Tip for accused harassers: Your half-apology isn't working

Matt Bai
National Political Columnist
Yahoo News photo Illustration; photos: AP, Getty

For immediate release:
Another thoroughly inadequate statement from [INSERT NAME OF ONCE TRUSTED MEDIA FIGURE HERE]

Throughout my long and illustrious career, I’ve always tried to be a mentor and advocate for my female colleagues in the newsroom and to treat them with the greatest respect.

But over these past few days — or months, or I guess several years now, if you count the string of lawsuits we’ve secretly settled — some current and former employees at our institution have come forward to allege that I behaved toward them in ways that were disrespectful, insensitive and possibly felonious.

This is painful, and it has caused me to reflect deeply.

It has also caused me to contact a renowned crisis-management firm, which drafted this statement for an exorbitant amount of money, even though it came to me with an old date on it and several other journalists’ names already crossed out at the top. I’ve made some tweaks.

Let me say first that I am ashamed and embarrassed by the behavior depicted in these stories, which does not in any way represent who I truly am. I take full and categorical responsibility for my actions, even though certain specific facts may be inaccurate or not exactly the way I remember them.

I have no recollection, for example, of several of the women who claim to have worked for me, or of any woman I may have met before 2012, really. I can’t recall ever having flown in the coach section of a plane, let alone locking anyone in the bathroom at 25,000 feet.

I’m pretty sure one of my accusers is actually a Russian bot. Nonetheless, I have hurt people, and I take responsibility for that, more or less.

Let me speak to a few of the allegations.

Hard as this is to face, I recognize that at times I spoke to female colleagues in a way that was unprofessional and, I now realize, cheesy. It’s true that I once told a much younger reporter at a Christmas party, “I’m not drunk. I just find you intoxicating.” This was degrading to both of us. Also, I was most certainly drunk.

In 2012, I shared a booth at a Manhattan bar with a young woman who was then working as the research assistant on my bestselling election book, “Blood Sport: The In-Your-Face Story of Game Changiness in American Politics.” After offering some prescient career advice, I did suddenly hurl myself on top of her, after which she impaled my cheek with a fork and ran out.

This encounter was brief and ended by me. I recall that the episode left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable, as if something inappropriate might have transpired.

In 2015, I summoned a college-age intern to my hotel room in Washington, where I happened to be showering with the door open. At the time, I believed this encounter to be entirely consensual. I am saddened and chagrined to learn that I may have somehow misread the situation.

But again, I alone am largely — or at least mostly — responsible for the hurt I possibly might have caused.

I should say that at this time in my life I was struggling with issues of addiction. Specifically, I was binge-watching the Home Shopping Network, even when I knew it was affecting my work and relationships. During this time, I purchased large amounts of erotic photography, which I then shared, inadvertently, with every employee of the company.

I’ve never really understood how to use the “bcc” button, and I apologize for this.

Just to be clear, at no time as an adult did I seek out a sexual relationship with a teenage girl at the mall, or have myself photographed groping sleeping women, or boast on tape of assaulting them. I do not believe I am guilty of wrongdoing, in the criminal or civil sense of the word.

Nonetheless, these past few days have caused me to do a great deal of soul-searching with my agents and lawyers. Painfully, I’ve learned that certain behaviors that were commonplace among my role models back in the day — three-martini lunches, lewd jokes on the bulletin board, undressing in the office — are no longer acceptable in today’s world, nor should they be.

The truth, you see, is that women never really liked me until I got successful. For most of my life, I was awkward and introverted and terrible at sports. I dressed poorly. I’m not very good at reading facial expressions. I don’t floss.

But when I became a famous and influential journalist, younger women stopped walking away from me, and I felt attractive and powerful. I assumed that every woman who smiled at me must have wanted to sleep with me in all the ways I had always fantasized about.

In the past few days, I’ve come to recognize those smiles for what they really were — expressions of confusion, pity and sometimes fear.

I’ve decided to step away from my responsibilities for a while and ask myself some hard questions. Also, the lock on my office door has been changed and my badge no longer gets me onto the floor, so this seems like a good time for a break.

I’m going to stop talking and listen a lot. I’m going to enter treatment for something, somewhere.

I’m also going to make amends to the women whose lives and careers I apparently ruined. In the sage words of 38 Special: “Please forgive me and forget it, I was wrong and I admit it, why can’t we talk it over, why can’t we forget about, forget about the past.”

In closing, I regret my actions, and I take full responsibility.

At least for anything they can prove.

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