We all say, and do, stupid things all the time. We choose the wrong words, hurt the ones we love (and especially the ones we don’t). But if, and when, we apologize, it’s usually a personal thing. When you’re a celebrity, though, and the things you say and do are recorded for posterity by the Internet, it sometimes calls for a public apology.
And the art of the apology is just that: an art. When it comes to celebs, the “I’m sorry” can be a engineered as a career-saving gesture, or the result of some serious soul searching. Or some combination of the two.
That appeared to be the case this month when Justin Bieber and Jonah Hill were both caught on tape using derogatory terms. In Bieber’s case, it was a video of him at 15 telling an N-word-laced joke, and for Hill it was lashing out at a paparazzo by calling the photographer a homophobic slur.
Both men apologized quickly and, by all accounts, sincerely, for their missteps.
So what was it about their apologies that helped the stars earn back some trust and good will? Here are the four ways Jonah and Justin nailed the art of the sincere apology:
1. Move Fast
Less than 12 hours after the offending tape showed up online, Hill used a previously scheduled appearance on Howard Stern’s Sirius/XM satellite radio show — where he was supposed to plug “22 Jump Street” to offer a heartfelt apology. Later that day, he did the same on “The Tonight Show,” confronting the issue head-on and verging on tears before getting to the funny.
Similarly, Bieber, who has had to apologize for his share of indiscretions over the years, issued a rapid response to the scandal, calling his comments “childish” and inexcusable” in a statement to TMZ.
Then, Bieber apologized once more just a few days later when a second video in which he used the N-word in a joking manner was leaked. That led to a second, Bible-quoting apology and some words from JB’s longtime manager, Scooter Braun.
2. Don’t Make Excuses
Bieber made note that he was only 15 at the time and said, “As a young man, I didn’t understand the power of certain words and how they can hurt.” At the time, he said, he thought it was OK to repeat hurtful words and jokes, not realizing that his use of them was just perpetuating ignorance.
Hill called the photographer who had been baiting him with personal insults and jabs at his family all day a “f—-t.” But the actor soon admitted he had “played into exactly what [the photog] wanted and lost my cool. … In that moment, I said a disgusting word that does not at all reflect how I feel about any people. … I’m not at all defending my choice of words.”
Some of Bieber’s fans weren’t sure after the second video leak, though Hill’s mea culpas seemed to quiet down his incident pretty quickly.
Importantly, both men said their regret in no way excused their actions. Even with those steps, sometimes the damage is difficult to come back from. Take, for instance, actor Isaiah Washington, who is still trying to re-boot his career after referring to one of his former “Grey’s Anatomy” co-stars with a gay slur in 2006.
3. Make It Clear Why This Is So Not You
“I take my friendships with people of all cultures very seriously and I apologize for offending or hurting anyone with my childish and inexcusable mistake,” Bieber told TMZ. The singer has long shared his home with rappers Lil Za and Lil Twist and has walked boxing champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. to the ring several times; those celebs happen to be African-American. The boxing TMT boss defended his young charge’s indiscretion.
Bieber, who has been mentored by the likes of Usher, has spent the past few years hanging with rappers and clearly immersing himself in black culture and music, which might have been why Ice Cube told MTV News he suspects Bieber’s childish words were just that.
Hill said he’s been a defender of gay rights since “the womb,” and noted in both interviews that he has friends and family members who are gay and very dear to his heart. “Words have weight and meaning, and the word I chose was grotesque. And no one deserves to say or hear words like that,” he told “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon. “How you mean things doesn’t matter … my heart’s broken and I genuinely am deeply sorry to anyone who’s ever been affected with that term in their life.”
4. Turn That Negative Into A Positive
Knowing that he has many young fans who’ve grown up on his comedy, Hill also took a minute while talking to Fallon to send a message out to that audience. “If someone says something that hurts your or angers you, use me as an example of what not to do,” he said. “And don’t respond with hatred or anger. Because you’re just adding more ugliness to the world.”
Justin also tried to pay his mistake forward by making a plea to learn from his stumble. “Ignorance has no place in our society and I hope the sharing of my faults can prevent others from making the same mistake in the future,” he said. “I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say but telling the truth is always what’s right. Five years ago I made a reckless and immature mistake and I’m grateful to those close to me who helped me learn those lessons as a young man. Once again….I’m sorry.”