NICE of NBC to make room in its innovative Sunday Night Football halftime show (it's four guys sitting around a table, but...only two of them are ex-jocks! And they aren't all yelling all the time! ) for an Al Michaels taped interview with Pats owner Robert Kraft (opening question: "Bob, did you have any knowledge of this practice before this week?" surprising answer: "Of course I did, Al. I've been directing it for years from my personal nuclear sub. There's just something so exciting about it. I started peeping into girls' restrooms when I was four, you know"). Because god knows in the roughly two hours of football I'd watched to that point--just football, no pre-game, halftime, or Sunday morning analysis type--I'd heard only twenty minutes or so of low-cal apologias for systematic electronic cheating of the remarkably hubristic American sort. In a game! We can no longer expect all our fellow citizens to agree that a game should be played by the rules.
Don't get me wrong. It's nice to see the Corporate Apology Kabuki in action every now and then. It reminds us why we have a Fourteenth Amendment.
One of the unexpected insights of old age is this: in a Universe of constant change, the only changes that actually matter to people are the ones which are beneath insignificance. If you buy a new suit, the third time you wear it in public young people will nudge each other and snigger at the ancient relic you've draped yourself in. A supreme non-talent like Ms Spears fumbles and stumbles her way through a lip-sync'd stroll among professional dancers--which aside from her inexplicably fascinating personal life is her one claim to fleeting fame--and the whole country goes out of its collective gourd. Yet the administration runs a Reader's Digest version of Vietnam and gets re-elected in the teeth of it a year-and-a-half later.
Corporate Apology Kabuki did not originate with corporations, for the simple reason that corporations never used to have to apologize for anything (this was known as The Golden Age). In fact, like every form of evil in this life, Apology Kabuki traces to the Republican party, specifically to Richard Nixon's "Checkers speech" of 1952. Still, whatever else Richard Nixon was, a style-setter he wasn't, and the Kabuki Apology languished for decades before it was revived by Love Boat star and nose-candy enthusiast Lauren "Julie" Tewes, who turned her own coked-up Disco diva firing from the show--still among Aaron Spelling's finest work, in my estimation--into a bizarre multilingual combination mea culpa and cause célèbre in which Uncle Sigmund's Peruvian Coca Flakes bore much of the responsibility but Ms Tewes' own nostrils came out relatively clean. The Reagan-era version of Demon Rum must have worked, even if Tewes never did again, since before long every celebrity with a parking ticket was heading off to rehab instead of a California penal farm like Bob Mitchum and Lila Leeds did.
The only real refinements in Apology Kabuki in the twenty years since has been the non-apology apology ("I'm sorry if anyone was offended...") and the increasing popularity of prescription drugs as the cocktail du jour for those over twenty-five.
And yet the thing still works, and has only this year begun to show any age lines, when a section of the public took umbrage at the fact that Paris Hilton's sentence for "Illegally Parking On Top Of a Photographer While Suspended and Coked To the Gills" was "24 hours in Sensible Shoes". (Still, she got off with a promise to Larry King that she'd start serving God just as soon as her other options evaporated.) Even intelligent bloggers who shall remain nameless (cough Poor Man cough) fell into a See, a Sportswriter Agrees With Me! reverie of a sort which could barely be excused if one were, in fact, under retainer as the Patriots' attorney. I like sportswriters, as a class, and King Kaufman is an excellent one as well as a pretty good trial lawyer. But "Everybody Does It" is not a defense. "You Could Do the Same Thing Some Other Way" is worse, and "The NFL Has Too Many Rules" is just risible. The Pats were caught blatantly doing something for the third time, despite a league office memo expressly warning everyone about it. Common sense would seem to dictate that when an organization does that sort of thing despite clear-cut warnings it is not under some coke-induced emotional imperative. It does so because it sees some advantage to be gained which is not available by all those "other methods". I've got nothing against homer and fellow-traveller excuse mongering, but could you check the emotionalism long enough to not insult everyone's intelligence? Belichick issues an apology without saying what it's for. According to Kraft he told the Commissioner he had misunderstood the rules, by which, one is justified in suspecting, he meant the question of whether they applied to him. Then Kraft gets ten minutes of prime-time air to hit batting practice off Michaels, and his first answer is, Gawsh, Al, I didn't know the first thing about it despite the fact that we'd been caught at it twice before.
Kraft went on, by the way, to offer a league-record 108-yard "no comment" in response to the rumor that Belichick had that very afternoon been given a new contract. I left the room at that point, not because I felt insulted, but because I suspected he was about to announce Free Videophone Day at Gillette Stadium next week, and I needed a drink. And some coke.