Ryan Lochte, Hillary Clinton, and Apologies

Despite some epic athletic performances by superhuman athletes, one of the biggest stories to come out of the 2016 Rio Olympics is the saga of Ryan Lochte and his three teammates being robbed at gunpoint. Was the story plausible? Sure. Rio de Janeiro and Brazil are known for high rates of crime, especially young gangs of thieves robbing both locals and tourists, as CNN reported ahead of the Olympic Games.

Only it turns out, Lochte and his fellow swimmers, under the influence of alcohol, “overexaggerated” the story as Lochte admitted to Matt Lauer in a recent interview. Instead of being robbed, the security guards were demanding money as payment for damages done by the young men at a gas station.

The story overshadowed the second week of the Olympic Games on social media and during actual news coverage of the games. Brazilian police and judges were involved, to the point of creating an international incident. In the end the truth came out, along with tears and contrition from Ryan Lochte, who confessed, “I was immature and I made a stupid mistake.”

Apology is appropriate when one tells a lie or embellishes a story and is called on it. Especially when the falsehood is newsworthy. This was not Lochte overstating his latest golf score but instead impugning the city hosting the Olympics.

Donald Trump has also been in apology mode recently. During his recent North Carolina speech, Trump expressed regret. "Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don't choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that. And believe it or not, I regret it.”

Quite the change of tone from the candidate who always doubles down rather than backing down. But an appropriate pivot for Trump whose temperament and demeanor are constantly called into question. Trump went on, “And I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”

Apologies are challenging for successful overachievers, whether a presidential candidate or a 12-time Olympic medalist. To some in the media, their apologies fell short. The Guardian described both Trump and Lochte’s words as “very public non-apologies” as they weren’t specific enough. They sure seemed specific enough to me. Lochte was apologizing for the false robbery narrative. Trump for the numerous times he went after his political opponents and critics, typically after they attacked him, whether Ted Cruz, Megyn Kelly, or Sadiq Khan.

Trump and Lochte gave far more sincere apologies than the typical celebrity “Sorry if you were offended” mea culpa. Which translates to “Sorry I was caught. If you didn’t like what I said, sorry about that. But I’m not sorry for what I actually said.”

Then there is Hillary Clinton, making the phony celebrity non-apology apologies appear sincere and contrite by comparison. Take Benghazi, for example. Instead of apologizing for the debacle responsible for four American deaths, whether by design or incompetence, she called it, “My biggest, you know, regret.” With excuses, “You make these choices based on imperfect information. And you make them to -- as we say, the best of your ability.” I didn’t hear Trump or Lochte blame “imperfect information” in their words of regret.

What about some of the other Hillary Clinton lies? That she was dead broke when leaving the White House. Or that she came under Bosnian sniper fire. Or that her grandparents were immigrants and that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary. Or that she was turned down when she tried to join the Marines. Not to mention her emails and Clinton Foundation influence peddling. These are attributed to “misspeaking” or the “fog of war.” End of story. Asked and answered. The press is happy to move on to Lochte and Trump and their “non-apologies.”

Did Mrs. Clinton apologize to the Benghazi families, or instead accuse them of lying? Did she apologize to the American people for blaming the attack on a video rather than a premeditated terror attack as she knew from the beginning?

Where is Mrs. Clinton’s prime-time, sitting-down-on-pillows interview with Matt Lauer to discuss her numerous lies and offer her contrition? Why isn’t the media demanding that she follow the lead of Donald Trump and Ryan Lochte? Instead of abruptly ending interviews as CNN did when these uncomfortable realities are brought to light.

Even the NBC weatherman Al Roker chimed in about Ryan Lochte. “He didn’t embellish, he lied” Al told his cohosts. I wonder if Al ever said such words about Hillary Clinton’s tall tales?

Some may believe Lochte and Trump didn’t go far enough. Donning a hair shirt or committing harakiri might be the only way to satisfy the anti-Lochte or NeverTrump crowd. But apologize they did. Far more than Mrs. Clinton has done. She may sit for some puffball interview with her media fanboys but she hasn’t held a press conference in 257 days.

Ryan Lochte, a cocky young athlete, sat down for a challenging interview with tough questions. Yet the woman who believes she has the temperament and experience to sit in the White House is held to a far lesser standard with only a fraction of the media scrutiny compared to the swimmer. And a totally disinterested press making excuses for her and not demanding that she come clean and tell the truth.

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based retina surgeon, radio personality, and writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 

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