Petri: Rep. Michael Grimm and the apology that wasn't
For a human named after a compiler of fairy tales, Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., seems to have a lot of anger.
"Let me be clear to you. You ever do that to me again, I'll throw you off this [bleeping] balcony," he informed reporter Michael Scotto on Tuesday night after Scotto tried to ask about a federal investigation into Grimm's campaign fundraising. He added: "I'll break you in half. Like a boy."
Talk about rage and dangling modifiers. Does Grimm routinely break boys in half? Do boys of Grimm's acquaintance commonly break reporters in half? Who's doing what to whom here?
Grimm appears to have a long and vibrant history of yelling. Not just at reporters, though Marin Cogan wrote at National Journal that he once called to yell at her and seemed extraordinarily angry. But at other people as well, as the New Yorker wrote in 2011.
Naturally, this story blew up, because which would you rather write about: another State of the Union address or someone vividly threatening a reporter on a balcony? And then there is the apology - er, apologies, since the first one went over like a lead-filled balloon flung off a balcony.
Vivid public threats are always hard to apologize for, especially when there's video. They stick in the memory. The standard political apology (I Am Sorry That The Thing I Said Made You Unexpectedly Angry, My Twitter Was Hacked, I Had No Idea That My Staff Did That, I Remember Nothing But I Love America So Much, That Money Came To Me As A Total Surprise, My Wife Did It, I Mistook The Person In Question For My Wife, or even the routine groveling I Am Nothing, You Are Wind And Water And Sky, I Am Unworthy Of Your Love, Jodie Darrrrling, Let Me Prove Worthy Of Your Love) doesn't quite fit the occasion.
The best kind of apology is the one in which you take no responsibility at all.
And, bless him, Grimm tried it.
His first statement, according to Scotto's network, NY1, read: "I was extremely annoyed because I was doing NY1 a favor by rushing to do their interview first in lieu of several other requests. The reporter knew that I was in a hurry and was only there to comment on the State of the Union, but insisted on taking a disrespectful and cheap shot at the end of the interview, because I did not have time to speak off-topic. I verbally took the reporter to task and told him off, because I expect a certain level of professionalism and respect, especially when I go out of my way to do that reporter a favor. I doubt that I am the first Member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am sure I won't be the last."
Unfortunately, this is not how reporters work. Or, for that matter, how apologies work.
A "certain level of professionalism and respect"? He threatened to throw Scotto off a balcony! What is this, the climax of "Return of the Jedi"? There is really no spin potential here. "You did not hear how I gently whispered 'a cake' between the words 'you' and 'in half'! I knew you would love half a cake!" "No, no, 'I'll throw you off the [bleeping] balcony' wasn't a threat, it was a manly compliment! If he'd been more of a man, he'd have known that. You know how Tina Fey told Amy Poehler there was a special place in hell for her? This was similar to that." Grimm had to apologize again, and the second time went better. It would, of course, have been hard to go worse.
"I was wrong. I shouldn't have allowed my emotions to get the better of me and lose my cool," Grimm wrote in a statement. "I have apologized to Michael Scotto, which he graciously accepted, and will be scheduling a lunch soon. In the weeks and months ahead I'll be working hard for my constituents on issues like flood insurance that is so desperately needed in my district post Sandy."
"I'm sure my Italian mother is going to be yelling at me saying 'You weren't raised that way,' " Grimm also noted.
Some say the indignation here is overblown. Reporters are adults, and we can handle ourselves. After all, we've watched "House of Cards." You are supposed to get yelled at while standing near ledges. It is a sign you are doing your job.
Still, on camera? Like this? An apology was definitely owed.
The good news is that the reporter is not pressing charges. The bad news is that the first thing that comes up when you hunt online for Grimm is that he refused to answer a reporter's questions about some campaign finance investigations and then threatened to throw him off a balcony. Way to stay on message, everyone.
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog at washingtonpost.com.