This is disturbing. Last week, SSM Health Care issued an absolutely straightforward apology for operating on the wrong side of a patient’s brain.
“SSM Health Care and SSM St. Clare Health Center sincerely apologize for the wrong-site surgery in our operating room,” wrote the president and chief executive of SSM Health Care-St. Louis. Chris Howard went on to state, “This was a breakdown in our procedures, and it absolutely should not have happened.”
Where were the lawyers? Where were the public relations strategists? Where was the weasel language?
Apologies are an art form. You have to say things like “if anyone was offended by the fact that we operated on the right side of the patient’s brain instead of the left side, we are in regretful mode. But you know what? We did the correct procedure a few days later, no charge.”
This is an outrage. Whatever happened to “never apologize, never explain?” What if no-nonsense apologies become the norm? What if honesty becomes a trend?
What we might hear then
We’d like to apologize for spending the entire legislative session fooling around with gun laws. A lot of our constituents, believe it or not, think that jack-booted government thugs are coming for their guns. Heck, some legislators actually think that. We’ve got to pander to them if we want to keep our jobs, which is clearly our top priority.
I apologize for suggesting that use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces would be a “red line” that would trigger U.S. or NATO action. I was just trying to be dramatic. It was a Cheney moment, and I’m sorry. As evil as Bashar Assad’s regime is, he’s got me between a rock and a hard place. We could arm the opposition, but a lot of them are Islamists with ties to al-Qaida. We could take out the chemical weapons dumps, but then what? Invade? Spend another trillion dollars, get a bunch of U.S. troops killed, stay in the middle of a civil war for 10 years? I don’t think so.
We apologize for hammering the president on Syria. We know he doesn’t have any good options. We’re just trying to get him to screw up so we can beat up on him.
We apologize for gutting the disclosure provisions in the STOCK Act, the bill that bans federal officials and their staff members from trading on inside information we gather in the course of our duties. We’re really sorry that we claimed that disclosing this information would be a national security risk. The truth is, making money off insider knowledge is a nice perk. But don’t worry: Insider trading is still illegal, we just don’t have to make it public.
We apologize for ignoring our own sequester rules and fully staffing the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control centers. Sure, people are going without cancer drugs and meals on wheels, but we fly a lot and so do people who give us money. We don’t want to be inconvenienced.
We apologize to our student who was attacked in the restroom, for releasing the guy who attacked her and not saying anything about it until the victim complained. We apologize for forcing the college president to resign without saying whether he had anything to do with the cover-up. We apologize for trying to look transparent without actually, you know, being transparent. We’re going to hold safety forums because we’re working really hard to look sincere.
We apologize for asking you to believe that we loaded up all of our pension costs on a new company that we spun off and now we’re shocked, shocked that five years later, the new company is in bankruptcy.
We the American people apologize for the fact that even though 60 percent of us voted in last year’s election, only 39 percent of us can name even one Supreme Court justice and 41 percent of us can’t name the vice president of the United States. We apologize for the fact that even though Syria is all over the news, 50 percent of us can’t locate it on a world map. We apologize for bashing immigrants even though 38 percent of us flunked the citizenship test that immigrants have to take. On the other hand, 86 percent of us know and like Betty White. USA! USA!
Kevin Horrigan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Readers may write to him at: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 900 North Tucker Blvd., St. Louis, Mo. 63101, or email him at email@example.com.
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