The Art of the (Non) Apology

Just when I thought things had calmed down…

The Story Siren (TSS) recently launched a week-long series on plagiarism meant to educate both herself and her readers.  Although a good idea in theory, it has also reopened wounds that are not yet healed and reawakened some feelings of anger and—quite frankly—sadness about the whole situation.

It has also dredged up discussion about apologies, personal attacks and moving on. I can’t speak to the feelings of the other bloggers whose work was stolen, but I can try to illustrate why it is that I have not yet been able to forgive Kristi for her actions (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, this covers it).  It is not my intent to attack her in any way… instead I want to use this experience to facilitate a discussion about non-apologies and their ineffectiveness.

A Clarification

Before I go on, I want to point something out that I feel has gotten lost in this drama:

Grit and Glamour and I were not the only two people Kristi stole from.  She also plagiarized Fajr of Stylish Thought and a guest post that Jamillah of Made to Travel wrote for my blog.

Let me repeat that.

Kristi lifted content from FOUR different authors on THREE separate blogs, and…

We, the bloggers who were plagiarized, have yet to receive a true apology from her.

UPDATE: 4:35 pm EST on 5/23/12: Grit and Glamour commented below and her words deserve to be included in the post itself:

“And the other thing no one else knows—and they should:


She had our email addresses. She can find us on our blogs…she did the first time and many times after. She can find us on Twitter. She never has. That, to me is proof of guilt, immaturity, and the inability to own up to her actions. And perhaps even fear.”

– Vahni of Grit and Glamour

The Famous Non-Apology Apology

A non-apology occurs when a person is compelled to express regret while—in actuality—accepting no blame or responsibility for their actions.  In a non-apology, the person at fault shows no real remorse for the wrongdoing and, instead, makes excuses and makes themselves appear to be a victim.  In a non-apology, the offending actions are not clearly described and are instead only hinted at. A non-apology is damage control at its worst.

image by thebigharumph via 

True apologies are direct, clear and brief.  They are not supplemented with excuses and justifications.  They do not suggest that someone’s actions or intent were misinterpreted.  They are transparent and outline the wrongs that were done.  They are authentic. They are damage control at its best.

As of now, the four wronged bloggers have yet to receive a true apology from Kristi.  All we have gotten is non-apology after non-apology.

“I’m sorry, but I am not guilty…”

… I would never intentionally take someone’s content and pass it off as my own. As you mentioned I am an advocate against this behavior and believe there is no excuse for it. I sincerely apologize for putting you and your friends in this situation.  In all honestly, I have never been to your blog or any of the blogs mentioned in this email until tonight when I cross referenced the posts that you had listed. I rarely if ever read blogs beyond the book blog community. But I could not agree more with your assessments of the posts. And I am sorry to say that I have no viable explantation. I even searched my web history to see if perhaps I had read the posts and had recalled them as I was writing my own… As I’ve mentioned initially, I would never intentionally copy content and I’m more than happy to rectify the situation in whatever way works best…”  

– Email from Kristi of TSS, 01-20-2012

This is a non-apology at its finest.

When we initially approached Kristi we gave her the opportunity to handle the situation professionally and admit her actions; instead she denied them and lied about her knowledge of our websites.  If she had simply accepted responsibility for what she had done with no excuses—and complete transparency—it would have ended here.  Instead, her “apologies” were negated by her outright lies and refusal to accept full responsibility for the situation.

This is when things escalated and we presented her with the IP evidence documenting the time spent on our websites.  At this point we asked her to remove all the posts in question and requested that she publish a post on The Story Siren that would serve as a public apology to the 4 bloggers whose work she plagiarized.  We felt strongly that her readers, and the authors and agents she works with, had a right to know that a blogger they respect knowingly plagiarized fellow bloggers.

This request led to more non-apologies.

“I am sorry… for the wrong thing”

I have since deleted all the posts from my blog and from any social media accounts. I apologize again for the inconveniences this has caused you.”

– Email from Kristi Diehm, 01-23-2012

When you are apologizing to someone, please don’t lose sight of what you should be apologizing for.  The issue here was not that we were inconvenienced. It was that we were plagiarized.

“I’m sorry I got caught, now here are my excuses”

I’m was not being dishonest in my admission of not having visited your blogs. As far as I knew I had not. I know that seems convenient in this instance, but I visit hundred’s of blogs a week and I simply cannot remember them all… However, in mentioning your specific Blogger to WordPress posts, I do admit, yes I did recently consult them in my own move. I thought they were wonderful posts. I did not recognize your blog upon my revisit of the posts in question… I apologize for not remembering a blog that I visited months ago.”

– Email from Kristi Diehm, 01-23-2012

When apologizing, don’t be dishonest about your actions.  We had proof that showed each visit to our blogs did not occur months ago, as she suggested, but as recently as January 11th and January 19th, 2012.  We reached out to her on January 20th, 2012.  That wasn’t “months ago” it was the day before. Excuses and dishonesty just weaken the apology further.

“I am sorry… but I am a victim here!”

… As I mentioned in my email earlier I would never do something to jeopardize what has taken me years to build. I understand that this a very frustrating situation for you, but I don’t see how taking that away from me is going to improve the situation. What I did was wrong, knowingly or not and I apologize for that.” 

– Email from Kristi Diehm, 01-23-2012

In a true apology, one should never paint themselves the victim as Kristi did above. We weren’t—and still aren’t—out to destroy Kristi, her work, or her reputation.  We have never attacked her personally and this post isn’t meant to do so either.

“I am sorry… but I still can’t bring myself to say why”

I apologize for my actions and for the disruption I have caused all of you. This has been a very eye-opening experience for me. I assure you… You, nor anyone else, will never need to contact me regarding this issue ever again.”

– Email from Kristi Diehm, 01-24-2012

This almost sounds sincere.  Except in order to truly be sorry for your actions you have to admit the mistake you made.  Kristi did not own up to her plagiarism in any of her prior emails (it was all a huge coincidence! I never visited your sites!), so which actions was she referring to here? The inconvenience she mentioned earlier? The lies? The denials? The disruption?  Again, no clarity.  This reads more like “I am sorry that you took this so personally.”  How can we forgive if the person at fault can’t find the right words?

All we ever asked of Kristi was that she take full responsibility for what she had done and stop making excuses. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, we dropped it. We didn’t force her to go public and decided to use this as a teaching experience on our own blogs. Given that our niches rarely cross paths (until now), we never expected this to come out.

What is the one thing she has never said in her emails (or elsewhere)? “I am sorry I plagiarized your work.” Period. End of sentence.

The truth goes public

Though our initial contact with Kristi occurred in January, things went public in April.  We did not out her. Her own book blogging community did and things got heated.

I’m not going to discuss the first apology she posted on TSS because she admitted she was emotional when she wrote it and had to clarify her comments with a second one.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, that second apology was also a non-apology.

“I’m sorry… but not to the right people”

I am truly sorry for all the trouble that this has caused the book blogging community. That’s my biggest regret. You gave me your respect and I let you down. I took a role as a leader and I didn’t take my actions into account as it would reflect on the community as a whole. For that I am truly sorry.”

– Clarification post on TSS, 04-24-2012

A public apology should start with a message to the people you directly wronged.  Those indirectly affected also deserve an apology, yes, but the apology shouldn’t initially be directed to them.

“I’m sorry I got caught… now I am going to change my story”

When I first received the allegations of plagiarism, I was presented with the information and could not deny the facts. While the content was not identical the subject matter was… I am not denying my actions. I was in the wrong. I read a post, I thought it was interesting and wanted to make it into something that would be relevant for book blogging.”

– Clarification post on TSS, 04-24-2012

Chances are the people you wronged will be seeing your public apology so this is not the time to change your story.  In this case, Kristi did deny the facts in her correspondence to us.  Repeatedly. She also denied her actions.  Repeatedly.

“I’m sorry… that my reputation was hurt by this”

I know that I have disappointed many of you. That is heartbreaking to me. I am still the same person that you have come to know through the years. I just really screwed up. I am sorry for the strain that I have put on the blogger/author/publisher relationship. I for one have worked hard to lessen that strain, and it seems that all of that work may have been lost in this mistake.”

– Clarification post on TSS, 04-24-2012

The key to a successful public apology is clarity.  By this point Kristy had apologized for everything except intentionally plagiarizing fellow bloggers.

“I’m sorry… because I am expected to be”

To Grit and Glamour and Beautifully Invisible, I extend my deepest apologies. Please do not judge the book blogging community by my mistakes.”

– Clarification post on TSS, 04-24-2012

There are so many things wrong with this particular statement I don’t know where to begin.  First, what is the apology for?  Deliberately plagiarizing our work?  Getting caught?  Inconveniencing us? Representing the YA book blogging community?  Why would we judge others based on the actions of one person?

What about the two other bloggers that were plagiarized?  Do they not deserve an apology because they have stayed quiet?

Again, if you are going to publicly apologize to the people  that were wronged, be transparent about it!

If I had been in Kristi’s shoes I would have said: “To the four bloggers I plagiarized, I am sorry for my actions.  I am sorry that I denied it.  I am sorry I tried to make it sound like a misunderstanding and a mistake.  It wasn’t. I knew what I was doing and take full responsibility for my actions.  I hope you’ll be able to forgive me one day.”

Plagiarism revisted…

As I mentioned above, The Story Siren recently kicked off a week-long educational series about plagiarism that includes more non-apologies.

“I’m sorry it’s public… so let’s downplay what I did”

Hello, my name is Kristi, the Story Siren and I am a plagiarist… How did it happen? I’m not really sure I realized I’d crossed the line I’d been so adamant against, but I did. I suppose it happened because there was something I wanted to say, and I couldn’t find the right words to say it. I was asked a question about a blogging topic and went in search of inspiration. I came across a couple of posts that seemed like I could have written them myself — they expressed exactly what I wanted to, in the way that I wanted to…

I wanted to make it relevant to book bloggers. I knew I couldn’t use their words — not exactly as written — so I added words of my own and subtracted a few of theirs. In my mind, I had done enough to make it mine; it was my voice. But I was wrong. I screwed up.”

– Let’s Talk about Plagiarism post on TSS, 05-21-2012

Again, these comments are riddled with excuses that downplay what happened.  The phrase “I’m not really sure I realized” attempts to remove culpability.  The phrase “a couple of posts” downplays the fact that this happened six times and to multiple (four!) bloggers.

Then she goes on to admit that she copied the posts in question and made a few small tweaks.  That shows intent.  Plain and simple.    Intent indicates that she knowingly plagiarized.  It was no accident.

“I’m sorry… I made a big mess of things”

And I screwed up even more when they called me on it. I tried to deny it, because I didn’t want to believe it myself. I tried to keep it private, because I didn’t want to be judged.”

But when it all came out anyway, that just made everything seem even more deceitful. I should have admitted I was wrong right away. But I didn’t.”

Let’s Talk about Plagiarism post on TSS, 05-21-2012

So close… but yet again, she stopped short of true transparency.  After this post went live on The Story Siren, I noticed a slight spike in my own blog traffic.  People were coming to my site after searching “Story Siren plagiarism” because they still didn’t know what she was talking about.  Everything is still being discussed in vague, nondescript terms.  How can you truly be an advocate against plagiarism when you can’t be transparent about your own actions?

“I’m sorry… but it could have been all of you!”

… an author contacted me and suggested I look at this as an opportunity. She said, “A lot of young people, bloggers and writers read your blog, and all of them have probably walked that plagiarism line at least once, whether they are willing to admit it or not…” She asked me to consider hosting a discussion about plagiarism, to help all of us figure out what it is, why it’s wrong, and how we can all avoid doing it in the future.”

Let’s Talk about Plagiarism post on TSS, 05-21-2012

I’ll be the first to admit that we all make mistakes.  None of us are perfect.  But the above statement gets my blood boiling.  Again, it takes responsibility away from Kristi by suggesting that everyone (“all of them” “all of us” “we can all”) needs a lesson in plagiarism because everyone does it.  I have a Bachelors in English and have a career that involves plenty of writing.  I can guarantee you this is one line I have not walked.

Why Non-Apologies Don’t Work

There is a misconception that simply saying “I am sorry” fixes everything.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  More important than those three little words are the way the apology is presented and the tone behind it.  Transparency and directness are key ingredients in making the wronged parties feel like the apology is an authentic one.

Excuses, double-talk, misrepresentations, half-truths and denials negate every “I am sorry” they are coupled with.

To those that believe we need to move on and that Kristi has apologized enough:

I don’t know Kristi. I don’t know what type of person she is and I can’t speak to her character.  What I do know is how she has handled this situation and that has been poorly.  I understand that she is trying to make amends with the book blogging community but for many that won’t happen until the non-apologies stop.

We—the victims—have tried to handle this in a professional manner.  We’ve addressed the subject on our blogs when we felt it was necessary.   We spoke out against any bullying occurring, whether the victim of said bullying was Kristi or one of us.  We have remained (mostly) quiet on other blogs and only shared our thoughts when absolutely necessary.  We have given her every chance to do the right thing by us.

And we are still waiting for that apology.

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  • fred January 5, 2015, 1:27 AM

    Wow, just wow. I think the non-apologies have been plagiarized too. They sound so familiar.

  • Whitney November 21, 2014, 4:19 PM

    I was googling for “non-apology” and it led me here. It’s truly impressive what you’ve done here, or written. I’m a reader from China with relatively limited knowledge on words and terms in English, but I still found it fascinating to read your article! And this article you’ve written here explains what “non-apology” means right to the point, supported by the examples that come in most possible different forms, which I found absolutely amazing.
    I’m glad that I stumbled on your blog. I guess I’ll follow your blog from now on.