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RICK MACLEAN: There’s an art to saying sorry

Dennis King approaches supporters after winning the leadership nomination for the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I., Saturday, Feb. 9. 2019.
Dennis King approaches supporters after winning the leadership nomination for the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I., Saturday, Feb. 9. 2019. - Nathan Rochford

Annie wasn’t pulling punches.

She disliked my editorial – the subject and my position are lost to time – and she wanted to make sure I knew it.

She spent some time on the phone explaining, in marginally polite but rather loud language, why I was a “clueless git.”

I found a dictionary, the Wikipedia of our day, and looked up git.

“Git is a term of insult with origins in English denoting an unpleasant, silly, incompetent, annoying, senile, elderly or childish man. As a mild oath, it is roughly on part with prat,” today’s Wikipedia says. “Git is more severe than twit or idiot, but less severe than a…”

Got it. Annie’s command of English was impressive.

Finally, she flipped her verbal knife from her right hand to her left and, using her 80 odd years of practise, delivered the final blow.

“I bet your grandfather is so proud of you,” she sneered. I know a sneer, when I hear one.

I smiled.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” I purred.

Silence. I could hear the wheels spinning. Is he saying he’s sorry? Or is he saying something else? She opted to claim victory and exit the field, her dignity intact.

“You should be sorry.”

Click.

‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ was an early lesson when I became a newspaper editor. Doing the job properly often means making some people mad. The phone calls are predictable.

‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ is perfect. You’re not saying you’re sorry, but sorry is in the sentence and sometimes that’s all that’s needed.

Sometimes.

It wasn’t for Dennis King, the new leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative party, also known as The Man Who Would Be Premier.

He had a history. It was not much of a secret. As a storyteller and comedian, he wanted people to laugh, and he wanted them to frequent his Twitter feed. Humour was his tool of choice.

It was, in a few cases, humour of a certain brand.

“Just slipped to Walmart for ink…man its like Im watching deleted scenes from Deliverance! #whackos #inbreeders.”

Another one started “C is for cookie” and went sharply downhill from there.

Let’s ignore the failure to punctuate ‘it’s’ and ‘I’m.’ His handlers knew the tweets were going to be a problem. Unless you’re Donald Trump, this kind of Twitter traffic is not likely to impress voters, especially not in an election year.

They made the right decision: Don’t delete all of it and hope it vanishes into an internet black hole. That never works. It would have turned up. It always does. Instead he owned up to it. So far, so good.

Then the wheels came off.

“Now that I look through the lens of Dennis King as the PC leader, I could see where ... people might take offence,” he said. “If you’re offended I am sorry.”

Bad move. Every reporter has used that line and knows what it means. A one-day story gained new life, ultimately forcing King to do what he should have done in the first place. Actually apologize. The story faded away.

Politicians are a lot of editors. They learn their job in public, in front of a crowd that’s sure they know how to do it better than them. Welcome aboard Mr. King.

Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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