A Look at the Elon Musk Apology

Elon Musk apologized yesterday for accusing a British cave diver of being a pedophile. The diver, Vern Unsworth, is one of the heroes who assisted the Thai boys trapped in a cave the last couple weeks. Musk had offered to bring his mini-submarine to the cave site, confident it would assist in rescuing the trapped boys; Unsworth apparently didn’t think it would be helpful, and the two exchanged mean tweets. Musk tweeted last Saturday that Unsworth was likely a pedophile, and he decided yesterday to apologize for that:

“His actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.”

The good parts of this apology:

  • Mr. Musk is taking responsibility here, especially with the line about it being solely his fault.
  • He’s addressing not just his immediate “victim” but the secondary ring of people who were offended, namely, his companies’ employees and investors. (USA Today reported that Tesla shares fell after Musk’s attack on Unsworth.)


The not-so-good parts:

  • It isn’t exactly clear what he is apologizing for. He says simply, “my actions.” Accusing someone publicly of being a pedophile is defamatory — serious stuff. A vague phrase like “my actions” leaves listeners wondering whether he really knows what he did that was so offensive.
  • He just couldn’t resist the temptation to shoot an(other) arrow at his “victim” in his attempt at an apology. Any aspect of blame-shifting usually undermines the sincerity of an apology. Mr. Unsworth said some nasty things to/about Mr. Musk too, but the initial apology is not the place to point that out. It would’ve been better if Mr. Musk had simply said, “There is no way to justify the terrible thing I said of him.”


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