Celebrity Chef John Besh Apologizes

Celebrity Chef John Besh stepped down this week from the restaurant group he founded, amid a host of sexual harassment complaints naming him and other top men in his company, which employs more than one thousand people in New Orleans, San Antonio and Baltimore.

Besh issued a statement in which he acknowledged an extra-marital affair with an employee two years ago. The woman has filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Besh referred to it as a “consensual relationship.”

“Since then I have been seeking to rebuild my marriage and come to terms with my reckless actions given the profound love I have for my wife, my boys and my Catholic faith. I also regret any harm this may have caused to my second family at the restaurant group, and sincerely apologize to anyone past and present who has worked for me who found my behavior as unacceptable as I do,” he said.

“I alone am entirely responsible for my moral failings. This is not the way the head of a company like ours should have acted, let alone a husband and father. But it should not taint our incredible team of more than 1,000 employees, nor undermine our unyielding commitment to treating everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of gender, race, age and sexual preference.”

As an apology, this has some strengths, but overall, it misses the mark.

Here are some strengths:

  • “I regret…”, “I apologize” — These words are essential to apology. Another along these lines would be “sorry.”
  • “I have been seeking to come to terms with my reckless actions” – Taking responsibility
  • “… who found my behavior as unacceptable as I do” – Willing to name his behavior as “unacceptable”
  • “I alone am entirely responsible” – Not trying to foist blame on others, although this is undermined by his reference elsewhere to the affair being “consensual,” since it’s arguable whether a subordinate’s sexual relationship with her boss is ever consensual.
  • “my Catholic faith” – Brave of him to acknowledge his faith given that, although many things divide Catholics, one thing they can all agree on is that marital infidelity is a sin.

Weaknesses:

  • “I regret any harm…” “I apologize to anyone who…” — Like the words “if,” “but” or “maybe,” the word “any” is a red flag in an apology. Saying, “I regret any harm” implies that he has no idea whether his behavior harmed his staff. It’s augmented by use of the word “may”, as if he’s uncertain whether it caused harm or not. He apologizes “to anyone … who found [his] behavior unacceptable,” implying that he suspects not everyone was offended by it. It would be more effective simply to say, “I regret the harm this has caused …”
  • “But” is a red flag in apologies, as Peacemaker Ministries has been warning for years. Usually what follows the “but” is an explanation or an excuse. Here, he seems to be trying to remind his audience of all the good his company has done. But it’s disingenuous; his behavior does “undermine [the company’s] unyielding commitment to treat everyone with respect and dignity.” It turned out that commitment wasn’t so unyielding after all, so it’d be better if his apology didn’t remind people of the lapse.

It sounds like John Besh is on his way towards repentance, and I pray for the sake of him and his family that he gets there. He’s not there yet, but there’s hope.

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