If you haven't seen the mea culpa, it's worth the minute it'll take to read its 269 words. In my opinion, it's one of the best public apologies ever made (go to www.onwardstate.com).
There's admission of the mistake, without blame-shifting. There's acknowledgment of the pain it caused (not "might have caused," as half-baked apologies go). There's promise of future "caution, restraint and humility." And there's significant consequences for Edwards himself.
" . . . I will be stepping down from my post as Managing Editor, effective immediately," he wrote. "I take full responsibility for the events that transpired tonight, and for the black mark upon the organization that I have caused."
Edwards sounded so sincerely anguished, so willing to own the hot mess he'd cooked, I was practically cheering for him by the time he ended his note with a plea not for forgiveness, but understanding.
It's rare that we hear a perfect apology. The "non-apology apology" of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer comes to mind, in which he acted noble for resigning from the office he disgraced by hooking up with a prostitute.
In contrast, the mea culpa of Edwards, a 21-year-old political-science and sociology major who will graduate in June, ought to be called "the anti-Spitzer."
"I think Edwards did a great justice to Onward State," says public-relations and crisis-management expert Jeff Jubelirer, whom I called for a gut-check about Edwards (who declined to comment for this column). "Over time, I think the site might become even more popular than it was before all of this."
Jubelirer, a Penn State grad, has followed Edwards' blog postings for about a year and is a fan of his insightful writings.
"I also think that, eventually, Edwards won't be known as the kid who tweeted Paterno's death too soon. He'll be known as the kid who handled himself with character in the aftermath of a pretty horrific mistake."
Basically, says Jubelirer, who plans to use Edwards' apology as a "how-to" in the crisis-management class he teaches at Temple University, "This is one of the best apologies I've ever seen."
Laurie Puhn, though, begs to differ with me and Jubelirer. She's an attorney, couples-mediation expert and author of Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or Giving In, which devotes a chapter to the art of the perfect apology.
Edwards' apology, in her view, isn't one of them.
"Anyone can say they're sorry," she says. "But an apology requires two things: remorse, and then details about what you'll do to make sure it doesn't happen again."
In Edwards' apology, she would like to have heard, for example, what policies Onward State will put into place to ensure such a flub won't happen again. Perhaps, she muses, the blog's editors will announce a death only if the passing can be verified by a family member or designated spokesman. Maybe they won't proceed with a story unless it's confirmed by a second source, or attributed to a named source.
Without some kind of prevention plan, she says: "You can be sure this kind of mistake will happen again. They will have shown the level of risk they're willing to take in order to be the first to report the news, as opposed to being accurate."
Fortunately, she says, an apology can evolve over time. So it's not too late to expand the apology to the two-parter it needs to be if Edwards and Co. are to repair the trust that was skewered by tweeting too soon.
I think the impressive young Edwards, at least, is up to the task.
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