The Art of the Celebrity Apology: Zendaya Accepts Giuliana Rancic's "I'm Sorry"

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Giuliana Rancic screwed up. Yesterday, the Fashion Police host was relentlessly skewered for offending Zendaya (and everyone else) by joking that the actress’ dreadlocks might smell like weed. It got so bad, that after co-host Kelly Osbourne threatened to quit, the television personality recorded a personal message that aired on E! News Tuesday night sincerely apologizing for her inappropriate comment.

"I just want everyone to know I didn’t intend to hurt anybody. But I’ve learned it is not my intent that matters; it’s the result. And the result is that people are offended, including Zendaya, and that is not OK,” Rancic said. "Therefore, I want to say to Zendaya and to anyone else out there that I have hurt that I am so, so sincerely sorry. This really has been a learning experience for me. I’ve learned a lot today, and this incident has taught me to be a lot more aware of clichés and stereotypes… how much damage they can do, and that I am responsible, as we all are, to not perpetuate them further. Thank you for listening."

Watching Rancic’s mea culpa I really believed her. Sitting in the same studio we see her in night after night, her usual cheery demeanor, loud clothes, and casual body language was replaced with a somber, pleading tone of voice and a button-up shirt; she sat in a stiff seated position. At times, she seemed on the verge of tears and while the words were obviously perfectly scripted by a public relations professional, it was Rancic’s delivery and sincerity that convinced me of just how sorry she was.

So why was I convinced? Lisa Gache, etiquette expert and author of Beverly Hills Manners told to me that a public apology works best when all elements are in alignment and no detail has been left unturned. “Every aspect must be scrutinized from where the apology will take place, to the celebrity’s choice of attire, their use of mannerisms, tone of voice, body language and, most importantly their choice of words,” she says. “We have to believe 100 percent that they are genuinely remorseful. No signs should indicate otherwise or reveal any shadow of doubt.” Rancic, in particular, hasn’t done anything wrong in the past which plays well for her because the public doesn’t question her character.  Gache says that she also appears sincerely remorseful and ashamed of her comments, which she clearly communicated. Additionally, Rancic claimed full responsibility for her wrongdoing; she didn’t mince words and made steady eye contact—without any melodrama.

Some who have flubbed and apologized for their inappropriate actions have been just as lucky as Rancic, who will probably be reporting on a different celebrity scandal by next week. They’ve deployed their apologies like Rancic, delivering a direct message loaded with incredibly convincing earnestness. Gache says nailing a celebrity apology is almost formulaic. They need to be done as quickly and as seamlessly as possible. “In order to ensure the most successful outcome, it is a three part process,” she says. “One, take full responsibility. Two, offer a complete explanation for the actions. And three, set a plan going forward to avoid future mistakes.”

Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch is the most recent example of saying sorry one day and being forgiven the next. He referred to black actors as “colored” during an interview and self-deprecatingly called himself an “idiot” and admitted how “devastated” he by his out of date word choice. Reese Witherspoon similarly skated through her forgiveness tour after she and her husband were suspected of driving under the influence and she arrogantly attempted to talk her way out of being arrested (“Do you know my name?” and, “You’re about to find out who I am,” she said. Needless to say, her star power didn’t matter). The actress made such a solemn appearance on Good Morning America that by the end of the interview she was cracking jokes and seamlessly slid right back into her position as America’s Sweetheart.

Of course, others haven’t been as convincing, ending up stuck in the doghouse for years contemplating where they went wrong. Paula Deen pulled out all the stops — tears and begging included — except her pattern of racist remarks couldn’t be brushed aside. Hugh Grant, Naomi Campbell, and Justin Bieber have also struggled to regain the public’s trust following spats. What makes them less convincing is their believability factor, their lifestyle, and their past history. “If their character has been compromised in the past, if they thrive on drama, if their life is a constant train wreck, we are much less likely to accept the apology,” Gache explains. On the other hand, if a celebrity who, for the most part, has lived under the radar, is basically an upstanding citizen and makes their best attempts to conduct themselves in a civil manner, the public is more likely to take their words to heart. 

Even Zendaya has forgiven Rancic: The 18-year-old actress and singer posted a message on Instagram, “Giuliana, I appreciate your apology and I’m glad it was a learning experience for you and for the network,” she wrote. “I hope that others negatively affected by her words can also find it in their hearts to accept her apology as well.” 

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