To begin with, we'd like to apologize — publicly — for whatever it was that we said, for stepping out of line, for actually...

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To begin with, we’d like to apologize — publicly — for whatever it was that we said, for stepping out of line, for actually going through with this story idea in the first place.

Apologies, we are sorry to say, are once again de rigueur (and pardon our French): Last week, House Speaker Dennis Hastert publicly repented for the growing uproar over U.S. Rep. Mark Foley’s creepy e-mail correspondence with teenage congressional pages.

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI issued regrets for quoting medieval text characterizing Muslim teachings as “evil and inhuman.” Closer to home, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McGavick made a slightly delayed apology for things that happened 13 years ago.

Meanwhile, former major leaguer Pete Rose announced he would sell a collection of baseballs bearing his autograph and the words “I’m sorry I bet on baseball.” And if the guy can say he’s sorry not once, but multiple times, why shouldn’t he profit from his poor judgment?

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OK, sorry about that. But we have to admit we’re giddy with guilt after reading “My Bad,” a collection of famous public apologies gathered by Paul Slansky and Arleen Sorkin and published earlier this year. From entertainers and athletes to politicians and military chiefs, the voices of “My Bad” are indeed sorry to have misspoken, sorry to have been caught in compromising situations, sorry to have suffered clothing malfunctions during major sports events. Et cetera.

The authors credit President Nixon’s shame-free “Checkers” speech in 1952 (issued in the midst of a slush-fund scandal) with launching what they call “The Apology Era”: “There was a time,” they write, “when bad behavior was judged harshly, when the transgressor had the decency to be properly embarrassed, and when redemption had to be sorely earned.

“Not anymore. The public apology … has come to provide forgiveness for its author without the discomfort of disgrace. It’s like going bankrupt and getting to keep your credit cards.”

A quarter-century later, President Nixon’s agriculture secretary Earl Butz set public-apology standards still followed today after telling a racist joke overheard by a reporter. His nonapology’s “responsibility-fudging … blame-shifting … and self-flagellation with a feather,” Slansky and Sorkin write, “define the hollow, squirm-inducing pleas with which quasi-penitent misbehavers have been bombarding us for too many years.”

But it’s one thing to attempt to avoid disgrace — i.e., Rep. Foley accepting blame as his political career went CTRL-ALT-DELETE, or Michael Jackson begging pardon for holding his infant son over a fourth-story balcony for fans below to see. (“I got caught up in the excitement of the moment,” Jackson said.) It’s another to be the pope, leader of a major world religion, and have to essentially keep things from getting out of hand at the dinner table.

When the pope quoted the offending ancient text, rage ensued. Apologies were demanded. This is, after all, the delicate theater of religious world conflict, where there aren’t enough fingers to point all the blame that could go around. Could there be a fanatical cleric or two out there with a mea culpa waiting in his out basket? Um, maybe.

But the pope stepped up, as people of well-known stature often do. Did he say he shouldn’t have said it? Well, no. But he did say he was sorry if anyone took issue. Also, that the words didn’t reflect his personal opinion.

He said, essentially: My bad. Actually, the first words came from an underling: His bad. (There’s an art to this whole thing.) Then, after my-badding through his handlers, he made clear his “respect and esteem” for Muslims and hoped critics would be “helped to understand the correct meaning” of his words.

Finally, he called British food “possibly the best explanation for Mick Jagger’s bony figure.”

Actually, we made that last part up. And for that, we apologize. We hope you will be helped to understand the correct meaning of our words.

It’s possible some were offended, the pope seemed to say. Which he regretted. It brought to mind the words of Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Taylor, who several years ago, as “My Bad” points out, referred to prospective jurors in the eastern Kentucky mountains as “illiterate cave dwellers.”

“The comment was not meant to be a regional slur,” Taylor said. “To the extent that it was misinterpreted to be one, I apologize.”

In other words, we can’t help what you heard when we said whatever it was that we said. But whatever you heard, if it was offensive, we certainly did not mean it that way. Also, you are a dork.

Kidding! You know you have our greatest respect and esteem. We regret any insults which may have happened inadvertently. We simply got caught up in the excitement of the moment.

Those words were actually a quote from an ancient “Wayne’s World” skit, and we do not in any way endorse those thoughts. And for that, we are sorry, too.

Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or mramirez@seattletimes.com