Photo from Wikimedia Commons

What was the accusation?

On September 17, 1991, AT&T experienced a major power outage at its New York City long distance switching plant, adversely affecting phone service and air traffic for several hours. Observers of the incident considered it to be a severe blow to AT&T’s reputation for reliability, not to mention a potentially disastrous scenario for the country. AT&T’s initial image repair strategy to shift the blame to its lower-level employees at the plant quickly backfired, eventually leading Richard Allen, then AT&T’s chairman, to publish a formal apology in the nation’s premier newspapers (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post). In his apology, Allen accepts responsibility for the incident on behalf of AT&T, unveils the company’s plans to rectify the situation, and seeks to bolster the company’s image as one “designed and built” to the world’s highest standards.


Key Apologia Strategies:

Mortification, Corrective Action, Bolstering






AT&T tells FCC of its plans to avoid outages in future. (1991, October 1). Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

Benoit, W. L., & Brinson, S. L. (1994). AT&T: “Apologies are not enough. Communication Quarterly, 42(1), 75-88.

Skrzycki, C., & Phillips, D. (1991, September 19). Human error led to outage, AT&T says. The Washington Post. Retrieved from