The value of a genuine apology


Monica Lewinsky is in the news this week, the subject of a new A&E series, The Clinton Affair. The series delves into former president Bill Clinton’s dalliances with the former White House intern, who was just 21 when her involvement with the commander-in-chief almost torpedoed his presidency.

In a Vanity Fair essay advancing the series, Lewinsky expresses her willingness to apologize once again to Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, but raises a good point about the former president, a Democratic icon still revered by many on the left.

While Lewinsky wouldn’t say whether she thinks she deserves an apology from Bill Clinton, she wonders why he doesn’t want to apologize to her.

“I’m less disappointed by him, and more disappointed for him,” she wrote. “He would be a better man for it . . . and we, in turn, a better society."

There’s nothing quite as effective, from a communications and crisis management perspective, as a genuine, heartfelt apology, one that contains not a single “if” or “but.” Just a simple: “I did a really stupid thing. I sincerely apologize for all the hurt I have caused.”

Bill Clinton’s refusal to do so has long caused challenges for the Clinton brand.

In both her runs for president, in 2008 but particularly in 2016 as the #MeToo era began to pick up steam, Hillary Clinton was hurt by her role years ago in demonizing Lewinsky and by her husband’s hypocrisy when it came time to attack Donald Trump for his own track record with women.

That Bill Clinton has steadfastly rejected any calls to apologize to Lewinsky is still haunting him -- the man who stood before the cameras, jabbed his finger into the air and vehemently denied having sex with “that woman,” a young adult barely out of college who was his subordinate.

Even Hillary Clinton, who once described her husband as a “hard dog to keep on the porch,” said recently she feels “very sorry” for what the former White House intern endured 20 years ago.

Bill Clinton hasn’t even done that.

He should have apologized to Lewinsky years ago. It may not have resulted in his wife winning the White House, but it would have done some good in repairing the damaged Clinton brand -- as authentic, genuine apologies often do.

The lesson here from a comms perspective? Remember that past misdeeds can haunt you or your company for years, and do not underestimate the value of a sincere apology.