Aaron Gilmore and the non-apology apology

by Toby Manhire / 02 May, 2013
Updated: The Christchurch-based list MP has learnt the hard way the perils of a "half-hearted apology".
Oh, Aaron.

Some of us remain committed to the idea that you'll be prime minister one day - destiny is destiny after all - but by God you make it hard.

Acording to a Press report, Aaron Gilmore and pals enjoyed a burst of Bacchanalia in Hanmer Springs on Saturday night, which ended with the Christchurch-based list MP squawking like a spoilt brat when refused a fifth bottle of wine. He reportedly called the waiter a "dickhead", and went a bit Reese Witherspoon, making "a comment along the lines of 'Don't you know who I am? I'm an important politician.'"

To make matters worse, the future prime minister has issued an apology on Twitter, which frankly amounts to a fraction rather less than half-arsed:

I've apologised again for any offence that may have been taken from the behaviour of my group and I that a waiter may have received on Sat.


"Any offence." "May have been taken." "May have received." In just 140 characters, Gilmore has managed to introduce three distancing elements.

Here is a prime example of the “non-apology apology”, in which the speaker “apologises for the outcome but not for the act”, according to the classifications of Israeli academic Zohar Kampf. An expert on the art of the conditional apology, Kampf studies "how public figures realise creative forms of apologetic speech in order to minimise their responsibility for misdeeds".

(Update: the perils of non-apologies have been rather brilliantly illustrated - Gilmour's effort prompted his dinner companion, lawyer Andrew Riches to issue a statement that has considerably compounded the MP's pain. It's reprinted in full at the foot of this post.)



(Update: Gilmore has issued a formal apology.)


Postscript: An afterthought. Maybe it was all just research. For guess who said:

We cannot legislate away New Zealand’s binge-drinking culture, but legislation can contribute to a culture change.


And:

We are all worried about the impacts of alcohol; we are all worried about the impacts of alcohol on young people in particular. As one of the youngest members of this House, I have recently experienced and seen many of the things that alcohol can do to young people. In my time as a young man, I have been one of the generation that has been a guinea pig for alcohol laws.


 

And:

Youth are not always the sole problem in regard to drinking. I can tell members that the most scared I have ever been in my entire life was when I was a bar manager in Christchurch, on the night of a male strip revue, and 20 middle-aged women were liquored up to the max, to the extent that I was frightened to leave the building and I locked myself in the toilet. I was the most frightened I had ever been in my entire life. When 20 drunken middle-aged women were chasing me, looking for action, I can tell members that that was the most frightening moment of my life.


 

And:

I have seen many, many middle-aged people out of control from drinking. A number of members of this House have had their problems with drinking, with drink-driving, and with other things needing professional help for their drinking.


 

And:

I enjoy a social drink with my friends and whānau, and I would hate to see a move to restrict too far the law-abiding people who wish to pick up a bottle of wine at the supermarket and enjoy it with good food, or to see a restriction on my ability to know what is the biggest special on wine at my supermarket.


***

Media statement by Andrew Riches, May 2:

I had previously intended to let this matter lie and allow Mr Gilmore to deal with the consequences of his actions. I have always enjoyed a positive relationship with Mr Gilmore however it is extremely disappointing to see that he has now attempted to shift responsibility on to others and hasapologised on behalf of his “group” rather than accepting blame for his own actions. While the group was enjoying itself, I certainly would not consider the other members to be acting in a boisterous manner nor in any other way that would bring them into disrepute.


I felt compelled to leave a private note of apology directly in relation to one incident at the conclusion of the night where Mr Gilmore attempted to use his status as a Member of Parliament to his own advantage once he had been denied further alcohol service. He threatened to have the Prime Minister’s Office intervene and end the waiter’s employment. His business card was presented to verify his identity. This was extremely embarrassing. Our service that night had been outstanding and I held the staff in the highest regard. After Mr Gilmore departed I was left to explain to the staff member that the powers of a backbench list MP are rather limited, do not extend to the firing of restaurant staff and that his job was safe. To causing a hard working and professional staff member to needlessly fear for his employment is totally unjustified and unbefitting a personholding public office.


By the time this incident occurred the remainder of our party had left the restaurant and were not connected to these events in anyway, I consider attributing blame to any other person to be completely unjustified. I had hoped that this would be a private matter to be resolved between Mr Gilmore and the staff member involved , however given the level of media interest and the half hearted apology of Mr Gilmore I consider it prudent to have the facts set out in full to prevent other persons being unfairly tarnished by the actions of Mr Gilmore.


Andrew Riches

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