Key apology would shut story down

28 November 2014

Political leaders hate apologising. They see it as a weakness and a way of handing ammunition to their opponents. The only exception to this recently was David Cunliffe who apologised for everything from being a man to going on holiday with his family.

So should a political leader apologise? That depends. Clearly if the leader did something wrong, an apology is appropriate. The big issue here is whether John Key should apologise for something his staff did. Forgetting all the speculation around the Dirty Politics issue, it does seem clear that a member of his staff did take advantage of a security document for political gain.

My belief is that he should apologise for that, not because he did it, but because the buck stops with him. He should also make it very clear that he is not apologising for anything else. That’s because nothing else has been proven.

We tell out media training clients that an apology is often a good idea. That’s because people (including potential voters) are more concerned how a leaders responds to an issue, rather than the issue itself. They don’t see it as a sign of weakness, they see it as a sign of strength.

They clearly weren’t concerned about dirty politics when they cast their vote this year. They like John Key and National’s economic policies. But if some now feel there was some element of ‘dirty politics’ at play, they would probably like their leader to acknowledge that (even if he wasn’t directly involved.)

If he did that I’m sure they’d accept it and move on. It would also shut the story down because it’s only Key’s refusal to apologise that is keeping it alive.  In a nutshell, Key would be respected for apologising and the media would move onto another issue. Then National could get back on the front foot and set its own agenda.

For more on my media training or crisis communication planning workshops, contact or 029 200 8555.

Written by

Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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Reply Paul KIrschberg | November 30th, 2014 at 9:56am
We were taught many years ago in the insurance industry to apologise to our clients if anything went wrong, even if we were in no way responsible--the buck stopped with us, the adviser.
Our clients have always appreciated an up front approach and our philosophy of -" the client is always right "- and " the client comes first."
As you suggest , maybe John Key would benefit from this approach.
He has no need to be involved in " dirty politics " or allow his key staff to use " black op " attack tactics to advance his political position.
He should fess up, apologise, stop all this Whale Oil stuff and move on.
By not coming" clean" Key is undermining his high standing in the voter's eye and devaluing his brand and image.
There is an old saying, " Mud sticks "
Get out of the mud John Key before you get covered in it.

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