The Hardest Word

Elton John released Blue Moves, his second double album, the year I started college. The previous year he had fired his long-time bassist and drummer, taken on an unknown keyboardist by the name of James Newton-Howard1, formed his own record company, and simply grown weary of fame and touring. The results were less guitars and more keyboards, less rock and more pop, less fun and more depression.

The album was promptly crucified by critics and fans alike. A friend (and fellow Elton fan) from high school and I car-pooled to UTA our freshman year, and I remember several conversations revolving around the horridness of Blue Moves. The Elton we knew was the Elton of “Funeral for a Friend,” of “The Witch2 is Back,” and “Madman Across the Water”. The Elton on Blue Moves was like walking into a piano concert on a cruise ship.

The album only had one hit, but it made it to #1 in the US, a fact probably attributed more to Elton’s popularity (he ruled the music charts in the late 70’s) than the quality of the song. I didn’t think much of it then, I don’t think much of it now3, but there are those who think it’s wonderful. Regardless, it provides a fitting backdrop for today’s subject.

It’s sad (so sad), so sad
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s getting more and more absurd

Driving Usain Bolt from the headlines late this week was a bizarre story from US swimmer Ryan Lochte and some teammates. He claimed they had been pulled over by a fake police car, robbed, and his teammates had been forced to lie on the ground. In his telling of the tale, he had bravely refused to do so, whereupon the robber had put a cocked gun to Lochte’s forehead.

As it turns out, of course, none of it was true. They hadn’t been robbed, they had gotten out at a gas station, peed against the building when they couldn’t find a restroom, pulled a framed advertisement off the side of the building and possibly torn a door off its hinges (that part’s still not clear), and then tried to leave. No one’s saying, but it’s pretty clear they were drunk.

Which brings us to today, where it’s being widely reported that Lochte has “apologized” for his behavior in Rio.

As it turns out, that isn’t true, either.

Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word

Here’s what an apology looks like:

I’m sorry I got drunk, publicly peed on a building, and defaced private property.
I’m sorry I tried to get out of it by issuing a bald-faced lie to the media in an effort to gain sympathy instead of the criticism I deserved.
I’m sorry I got the heck out of town as fast as I could and left my teammates to deal with the after-effects of my lies.
I’m sorry I continued to lie even after having been caught in my lies.
I’m sorry I brought shame to the city of Rio, the Olympics, the US Olympic Committee, and my fellow athletes, instead of accepting the consequences of my stupid actions.

Here’s what Lochte’s statement looks like. There may or may not be some commentary sprinkled in.

I want to apologize for my behavior last weekend (what behavior?) — for not being more careful and candid (IOW, lying)
It’s traumatic to be out late (drunk) with your friends in a foreign country — with a language barrier — and have a stranger point a gun at you (after you’ve defaced their property and tried to flee the scene)

(You can find the whole statement pretty easily online. I’m not going to link to it out of general principle.)

That is a lot of things, but the one thing it is not is an apology. Let’s all stop calling it one.

I hereby call on all media members to refer to this statement, and all others like it issued by anyone else in the future, as a damage control statement.

Lochte issues Damage Control Statement on Gas Station Incident
Ryan Lochte Damage Controls ‘For Not Being More Careful’ in Explaining ‘Traumatic’ Rio Incident
Rio Olympics Committee Accepts Ryan Lochte’s Damage Control
Ryan Lochte Damage Controls ‘For My Behavior’ After Rio Robbery Claim

Those are all real headlines, adjusted for our new (desired) reality.

If you’re in the media, know someone in the media, were in high school with someone in the media, pass it on.

“Sorry” might be the hardest word, but in these cases, it’s the right one.


  1. Yes, that James Newton-Howard.
  2. With a capital “B”; once upon a time, saying that word on the air was a big deal.
  3. When I purchased his Number Ones album last year, I didn’t bother downloading track 9.

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