The Art of the Non-Apology

TIME magazine and HBO are in the crosshairs for offending the public, but neither seems very sorry about it. 

The current cover of TIME hijacks an iconic image of World War II, the raising of the U.S. flag over Iwo Jima, and turns it into a global warming call to arms.  Veterans have expressed outrage, but TIME is unapologetic.

Also unapologetic is HBO comedian Bill Maher, who came under fire last week for slandering Pope Benedict XVI in an April 11 episode of his program Real Time with Bill Maher.  In that show (click here to read the original story) Maher called the pope a Nazi and likened the Catholic Church to a child-abusing cult.  

Maher and HBO received thousands of complaints and on April 17 HBO announced that Maher would apologize for accusing the pope of being a Nazi.

Except he didn't actually apologize.  As reported on and seen in a clip from the show posted on YouTube, Maher tried to play off the whole incident by saying his remarks came in a “comedic context” and that he was “technically” wrong.

Here is a partial transcript of what Maher said:

Last week I got into some trouble with the Catholic League, not the first time, Catholic League. (Asks audience) How many Catholic League members? Not my biggest fans. Because I said in our little essay ending the show, I said the pope -- and I looked at it again, I looked at the words carefully -- used to be a Nazi. Ok, now first of all, it was a joke, ok? We're in a comedic context, I said, 'he used to be a Nazi and he wears funny hats, and ladies he's single.'  So, right away we're in the context of a joke, ok … But you know what, you got me, ok? The pope was not a Nazi.  When he was a teenager he was in the Hitler Youth which meant that he said the oath directly to Hitler and not to the Nazis, which is sorta worse. Ok. (audience laughs) But, but wait a second, the thing that argues for their side of this is that you know what, he was coerced into that. He was a teenager; I wouldn't blame any teen – he was a fourteen year old kid in Nazi Germany? Of course he's going to do what they tell him to do. So, on that score you know what, my Catholic friends I will never make 'the pope is a Nazi joke' again. Because you're technically right, ok, and also because it distracts from the main point. And the main point I was making was that if the pope instead of a “religious figure” (air quotes) was the CEO of a chain of nationwide daycare centers who had thousands of employees who had been caught molesting children and covering it up, he would have been in jail. So, and I noticed they didn't say a word about that.

Notice there is no apology.  And reading the transcript above does not impart Maher's smug tone.  Additionally, he used the occasion to further lambast the pope despite the fact that by the time Maher's program aired the pope had publicly addressed the failures of the Catholic Church regardomg the sex abuse scandal at least three times and had met and personally prayed with some of the victims. 

But compared to TIME, Maher is a poster child for contrition.

As noted by the Business and Media Institute (BMI), TIME's April 21 cover has offended many military veterans. The picture, in a salute to Earth Day and global warming, rips off the iconic image of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima and replaces the flag with a tree.  Reporter Bryan Walsh calls green “the new red, white and blue.”

Despite the outcry from veterans, many of whom wrote directly to TIME to express their disgust, the magazine's editors won't apologize.  BMI's Jeff Poor reported on April 19 that a TIME spokesman said, “We believe this is a respectful use of this symbol of American valor and courage and serves to highlight another great challenge facing our nation.”

The liberal cry for a “war” on global warming equates to the Second World War?  The lifestyle changes they want Americans to make compares to the sacrifice of thousands of American lives on Iwo Jima?  Do the editors of TIME get to make that call, or is that best left to the men who were actually there?  If there is good news in the cover photo TIME chose, it is that it finally lets Americans know how little regard the magazine holds for the blood shed by America's true heroes.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.