount of rhetorically interesting digital ephemera is generated by an crisis of confidence.

In most cases the mea culpa is a terse statement. For example, Senator David Vitter recently had to apologize to his constituents on his official website for having his telephone records connected to those of a prominent D.C. Madam. In the case of Congressman Mark Foley, he pulled all his congressional web content soon after the public revelation that he had made incriminating sexual advances to minors on the Internet.

Strangely, Senator Larry Craig seems unable to keep it short in apologizing, after pleading guilty to lewd behavior in an airport men's rest room. His "protesting too much" includes an explanation that he may have touched the undercover officer's foot in the next stall because of a "wide stance" involved in his bodily excretions. Talk about TMI! The information overload encompasses the police report that features the undercover officer noting how the senator's proximity allowed him to gaze into his "blue eyes. There's also a YouTube video that shows Craig's compulsion to make overdetermined causal claims and seemingly extraneous denials in an earlier sex scandal involving federal legislators. (Listen for the copyright reference at the end.)

Although his official press statement kept it short and sweet, the home page on his senatorial site contained a positively garrulous series of denials. For example, the shorter statement does not deny being gay while the longer statement is an emphatic denial and a description of prior persecution by a press obsessed with outing him. I have reproduced Craig's message in its entirety below. Just try to keep track of all the things that Craig is apologizing for, none of which is the actual incident, of course.

"First, please let me apologize to my family, friends, staff, and fellow Idahoans for the cloud placed over Idaho. I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport. I regret my decision to plead guilty and the sadness that decision has brought to my wife, family, friends, staff, and fellow Idahoans. For that I apologize.

"In June, I overreacted and made a poor decision. While I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct at the Minneapolis airport or anywhere else, I chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge in the hope of making it go away. I did not seek any counsel, either from an attorney, staff, friends, or family. That was a mistake, and I deeply regret it. Because of that, I have now retained counsel and I am asking my counsel to review this matter and to advise me on how to proceed.

"For a moment, I want to put my state of mind into context on June 11. For 8 months leading up to June, my family and I had been relentlessly and viciously harassed by the Idaho Statesman. If you’ve seen today’s paper, you know why. Let me be clear: I am not gay and never have been.

"Still, without a shred of truth or evidence to the contrary, the Statesman has engaged in this witch hunt. In pleading guilty, I overreacted in Minneapolis, because of the stress of the Idaho Statesman’s investigation and the rumors it has fueled around Idaho. Again, that overreaction was a mistake, and I apologize for my misjudgment. Furthermore, I should not have kept this arrest to myself, and should have told my family and friends about it. I wasn’t eager to share this failure, but I should have done so anyway.

"I love my wife, family, friends, staff, and Idaho. I love serving Idaho in Congress. Over the years, I have accomplished a lot for Idaho, and I hope Idahoans will allow me to continue to do that. There are still goals I would like to accomplish, and I believe I can still be an effective leader for Idaho. Next month, I will announce, as planned, whether or not I will seek reelection.

"As an elected official, I fully realize that my life is open for public criticism and scrutiny, and I take full responsibility for the mistake in judgment I made in attempting to handle this matter myself.

"It is clear, though, that through my actions I have brought a cloud over Idaho. For that, I ask the people of Idaho for their forgiveness.

"As I mentioned earlier, I have now retained counsel to examine this matter and I will make no further comment."

Along with apologizing for pleading guilty and not telling anyone, including legal counsel, it seems that Craig is also apologizing for the following intangibles: sadness, cloud-bringing, and overreaction due to stress and rumors. At least he's not apologizing for his "wide stance."

Thanks to Paul Simms, for pointing out the most unsavory details associated with this story.

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