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Home arrow Communication arrow Accounts, Excuses, and Apologies: Image Repair Theory and Research
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International Diplomatic Image Repair

In 2013, Israeli's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, apologized to Turkey for the deaths of eight Turkish citizens resulting from an Israeli raid on a Gaza flotilla (Madhani, 2013). Netanyahu “acknowledged 'operational mistakes' in the raid and said he 'regretted' the incident had led to a deterioration of the two countries' relationship” (Madhani, 2013). This image repair effort occurred in a telephone call and used mortification. In 2011, Israel apologized to Egypt for an incident in which five Egyptian border guards were killed by Israeli troops who were pursuing militants who crossed into Israel from Egypt and killed Israeli citizens (Flower, 2011). Initially Israel issued a statement of regret, but Egypt was not satisfied and threatened to recall its ambassador. Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak ordered an investigation and then “decided to express his apology to Egypt over the death of every Egyptian policeman who was killed on duty as a result of Israeli fire” (Flower, 2011). This incident also illustrates how a country (in this case, Egypt) can prompt image repair.

The following section illustrates another example of international image repair: the U.S. image repair following the accidental killing of Pakistani soldiers in 2011.

U.S. Image Repair for Pakistani Soldiers

In November 2011, a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan wanted an apology and, as leverage, threatened to raise fees charged on trucks carr ying NATO supplies from Pakistan to Afghanistan from $250 to $5,000 per truck (Schmitt, 2012). U.S. secretar y of state Hillar y Clinton spoke on the telephone with Pakistan's foreign minister, Rabbani Khar, and issued a statement about their conversation (Associated Press, 2012). Clinton used three strategies in her image repair effort: mortification, corrective action, and bolstering.

The secretary of state began the statement with mortification:

I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military.

Expressions of regret and condolences as well as admitting mistakes clearly enact mortification. However, as Schmitt (2012) explained,

Mrs. Clinton and her top aides, working closely with senior White House and Pentagon officials, carefully calibrated what she would say in her phone call to Ms. Khar to avoid an explicit mention of what one top State Department official called “the A-word”—“apology.” Instead, Mrs. Clinton opted for the softer “sorry” to meet Pakistan's longstanding demand for a more formal apology for the airstrikes.

Using the words apology or apologize may have made the United States look weak. As discussed earlier, mortification can include several elements, and Clinton's statement attempted to appease Pakistan without creating the impression that America was weak.

Clinton also employed corrective action, pledging, “We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.” She also explained that

Foreign Minister Khar and I talked about the importance of taking coordinated action against terrorists who threaten Pakistan, the United States, and the region; of supporting Afghanistan's security, stability, and efforts towards reconciliation; and of continuing to work together to advance the many other shared interests we have, from increasing trade and investment to strengthening our people-to-people ties. (Associated Press, 2012)

Thus the secretary of state talked about preventing this kind of tragedy from occurring again; she also talked about working together with Pakistan to fight terrorism and pursue other shared interests.

Finally, her statement used bolstering, declaring that “America respects Pakistan's sovereignty.” She also declared that our troops—Pakistani and American—are in a fight against a common enemy. We are both sorry for losses suffered by both our countries in this fight against terrorists. We have enhanced our counter-terrorism cooperation against terrorists that threaten Pakistan and the United States, with the goal of defeating Al-Qaida in the region. (Associated Press, 2012)

This statement stresses goals that the United States and Pakistan share.

This incident illustrates two key points. First, mortification includes a variety of options, and in this case the secretary of state did not wish to use the words apology or apologize; given the ambiguity of saying you are sorry and expressing regret, you could be accepting blame or expressing sympathy. Second, actors need to be concerned about the possibility that an apology could provide evidence that could be used against them in a lawsuit. Image repair may not be the only goal at stake in an image repair effort. In this case, Clinton wanted to placate another country (Pakistan) and avoid threatened reprisals (increasing the truck fee from $250 to $5,000). Repairing one's image can be extremely important, but we must keep in mind that at times other goals are in play as well.


Image repair is a fundamental component of human communication. Although most research has focused on image repair in the United States, a growing number of studies address image repair in other countries—and between countries as well. This chapter illustrated several corporate and governmental image repair efforts—and of course, image repair by individuals and other organizations occurs as well. Image repair discourse, like other forms of persuasive communication, must keep in mind the audience and its culture for maximum persuasiveness. Further exploration of image repair beyond the United States and between countries is imperative.

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