Apologia Terminology and Examples




Simple denial: Person argues “I didn’t do it.”

 Example – US Air following charges in NYT that planes are unsafe: “Our planes are safe…This is validated each and every day by federal regulators who fly with us, inspect our maintenance facilities and review our records.”






Shifting responsibility: Person shifts blame to someone or something else.

Example – Nixon shifted the blame for the Watergate break-in: “In both domestic and foreign policy, 1972 was a year of crucially important decisions, of intense negotiations, of vital new directions…That is why I decided as the 1972 campaign approached, that the Presidency should come first and politics second. To the maximum extent possible, therefore, I sought to delegate campaign operations, to remove day-to-day campaign decisions from the President’s office and from the White House.”





Provocation: Person argues he/she was pushed into doing it.

Example – Zinedine Zidane after deliberately head butting an opponent in the chest at the World Cup: “You hear them once and you try to move away. But then you hear them twice, and then a third time. I am a man and some words are harder to hear than actions. I would rather have taken a blow to the face than hear that.”




Defeasibility: Person argues that he/she didn’t have enough knowledge or that the events were out of his/her control.

Example – Tonya Harding after her boyfriend and bodyguard hired an assailant to break rival Nancy Kerrigan’s leg prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics: “Everything just happened so fast.”





Accident: Person argues he/she didn’t mean to do it.

Example – Reagan on the Iranian arms deal that sent funding to the Contras: “I believed then and believe now that there was greater risk in doing nothing, in not trying…It’s obvious that the execution of these policies was flawed and mistakes were made.”




Good intentions: Person argues he/she meant to do well, but it didn’t work out.  The strategy requires less justification than transcendence.

Example – Chairman of Sears after its auto division was accused of selling unneeded parts and services: “Sears wants you to know that we would never intentionally violate the trust customers have shown in our company for 105 years. I don’t believe there were any willful overcharges.”




Bolstering: Person discusses his/her positive attributes to offset negative perceptions.

Example – After a serious long distance outage in New York in 1991, Chairman of ATT Richard Allen: “We have designed and built our systems to the world’s highest standards.”






Minimization: Person argues the act isn’t as bad as it might first appear.

Example – Exxon after oil tanker Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska: “We do not expect major environmental damage as a result of the spill.”






Differentiation: Person attempts to distinguish the act from other similar, but less desirable actions.

Example – Washington State basketball coach Dick Bennett after a loss to the Washington Huskies said his team was “trying to play the game at a major college level
without major college players.” He defended his statement: “The longer we’re in it, the less we think it’s a major faux pas to say something. Saying a kid screwed up is not like saying they’re a bad person.”






Transcendence: Person places the harmful act in a more positive context.

Example – Clinton was asked whether info about the draft would hurt his chances in the New Hampshire primary: “The people of this state are fundamentally fair, they’re hurting, they desperately want this election to be about their tomorrows, their future, their problems, not about my yesterdays.”






Attack the accuser: Person diverts attention to those making the attack.

Example – Dow Corning was under attack for the safety of their silicone breast implants (article in NYT). They respond that the contents of the article are a “total mischaracterization of the facts and distracted from the real issues.”






Compensation: Person offers a “payoff” to victim(s) to offset negative perceptions.

Example – USS Greenville (Navy) collided with a Japanese trawler killing nine people. Paid $60 million to bring up remains and 13.9 million for damages to the boat.









Corrective Action: Person attempts to rectify past damage and/or prevent its recurrence.

Example – Union Carbide experienced a gas leak that killed 2000 people and injured 200,000 in Bhopal, India. Afterwards, they provided 1) $830,000 for relief and treatment 2) opened orphanages 3) medical supplies.







Mortification: Person admits responsibility and asks for forgiveness.

Example – Trent Lott after making a comment at retiring senator Strom Thurmond’s birthday party that “we wouldn’t have all these problems” if Thurmond had been elected in 1948 (Thurmond ran on a segregationist platform): “Segregation is a stain on our nation’s soul. It represents one of the lowest moments in our nation’s history, and we can never forget that. I take full responsibility for my remarks. I only hope that people will find it in their hearts to forgive me for that grievous mistake on that occasion.”



Benoit, W. L. (1995). Accounts, excuses, and apologies: A theory of image restoration strategies. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Benoit, W. L. (2014). Accounts, excuses, and apologies: A theory of image restoration strategies (2nd ed.). Albany: State University of New York Press.