Public apologies are almost an everyday occurrence in today’s society, from CEOs to celebrities incidents and accidents happen. When something goes publicly wrong, there is a fine art to executing a genuine apology and maintaining damage control. With the case of YouTuber Laura Lee, her recent apology came six years after the initial incident. She was forced to apologize for after racist Tweets from 2012 came to light.
Dr. Kevin Stein, professor of communication at Southern Utah University and expert in defense rhetoric, typically gauges the effectiveness of an apology by the structure and language used by the apologist as well as audience reaction to the apology.
“Laura Lee lost 200,000 of her 4 million subscribers following the release of her racist Tweet. After her apology, if we found she was able to recoup many of those fans and that her scandal disappeared from the news cycle, we might say it evidence that her apology worked. But we also have to look at whether or not her apology worked based on the strategies that she used, whether they contradicted each other, and if the words she chose demonstrate real remorse or instead try to excuse her behavior or soften the harm she has done.”
Dr. Stein believes that in Laura Lee’s case, she did do several things well; she repeats that she is sorry and she doesn’t make any excuses for what she has done.
“However, her displays of emotion don’t feel authentic. She gives off a strong vibe that she is really upset that her fans are disappointed in her, rather than being sorry for the harm she caused to the African-American community. She’s very upset that she is under attack for her behavior and not upset for the behavior itself.”
Though YouTube is a newer channel for apologies, Dr. Stein believes the content of the messages is fundamentally the same as traditional avenues.
“The apologies only differ in terms of the form or style of them. The apologist's nonverbal cues are different in terms of the somber or even sometimes tearful demeanor. The apologists act like they are facing a judge and jury, although they are really just placing themselves at the mercy of their fans in a very public and visible way.”
“William Benoit, who wrote the book Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies, argues that there are fourteen primary strategies people use when they defend themselves against harmful attacks. People explaining their mistakes rarely deviate from these fourteen strategies.”
Dr. Stein’s research focuses primarily on the rhetoric of attack (kategoria), defense (apologia), and persuasive responses to defense (antapologia). He has published numerous articles addressing a variety of apologetic contexts, as well as books and peer-reviewed articles analyzing political campaign messages.
Dr. Stein is familiar with the media and available for an interview. Simply visit his profile.
Kevin Stein Director MAPC Program/Professor of Communication
Specializing in the rhetoric of attack, apology, and responses to apology as well as political campaign communication.