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Home arrow Communication arrow Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: Image Repair Theory and Research
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Relationship of Attack and Defense

Ryan (1982) emphasized the importance of understanding image repair events in the context of the specific attacks provoking face repair work. First, persuasive attack is important because accusations of (and suspicions about) wrongdoing prompt or motivate image repair effort. Second, it is important to understand the nature of the accusations facing a person or organization. One might decide a particular accusation is not serious enough to warrant a response, but it is very risky to accidentally ignore an important criticism because the defender

Table 2.2. Image Repair Strategies and Fishbein and Ajzen's Theory of Reasoned Action

General strategy Tactic Example
Denial Simple denial

Shift blame
Change belief about accused’s blame for offensive act

Create new belief (“real” perpetrator) and change belief (that accused is guilty)
Evade responsibility Provocation



Good intentions
New belief about the accused’s blameworthiness

New belief about the accused’s blameworthiness

New belief about the accused’s blameworthiness

New belief about why the accused performed the offensive act
Reduce offensiveness Bolstering




Attack accuser

New belief about a desirable trait or act of the accused

Change belief about extent of the act’s offensiveness

New belief that offensive act is not as offensive as similar acts

New value about the offensive act

New belief reducing credibility of accuser (and, if the accuser is the victim, about how victim deserved what happened)

New belief about accused providing something of value to victim
Corrective action New belief about accused fixing or preventing recurrence of the problem
Mortifi cation New belief about accused’s remorse
did not understand all the accusations. Understanding the accusations expressed to the audience (blame or beliefs and offensiveness or values) may provide insights into potential image repair messages (see Table 2.3). One cannot expect a successful image repair effort without clearly understanding the attacks one faces.

Importance of the Audience

Persuasion is all about trying to change the audience's attitudes; in image repair, the goal of persuasive messages is to change the audience's attitudes concerning accusations or suspicions about the target of attack. As Fishbein and Ajzen (2010) explain, changing attitudes means changing existing beliefs or values and/or creating new beliefs and values. Audience analysis means understanding the audience's existing attitudes and the beliefs and values that constitute those attitudes. For example, in auto repair, if my car does not start, I need to know the nature of the problem before I can repair it: Is the battery dead? Is the car out of gas? Is the starter broken? Is the battery not connected properly to the car? Similarly, in image repair, I must understand the audience's beliefs about me, as well as the values associated with those beliefs, before I have any hope of changing their attitudes to repair my image. It is vital for a persuader to understand the audience.

Understanding an audience's attitudes is complicated in several ways. First, an organization might be concerned about several audiences. For example, a company with a tarnished image could want to improve its image with employees, stockholders, government officials, and other citizens. Different audiences can have different beliefs and values. This could mean that a message designed for one audience will not persuade another audience, or even make things worse with

Table 2.3. Relationship of Image Repair Strategies and the Elements of Persuasive Attack

Element of attack General image repair strategy
Blame Denial, evade responsibility
Offensiveness Reduce offensiveness
Both Corrective action, mortifi cation

another audience. For example, government regulators might want to hear (expensive) plans to correct problems at the company. Stockholders might not be thrilled to hear the company promise to spend money on the problem. Second, even within a particular audience, such as stockholders, beliefs and values can vary, making persuasion more difficult. Benoit and Benoit (2008) discuss ways of dealing with multiple audiences and hostile audiences. Understanding the audience or audiences and their attitudes (beliefs and values) is vital in image repair.


Stein (2008; 2010; see also Husselbee & Stein, 2012) introduced and developed the concept of antapologia, a response to an apologia made by the accuser. An American U2 spy plane, piloted by Francis Gary Powers, was shot down over Russia in 1960. Initially, the United States denied that this was a spy plane, claiming instead that it was a weather plane. The Soviet Union then revealed that it had captured the pilot and recovered equipment consistent with spying. It also argued that it was ridiculous to claim the pilot had wandered 2,000 kilometers off course into Russian territory. By keeping some of its evidence and arguments in reserve until after the American apology, Russia was able to intensify the accusations (although surely one would not be surprised that a country would lie about a spy mission). This approach extends our understanding of image repair and persuasive attack, and Stein (2008) articulates a typology of strategies for responding to an apology.

It is important to understand that image repair encompasses far more than the archetypal case of a single attack followed by a single defense. Multiple persuaders can attack, and as Stein points out, attacks can continue after a defense. Image repair is not limited to messages from the accused, as chapter 7 on third party image repair explains. The first edition of this book (Benoit, 1995a) discussed a series of advertisements from Coke and Pepsi in the trade publication Nation's Restaurant News that in some ways resembled a conversation in which attacks and defenses were exchanged over time.

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