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Rob Ford, James Moore, and political apologies

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In recent days we have had two politicians apologizing for comments they wish they hadn't made. Rob Ford, yet again – how many times is that, and also this week, Federal Industry Minister James Moore.

It's interesting to look at both of these apologies from a communications point of view, with the question – do they suffice or is it damage done?

First, an interesting parallel is they both came reluctantly, not something that suggests sincerity, which is something an apology should be going for.  

With Ford, the apology came after first refusing to apologize and in fact repeating his insinuation that a Toronto Star reporter was a pedophile. With Moore, the apology didn't come until after he accused the media of taking him out of context.

Why the turnaround? With Ford it took a libel threat. With Moore, it took an audiotape that showed he did in fact say what the media said he said.

But they did eventually apologize even if they didn't want to, so the question is, were they sufficient to undo the damage?

With Ford, does it matter? He has zero credibility so it is unlikely anybody except the extremely ill informed would take anything he says seriously anyway. At this point the libel suit is going ahead. I'm no lawyer but I wonder if a defense argument might be that since his credibility is so poor, his comment didn't cause any reputational damage to the reporter. Wouldn't that be ironic – winning in court because you're a habitual liar?

With James Moore it's more serious. His apology is for his reply to a question on child poverty. His response was basically that children going hungry aren't his problem. The exact quote: “Is it my job to feed my neighbour's child? I don't think so.”

As you might expect, opposition politicians and many left-leaning members of the public were quick to jump on him for being callous.  And not only him – some saw his comment as an honest glimpse into the heart of the Harper government.

He later made an apology that seemed sincere, at least compared to Ford's, but that's the thing with apologies – they are contingent on who is making them and how that person is perceived by those who hear it. For those who believe the Harper government could care less about hungry kids, Moore's comment simply fuelled that perception and any apology is simply dismissed as damage control.

But even to non-partisans, no matter how carefully your apology is worded, and this one was worded well, he still said, in so many words, that hungry children aren't his problem, and he has to live with that. For a federal politician, and in this case one who may have eyes on a leadership run, it will be hard to walk away from. Tantamount to trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube some might say, especially when there will be rival politicians who will not forget, and will be more than ready to remind others so they don't either.

Apologies only go so far. 

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