Louis C.K.’s Apology

Since the recent publications about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged serial sexual misconduct, there has been a wave of stories about others who have allegedly committed sexual misconduct.  The comedian Louis C.K. is one of the men who has been accused.  He publicly acknowledged that the accusations were true and apologized.

Political science professor Nancy D. Wadsworth wrote a column in the Washington Post entitled, Louis C.K.’s Apology Is Imperfect. But it Is Still Important.

After discussing the roles and rituals of apologies in various cultures, she analyzes Louis C.K.’s apology:

“C.K., meanwhile, has had a reputation as a male feminist comedian.  His work has focused on his own self-debasement and feelings of inadequacy, acknowledging that women face danger when dealing with men;  he has publicly and financially endorsed female writers and comedians.  For many who believed this reputation, his misdeeds feel like especially painful betrayals at the social level.

“These same factors give his apology potential power as a counterpoint to Weinstein’s, O’Reilly’s, Moore’s, and many others’ refusals to acknowledge wrongdoing.  C.K.’s fans wanted his admissions to be serious and specific.  Many are disappointed, pronouncing his statement too self-centered, a non-apology, or inadequately attuned to the dynamics of what some feminists refer to as “rape culture.”

“Here’s What’s Important in an Apology

“C.K. addresses his victims directly;  confirms the truth of the accusations without arguing;  attempts to express understanding (however belated) of how he abused his influence;  and accepts the losses he’s incurred, including canceling his creative projects, in order to “step back and take a long time to listen.”  He doesn’t deny responsibility by pleading mitigating circumstances like sex addiction or by questioning his accusers’ motives.”

Apologies are important issues in dispute resolution.  Last year, I wrote several posts on this subject, analyzing some apologies – actually “non-apology apologies” – in the news.  Whatever one thinks of the merits of Mr. C.K.’s apology, I don’t see it as a non-apology.

Here’s the first post in my series about non-apologies and here’s the second one.  This third post discussed ethical implications for law students, law professors, and lawyers.  It addresses situations when lawyers themselves participate in wrongdoing, which clearly is prohibited – though often hard to resist under pressure.

Some of the recent stories of serial sexual predators prompted me to think about situations where lawyers did not participate in the misconduct but enabled it by legally protecting the abusers in various ways.  One way is negotiating settlements with strict confidentiality provisions.

In a separate post, I discuss lawyers’ ethical responsibility when negotiating settlements on behalf of serial wrongdoers – sexual and otherwise.


11 thoughts on “Louis C.K.’s Apology”

  1. In my dispute mediation class this semester, particularly during the mediation portion, I actually began to wonder whether apologies were simply an archaic holdover of past dispute resolution practices.

    In class we both watched a mediation and participated in a mock mediation where an apology was one of the main subjects of the mediation. However, these were staged environments. Based on my observations of of situations like Louis C.K.’s and others like him, I am beginning to suspect that the apology has devolved into a simple formality without actual meaning and serves more value as a “face-saving” mechanism to the wrongdoer then as any sort of benefit to the victim. This is of particular concern in the world of celebrities where victims can become expected to make formal statements of accepting an apology.

    What I really would like to point to a the main source of devaluation of the apology are the comments from those who criticized the apologies of Louis C.K. and others. We as a culture are skeptical of an apology. For an apology to work as a actual tool of healing and anything more than a formality I suspect it has to be accepted fully by those receiving it. If there is any realistic doubt in the mind of a victim receiving an apology of its sincerity, I suspect the apology has no value. The skeptics and critics of Louis C.K. apology shows us that maybe the society we live in today doesn’t truly value an apology or may be incapable of accepting one without suspicion of its sincerity.

    What this comes down to is I worry that lawyers in dispute resolution may simply see an apology as a tool in the pocket for “expanding the pie” and fail to recognize its actual value is not what it use to be or what we assume it to be.

  2. The misdeeds of Louis C.K. were completely unacceptable and contribute to a issue that has continued to rapidly unfold as of late. The continuation of more and more woman finding the courage to publicly express their past experiences has shined light on how bad the issue of harassment is. However, I do not see Louis C.K.’s apology as a non-apology. While what Louis C.K. did was completely groundless, taking responsibility to confess to his wrongdoings and addressing his accusers directly is something not many others have done. Completely denying allegations, or even trying to justify them with something like addiction, makes matters even worse for those that have been abused. Additionally, his history of being a “male feminist comedian” may be completely shattered by the accusations, and I think he felt a tremendous amount of pressure to immediately take responsibility for his actions. Whether his apology was influenced by pressure or not, realizing his actions have seriously impacted a large amount of people is one thing is can control at this point in time, and I think his apology shows that at least somewhat. If anything at all, his apology may scratch the surface of regaining the public’s trust and show he recognizes a sense of remorse.

    I think apologies are a very useful tool in dispute resolution, especially in mediation contexts. Sometimes an apology can be a catalyst for positive relations going forward, or even be what one party really sought in the first place. Ultimately, the weight of an apology may hold more than meets the eye, and it should never be forgotten as an option.

  3. Although I agree that Louis C. K.’s apology is not a non-apology, ultimately it is hard to tell where the motivation for the apology came from. While his words seem sincere and his apology was well spoken, it seems that the apology came at a time of great pressure on him. This is significantly different than an apology coming at a time when there was not great pressure. It increases the likelihood that the apology might have been as much for him to mitigate pressure, as it was for the people he is apologizing to. This does not mean the apology was a non-apology or even a bad one. What it does mean is that the apology could carry less weight than one that was not potentially motivated by pressure to come forward. Ultimately in this case I think the apology, while still a necessary step, matters less than the actions Louis C.K. takes on his “step back” to listen for a long time.

  4. I find it extremely disheartening that so many allegations of sexual misconduct within Hollywood have been alleged in the wake of claims against Harvey Weinstein. As a woman, I find it appalling that so many women have been treated so terribly, however I commend their bravery for coming out and telling their stories.
    In terms of Louis C. K. ‘S apology, I cannot attest to the substance or sincerity of his apology being that I have not actually seen or read it. I do not condone what this individual did, but I think it is refreshing that he took responsibility for his actions and issued a public apology. He could have easily made up some sort of excuse or denied the allegations against him, but instead he chose to face them.
    Like the author has noted above, I think that this apology is significant. For one thing, it might provide some closure for Louis C. K. ‘S victims. Nothing he says will ever take away their pain, or remedy the terrible behaviors that he engaged in, but if anything, it might give them some piece of mind. Also, perhaps others who have engaged in alleged sexual misconduct will follow in Louis C. K. ‘S footsteps. I can only hope that allegations of such unacceptable behavior will decrease over time, but regardless, I hope that Louis C. K. ‘S actions set a precedent. In the end, people that believe that it is permissible to sexually harass others need to know (1) that their behaviors will not be tolerated, (2) their powerful status will not shield them from prosecution, and (3) they will be held accountable for their actions.

  5. While it is entirely troubling to see the extent of sexual harassment allegations running through Hollywood, we are likely only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Though I do agree that Louis C.K.’s apology does have some troubling aspects to it, namely focusing on himself instead of aiming more light onto the victims, I feel it is a good starting point. As mentioned in some of the other posts, Louis C.K. is unique in his full acceptance of his wrongdoing and is trying to take time to reflect on his actions and change for the better. Based on this, I do not see this as a non-apology, I see it more as setting a foundation towards forgiveness and understanding. This is important because unlike his contemporaries who have also been accused, he chose not to hide or create a larger dispute, but instead addressed the problem and created an avenue for discussion and healing, which is the ultimate goal of an apology and the resolution of a dispute.

  6. This Washington Post article catalogs different elements of non-denial denials.

    Here’s another story from the Washington Post: “The recent tide of apologies by famous men has been ‘awful.’ Here’s what experts think they should have said. The near-daily sexual misconduct allegations have spawned a head-turning stream of apologies, statements that experts say have been generally self-serving and aimed at the public more than the victims.”

  7. The number of celebrities in Hollywood that have been accused of sexual misconduct is troubling, and the lack of apologies and the amount of excuses for these actions is even more troubling. Louis C.K. took a different road and apologized. I do not look at his apology as a “non-apology.” He addressed his victims, did not make any excuses, and admitted his wrongs, all which are necessary for an apology. Although an apology is not likely to make these victims whole again, it is a step in the right direction in terms of rape culture in Hollywood.

    I agree that apologies are important when it comes to dispute resolution. Many times, people who are wronged and end up bringing suit against someone is because of the hurt they feel. Sometimes an apology is all they are looking for, or it could be a step towards a settlement. The tension and distrust between parties can put up a wall that prevents negotiations or mediations from being successful, sometimes an apology can break down that wall and help parties be willing to settle.

  8. As sexual assault and harassment claims run rampant through the Hollywood elite; I think it is fitting to sit back and take into account that Louis C.K. owned up to his misconduct and apologized for it. Unlike Weinstein, who has been denying the allegations, C.K. released a statement saying the statements against him were true. Like Ms. Wadsworth and Mr. Lande point out, this apology was very important not just for his victims but for the community as a whole. As a female, these allegations against Hollywood elite have been particularly hard to swallow as it is hard to imagine so many men in power took advantage of all the women around them. However, I am also happy to hear C.K. did not deny the allegations and instead took responsibility for his actions. As Mr. Lande points out, in dispute resolution an apology is key and quite often is what the “victim” or wronged person wants. They want the wrongdoer to understand what they did was wrong and to repent their actions. While an apology cannot put these women back in the position they were in before they were harassed, in my opinion, it is a step in the right direction. By apologizing immediately instead of denying the allegations, the wrongdoer more quickly repairs trust in the community and gives the impression he actually feels sorry for his misconduct.

  9. At a time when people can hide behind their screens and post anything on social media without having to deal with repercussions of it. We have put less weight on written apologies because we cannot see the person express remorseful expression through body language, therefore in this instance, Louis C.K.’s apology did not carry the weight that he might have anticipated. As Mr. Lande notes though, it is important to acknowledge one’s wrongdoing and attempt to regain the public trust after such damaging information has been released. If there is a dispute between the victims and Louis C.K. after this, then they will have some foundation to work from after he issued the apology. Might have not been the best apology but it was important to attempt to regain the trust if they want to resolve any potential dispute.

  10. The actions of Louis C. K. over his career are atrocious. It is crazy that a man who many had though would never be involved in these types of allegations is actually the subject of sexual allegations.

    I agree with Mr. Lande on the importance of an apology in dispute resolution. Sometimes an apology is all that one wants to resolve a dispute. Sometimes that apology is also one of the hardest things to get also. People sometimes don’t want to concede that they did wrong because of self-pride or because they think they can finagle their way out of being convicted or proven committing a wrongful act.

    In this case, the apology may be lacking but the sense that an apology was made by Louis C. K. make things better for this issue than if Louis C. K wouldn’t have issued an apology.

  11. There is no question that Louis C.K.’s actions were wrong. What he did will follow him for the rest of his life and, frankly, it should, but I do agree that his apology is not a non-apology. One of the most interesting aspects of his apology was him going to bat for his manager, Dave Becky, by saying Becky was trying to mediate the situations with the victims. When I first read the apology, I could not figure out why Louis brought him up but after other clients of Becky have dropped him, it made complete sense. It goes to show how much harm these sexual harassment issues are going to cause not only the accused, but also those around them.

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