Nick Smith reflects on his media appearances

Ever wondered what it’s like to be interviewed on the radio or television?

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Nick Smith, author of I Was Wrong: the Meanings of Apologies. Here are some of his thoughts on dropping everything for media appearances, his own radio idol, and being accused of having a speech impediment.

Jonathan Gaugler, my hard-working publicist at Cambridge, asked my to write up some thoughts about the flurry of activity since the release of I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies. This is my first book, so this is all new to me.


Diane Rehm devoted an entire show to the book on Tuesday. This may not sell as many copies as an appearance on Oprah, but for me it was even more thrilling. Diane Rehm belongs in the pantheon of great figures in contemporary media, and I don’t know of any better interviewer (although Terry Gross surely warrants similar praise). As so many programs become increasingly argumentative and paced for short attention spans, she slows down conversations and treats her guests with such grace and thoughtfulness. She listens enthusiastically, which I find to be one of the most important skills for any teacher. Over the years I have looked to her show as a model for conversations in my classrooms, so this was like meeting the master. Continue reading


Listen to Nick Smith on Diane Rehm

Here is the link to catch Nick Smith on apology. You can listen to WAMU’s archive in Real Audio or Window’s Media formats.

Parsing Spitzer’s Apology

Nick Smith is professor of Philosophy at the University of New Hampshire with a particular interest in how apologies work. He’s also a former trial lawyer for a major New York law firm. What does this mean for us? An unusually close look at Spitzer’s oft-sound-bite-ed public apology for his involvement with a prostitution ring.

He’ll be on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show tomorrow.

Watch the apology:

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Elliot Spitzer’s recent statements accompanying his resignation as governor of New York provide an occasion to reflect on the meanings of apologies. I find apologies dizzyingly complex social rituals. In I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies—published by Cambridge University Press—I identified more than a dozen kinds of meaning that we seek from gestures of contrition. Instead of worrying whether an example “is or is not” an apology, I wonder how well it serves certain purposes and to what extent it conveys certain kinds of subtle social meanings.

The book considers the many nuances and gritty details of apologetic meaning, but in general I find that asking a few simple questions can take us to the heart of the meaning of an apology: Did the offender explain what she did with an appropriate degree of specificity? Does she accept blame? Does she make clear why her actions were wrong and identify the principles she violated? Does she promise not to do it again redress the problem she caused?

These questions tend to lead to further questions about the meanings of any given apology, but they can provide some insight in Spitzer’s case.

First, Spitzer’s statements obviously admit very little. Rather than “coming clean” and confessing the details of his wrongdoing, he leaves us to speculate. He could have admitted all of the relevant facts, but instead it may require years of investigations and legal proceedings to disclose the extent of his transgressions. Or he might strike a deal that effectively ends the discussion. His repeated description of the reason for his resignation as a “private failing” seems untenable given that he is a former governor and attorney general facing charges in several federal crimes, but casting the offense in this way suggests that he may deny the prostitution-related charges and instead cast the sexual relations as an affair but not a crime. This may seem like a losing argument given the facts discussed publicly to date, but Spitzer may negotiate himself into a position to sustain this claim and avoid criminal charges. If he denies relations with a prostitute, he will not apologize for that specifically.

Continue reading

Weekly Link Round-up

It’s Friday! I don’t know about you folks, but I’ll be relaxing with the family. Always nice to see them in NYC.

What’s happened here last week? Read on:

i-was-wrong.jpgNick Smith, author of I Was Wrong has a busy few days ahead of him:

Sunday, he’ll be on CBC News Sunday‘s segment on “The Art of the Apology.”

Tuesday he will be in DC for The Diane Rehm Show.

Smith is both a philosopher interested in apologies and a former trial lawyer; suffice it to say he’ll have a lot to talk about in current politics, including the Eliot Spitzer affair. Tune in!

Far Eastern Economic Review posted a great piece about our own Bill Overholt’s Asia, America, and the Transformation of Geopolitics. Wondering whether the US is handling things well in the far East? Read on. hosted a Q&A with Susan Aaronson, author of Trade Imbalance. Aaronson discusses the always murky territory of trade and human rights.

Appellation Beer – the site and blog of author and beer lover Stan Hieronymus is reading Grape vs. Grain. He has his own thoughts about the beer/wine debate right up front today, and throughout the blog.

The excellent Good Grape is anticipating Bamforth’s book as well.