The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 14, 2009

‘I’m sorry, so sorry, please accept my apology ...’

By Jeff Mullin, commentary

This past week was a big one for public apologies.

First there was Bernie Ma-doff, who said he was “deeply ashamed and sorry,” for swindling investors out of $65 billion.

Then came Olympic swimming star Michael Phelps, who granted his first television interview to Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today” show, again apologizing for the incident in which he was photographed smoking marijuana at a party in South Carolina.

In both cases, “sorry” doesn’t seem to go far enough.

Madoff, once hailed as a Wall Street genius, spent decades defrauding people who believed in him, people who, in some cases, invested their life savings with him.

He says he did it for his clients, driven by a desire “to satisfy my clients’ expectations, at any cost.”

What he did was take money from some clients to pay off other clients, in effect robbing Peter to pay Paul, as well as James, Matthew, John and Bartholomew.

He said he wanted to end the scheme not long after it started in the early 1990s, but it spun out of control.

In other words, it wasn’t his fault. I guess it was just those darn clients, who expected him to take their money and invest it wisely in order to make them more. What did they think he was, an investment broker or something?

In his statement he made it clear the rest of the businesses in which his firm, Bernard L. Madoff Securities, engaged were strictly legal. And we should believe you because?

“I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for what I have done,” Madoff said, reading his allocution statement in court. For once in his life, at least, he was honest.

Madoff cheated, lied and stole, thus taking care of three of the Ten Commandments in one fell swoop.

In the meantime, he feathered his own nest pretty nicely. And a nice nest it was, a $7 million Manhattan penthouse apartment.

Now he has a new address, a 7.5- by 8-foot prison cell, with three squares a day and all kinds of new patsies, er, friends. The boys in the cell block had better not let old Bernie hold the cash and cigarettes during the next jailhouse card game.

Phelps has not taken anyone else’s life’s savings, but he has stolen something — the faith of his fans young and old throughout the country.

During these difficult times, this country needs people it can believe in, we need heroes. And Phelps appeared to perfectly fit the bill — he is young, supremely talented and articulate, an all-Ameri-can boy.

Until that photo surfaced of him sucking down a lungful of marijuana smoke at a college party last fall.

“It was a bad mistake,” Phelps told Lauer.

No, 2 plus 2 equals six is a bad mistake. This was a terrible decision, a lousy choice or, as Phelps himself said later, “bad judgment.”

To his credit, Phelps said he was more concerned with “who I hurt the most,” not his loss of endorsement earnings as the result of his malfeasance.

But just when he was on the verge of really making us believe he was sorry for what he did, not simply sorry he was caught at it, Phelps pulled a Madoff and turned the blame outward.

“I’ve come to realize people want to bring you up, but more people want to bring you down,” he said. “It’s how the American public is. I’ve found out, and that’s definitely something to keep in mind and close at heart.”

Oh, right, so now it is our fault? So some crummy, no-good member of the American public forced Michael Phelps to smoke marijuana, then took a photo of him just so we could ruin his image and watch him squirm on national TV? Oh, Michael, it’s Bernie Madoff on line one.

Would it be too much to hope for that Phelps would look straight into the camera and say, “OK, I smoked dope. It was stupid. It was illegal. I know it was wrong, and I won’t do it again. And to all you kids out there who look up to me, I let you down. I’m a lousy role model. You should look up to somebody else, and don’t do dope, ever.” I suppose it is.

Phelps did say something almost as good, “I want to say that if you do make a bad judgment or you do make a mistake, make sure you’re responsible for it. Because that’s how you’re going to change and that’s how you’re going to learn.”

Hey, Alex Rodriguez, are you listening?

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle.