When President Barack Obama apologized last week for the accidental burning of copies of the Koran at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, I thought it was a no-brainer, but a hail of critical opinions took to the air.
Channeling his inner PR counselor to complement his campaign trail tenor, GOP hopeful Rick Santorum said the president's apology was the wrong move, adding that it brought more attention to the religious gaffe.
"This was something that occurred that should not have occurred, but it was an accident and leave it at that," he said. "I think you highlight it when you, when you apologize for it."
Santorum's foes Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were even more critical.
New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica wrote this week Ė in arguing that NY Police Commissioner Ray Kelly should not apologize for profiling Muslim students in the region Ė had this to say about Obama's apology:
"You wish President Obama would show this kind of starch with Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, tell him that the burning of the Koran was an accident, and that not only is he not apologizing, heís waiting for Karzai to apologize to this country for two of our military officers getting shot in the head by an Afghan soldier. And if Karzai canít find a way to do that, maybe itís time for us to get out of his country and let him figure things out for himself with the Taliban."
Apologies are a tricky but central piece of crisis communications. In the president's case, the apology had a precedent in President George W. Bush's apology to Iraq for a Koran incident in 2008 and was likely intended to stem a violent reaction. Although riots have occurred in the wake of the burning incident, they could have been much worse.
New York Times tech writer David Pogue neatly summed up the apology game in September, in criticizing Netflix CEO Reed Hastings' closely watched mea culpa: "Corporation bumbles, apologizes, makes things right. Business schools take note. Life goes on."
As Morrissey & Company's Jim Barbagallo blogged last week, apologizing is often the most difficult part of executing a crisis plan.
He added: "Typically, however, itís the only right place to start."