That's how Attorney General Alberto Gonzales characterized his department's handling of the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys. Bob anatomizes Washington's favorite non-apology apology.
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ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, obviously I think that there were mistakes made here, and, and I think –- BOB GARFIELD: Poor Alberto Gonzales. By the time this is heard, the attorney general of the United States could be out of a job because politically convenient prosecutions were moving at a politically inconvenient pace, and calls to prosecutors were made and threats were understood and emails were written – and prosecutors were fired.
So in the long tradition of politicians in whose hands cookies have been found, the passive voice was invoked. Because in Washington, that's how things are done. The magical construction was popularized during Watergate by Nixon spokesman Ron Ziegler and since has become a Washington tense unto itself, dubbed by CNN political analyst Bill Schneider "the past exonerative."
In January, for instance, on the subject of Iraq, the past exonerative was invoked by President Bush. PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me. BOB GARFIELD: Mind, that's not the same as "my fault." It's more like "the buck stops here." But it wasn't put here by me. [LAUGHING] I didn't even touch the thing. I mean, the thing wasn't even touched by me.
And here's Ronald Reagan in his 1986 State of the Union Address when the Iran-Contra scandal was discussed. RONALD REAGN: It's obvious that the execution of these policies was flawed, and mistakes were made. I know the stories of the past few weeks have been distressing. I am deeply disappointed this initiative has resulted in such a controversy, and I regret it's caused such concern and consternation. BOB GARFIELD: That was a special historical moment because in the non-confession were combined the past exonerative with its non-apology cousin, responsibility once removed. In that case, one need never acknowledge wrongdoing, only others' unhappiness that perhaps a wrong has been done.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger was accused of pawing a number of women, for instance, he was heard to utter the classic, I'm sorry if anyone was offended – which didn't really address his conduct but apparently was deemed more politically advantageous than, but they were so hot!
Now, it's been pointed out in the editing process that all the examples you have just heard concerned Republicans. If anyone sees this as unfair, I regret it. I accept full responsibility, but I assure you no mistakes were made. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]