Ethics Quiz: Apologies For A Sandusky Joke?

My uneasy relationship with the TSA continues.

Yes, I've sunk so low that I actually seek this out...

Today I was returning home from Atlanta, and its monster of an airport has one the cattle pen systems for going through security–a long, ling, line to all gates that keeps dividing and dividing, ultimately sending you down one of about 20 chutes to be scanned, stripped and yelled at. It is difficult to pick your chute, but in my case, it is crucial: Atlanta doesn’t have the full-body scanning devices in every line, and without it, I get gated, beeped, and sexually molested, thanks to my artificial hip.

It took ducking under a couple of barriers, but I finally got to an x-ray conveyor belt near a scanner, and had removed my laptop (separate bin) belt, jacket and shoes (not allowed in a bin in some cities, allowed in others) and lined them all up with my bag and brief case when an agent (none too politely) told me that they were closing that line, and directed me to another one, two lanes over. I lugged the three bins, bag and brief case over to that line, only to discover that it didn’t have a scanner.

That did it. I erupted at one of the agents, telling her that I did not care to be felt up at 8 in the morning, thanks, and had made a good faith effort to direct myself to a scanner, being foiled by the agent and by the fact that there are no signs warning people like me where a testicle massage is the only option.

“Why aren’t there signs?” I asked.

“I don’t know. There should be,” she said, as she helped me move my stuff to a scanner accessible line. “You should write the TSA and the airport.”

I laughed bitterly. “I’m sure that will do a lot of good. Do you all jsut like feeling up passengers? Is that the reason?”

A woman behind me laughed and said, “It sure seems like it!”

“Well, you know,” I said to her, “I hear Jerry Sandusky is trying to get a job as a screener!”

Her guffaw was interrupted by 7’8″ TSA agent, who said, loudly, “No he’s not, and I’m offended by that statement.”

My response, after a second’s consideration, was this: “I’m sorry I offended you. But I’m not apologizing.”

Your ethics quiz of the day: Should I have apologized?

Here’s why I didn’t:

  • I wasn’t talking to him. I have a right to make a joke to my intended audience, a fellow traveler and potential molestee, without being accountable to eavesdroppers.
  • It was a timely and appropriate gag. Besides, it could be true some day.
  • If you make your living putting on plastic gloves and putting your hands of strangers’ privates, you better develop a sense of humor about it.
  • When one spends as much time being forced to submit to forced feel-ups as I do, the right to levity and black humor is well-earned, and is a less disruptive alternative than, say, endlessly reciting the Fourth Amendment.
  • The agent had no reason to be offended. I didn’t suggest that he was a child molester, or that TSA agents were child molesters, but that someone who enjoyed fondling people might be drawn to a job where that is part of the job description. What’s he so sensitive about? I’m the one who gets fondled because his employers can’t figure out the need for signs without me writing and explaining it to them.

Yeah, it wouldn’t have killed me to apologize.

Except that I didn’t think I had said anything wrong.

Should I have apologized?

38 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Apologies For A Sandusky Joke?

  1. I think you maybe should have. Front-line enforcement officials like the TSA get a lot of crap from passengers, and a lot of it is unjustified. (Just watch Parking Wars. Low-level functionaries are just trying to do their jobs but they get the brunt of the citizenry’s wrath.) Maybe you should see it from his point of view – he has a crappy job, with low pay, where he’s constantly having to deal with belligerent or disruptive passengers but is expected to defuse the situation quickly and peacefully. In his shoes, wouldn’t you also be a bit sensitive to remarks, especially if you’ve had a long, unpleasant day? I’m not saying you’re entirely in the wrong. But it really wouldn’t have killed you to apologize.

        • I have probably watched worse when I get glassy eyed with boredom so I understand completely. I will admit to be slightly relieved you are not a regular viewer. Seems odd since you are a total stranger to me but regular viewers means ratings which means it stays on the air. Selfish of me but I always hope to see that kind of thing taken off the air so am always hopeful noone is watching.

  2. It was a crass joke but sans explanation from you, I can easily see how it would be interpreted that TSA would welcome a Sandusky type because such a person would already have hands on experience (hee). I don’t expect those people (and yes, I despise TSA agents and stereotype them as buffoons) to parse your language that closely early in the morning.

    If nothing else, remember your entry on Schweddy Balls ice cream and how it coarsens us as a society? Making jokes about child molesters does the same thing. You should have apologized.

    • Now wait just a minute…I never said that just joking about something, no matter what the topic, coarsens anything. The Saturday Night Live skit that the ice cream referred to was funny, and even when broadcast to millions, a risque skit isn’t a cultural contagion. A crude mainstream marketed product is. The joke was about the TSA, not Sandusky…he was an element of it. I don’t believe one man’s joke to a fellow traveler in an airport is coarsening anything, especially the culture. THAT’s political correctness reasoning.

      Now I’m going to have to go out and tell everyone that joke, and it’s all your fault!

  3. I don’t see how I misinterpreted your other post as I referenced the ice cream not the skit. I think we agree that tossing it around to get publicity and boost sales is crude.

    You are focused on the joke solely being between you and the other traveler, but reading your account of the story, it seems the TSA agents were still standing right next to you. You’ve stated your crankiness (and truthfully, you had good reason to be cranky); did you really not intend for the TSA fellow to hear this joke and be offended? Frankly, that strikes me as a large chunk of your motivation, which is why I drew the parallel to Schweddy Balls ice cream. It feels like wanted to push buttons, and if you didn’t, I apologize.

    I understand the joke you made, but as I previously said, I can easily see how someone could extrapolate or draw other conclusions. Sandusky is a hot button topic right now and I can’t really blame other bleary eyed people in the airport for not processing the joke properly. It wouldn’t have killed you to say, “Sorry, that was in poor taste.”

    Either way, there’s much better TSA/groping related humor out there. Google produced this little gem: Can’t see London, Can’t see France, unless we see your underpants. Or: The TSA handles more junk that eBay.

    Oh! Totally unrelated, but your political correctness comment reminded me of something. Have you ever read Politically Correct Bedtime Stories? I particularly like the version of The Three Little Pigs.

    • My point was that my joke was more analogous to the skit than the ice cream.

      No, I was really surprised by the TSA agent…I didn’t see him until he interrupted me. And, frankly, I thought he was a bit confrontational. Again—we’re the ones being manhandled and ordered around: he can have a thicker skin. If he’s embarrassed about the requirements of his job,l he has options. Sure, I could have apologized, but it would have falsely suggested that I thought I had something to apologize for. I emphatically reject the notion that an apology is owed based on someone’s subjective decision to be offended.

      • I was surprised he reacted at all. He has the wrong attitude to be in that profession. I’ve heard worse and just laughed it off.

  4. As stated, a large part of my interpretation was your intent. The fact that you didn’t know the fellow was there listening changes things for me. TSA agents in particular can’t go around getting offended at every little thing they happen to overhear.

    I’ve been known to apologize and clarify on occasion when I think the person who has reached the wrong conclusion has done so in good faith and due to other contextual clues (letter vs. spirit and all that). More often than not, when I’ve found myself in that situation, the other person follows up with a, “Ah, I see what you were saying. Sorry about that,” and we all go on our merry ways. If the other person is being confrontational, it changes the game.

    Man, this makes me want to go sit down with Publisher and make a flow chart.

  5. An intriguing question, particularly in light of yesterday’s post “Law, Citizenship and the Right to be a Jackass.”

    Should you have apologized? Far as I’m concerned, you shouldn’t have put yourself in the position where there was any question of needing to. Consider the TSA: charged with creating and manning a preposterous system designed to prevent another attack of the sort conceived in the last century (and always in reactive, rather than pro-active, mode); loathed by the people who understand this; loathed even more by the people who DON’T understand this, and an extraordinarily expensive and unpleasant experience for all. Then you staff it with people who aren’t exactly Ivy League Potential and pay the bulk of ’em somewhere between $8.54 and 19 bucks an hour.

    One doesn’t attract Ivy League grads to his job, and anyone who goes into the job with a great sense of humor will doubtless lose that in same in enough order. I NEVER joke with TSA people. It just isn’t worth it.

  6. Apologize, and stop disrespecting TSA people. They’re doing their best at a job that your and my elected representatives set them to do. Some are jerks, like some cops, some reporters, and some ethicists; most are decent people with a largely unappreciated job to do. Be nice, smile t them, and try saying thank you.

    • Bob:
      1. I didn’t disrespect TSA agents. I never do. In fact, it I can’t engage them in a conversation and get them to laugh—Last weak I offered to tip a guy for the refreshing massage—I consider the encounter a failure. I always smile, unless the agent is an officious jerk.
      2. They have an obligation to smile at me. I’m the meat here. What they are doing is usually a crime. They don’t have to apologize, but they can at least show recognition that it’s an indignity.
      3.They are still the immediate representatives of a an abusive and stupid system, and cannot duck accountability by saying (or having others say) “it’s not me, it’s them.” The telephone employee argument—“that’s policy, sir, I didn’t make it.” Yes, but you’re the one doing it to me, and I’m going to complain to YOU. You relay it.
      4.This guy had a chip on his shoulder, perhaps from some abusive passengers, perhaps because he was a big magilla and thinks that entitles him to get in people’s faces. I had every right to be ticked off for being jerked around, and to say I need to thank the people doing the jerking is a bit much. They get to feel me up—they don’t get to tell me I can’t express irritation at it with a joke, which is a damn sight better than shouting, “you know, you guys have had ten years to get this right, and it still is idiotic and abusive. What the hell’s the matter with you?”
      5. They are paid to molest me, and I am paying to get molested. Quiz: who should be saying “thank you’?

      • Jack:
        I’d consider your comments about feeling up and about Sandusky disrespectful. If I were a TSA screener I’d be offended, and i’m not all that easily offended.
        Also, the TSA guy couldn’t have been a big magilla unless he told you a very long story. Check out and watch your Yiddishisms, please.

        • But if you were a TSA screener, clearly you WOULD be easily offended.
          I don’t see who the joke was disrespectful to, other than Sandusky. If I say that Herman Cain is trying to get a job as a massage therapist, is that disrespectful to massage therapists who have women as clients? Only if they have a guilty conscience…

          • Well, I guess all jokes offend SOMEbody. I accept that you were disrespecting only Sandusky. By the way, I usually do get pissed at the screening points too. I try to keep my tongue under control and remember that these are Feds (like I was) trying to do their job under tough conditions. Sometimes I even succeed.

  7. tgt, where are you now? Need more logic coaching over here, please…

    Jack, the way you describe the incident confuses me. I’m sorry THAT I am confused; I’m sorry IF I am confused; I’m sorry that/if it seems like I am shifting blame to you for my confusion, without justification.

    You said, “I’m sorry I offended you.” Then you said, “But I’m not apologizing.” But…your first statement WAS an apology. (Correct me if necessary.) How can saying to someone that you’re sorry for offending them NOT be an apology?? Oh Lord, this is going to be a long day; I can see it coming.

    In practice, I make NO jokes while in the presence of TSA people while they are on the job. I am surgically altered too, though not in the hip (yet), and the false ding-dings I set off are a LOT more alarming to the average TSA worker – and a LOT more awkward and inconveniencing to dispel.

    • As I have written in many places, “I’m sorry if I offended you” is a simple expression of regret, not contrition. I didn’t want to offend the guy, but 1) the discussion was none of his business 2) it was no offensive, in my opinion, 3) he had no call to be offended and 4) he had no business confronting me.I didn’t apologize, and the more I read the comments, the more I think that I should have been sorry to offend him, either. He was looking to be offended: he had a chip on his shoulder.

      • (very belated) Okay. I believe I understand you now; it’s actually how I understood you to begin with. You DID regret that you offended the agent, but even so you still did NOT regret that you said what you said. I hope I would manage to be at least as clear if I was in the same moment, for the reasons you enumerated: “I am sorry I offended you, but I said what I meant and I am not sorry for that.” Or, even less regretfully, “I didn’t mean to offend you; I felt offended first.” Or the most aggressive: “You’re offended? Good! So am I! Now what?” Ball back in his court.

        I wonder if the agent had already heard a Sandusky-related wisecrack before he heard you. But, what are the odds? How many TSA agents would be Sandusky-aware? Seems the odds could be low. On that basis I agree with you. The guy had a chip; he was itching to take a power trip.

        Sometimes, you just gotta give (or take) offense, and leave it dished-out (or taken). What an insidious false god that respect for persons would be, in a society dominated by “zero tolerance for giving offense.”

  8. There are days that I just can’t take the stupidity and incompetence any more. It sounds like you had that kind of day. It is a bureaucracy, there is no one else to complain to. If you enough people complain enough, maybe something will change. Maybe not, but we shouldn’t have to put up with it quietly. You didn’t disrupt the line, you didn’t refuse to be scanned, you didn’t impede any process. If they are going to plan so poorly, they better be ready to get some complaints and bad jokes about it.

  9. Jack,

    Based on some of your articles, I had vowed never to use the phrase, “I’m sorry if I offended you.”

    To everyone else,

    “I’m sorry if I offended you” is not really an apology, for many reasons.

    • I agree that an offender’s sincere expression of sorrow to an offendee, for offending the offendee, might not constitute the full apology the offendee wants or deserves. But it’s a start. If it’s sincere.

      I agree, the insertion of “if” in the expression, “I’m sorry if I offended you,” makes that expression spiteful and dishonest, when the offendee is genuinely offended and the offender knows it. I avoid using that expression too. I’ve let it slip out, in sarcasm.

      But, when a possible offendee’s offended state is not clear to or foreseeable by their possible offender, that same expression, used sincerely, is one polite way for a possible offender (who may desire not to offend) to try to flush-out unanticipated, unknown and unresolved discord.

      I reckon Jack travels lots more than I do. I suppose there is not a way for frequent flyers to merit and receive some express-lane processing through the TSA gauntlets. That is too bad.

  10. I’m sorry I offended you is absolutely an apology. You can cross your fingers behind your back when you say it or rationalize it away so that you don’t mean it, but on the face of it, it is an apology and it was exactly the apology requested since the TSA agents complaint was that he was offended. No apology is valid if one is not sincere but from reading above it sounded sincere and if I am the TSA agent, I am satisfied since it was what I was looking for in the first place. I am offended by that joke. I am sorry I offended you. Altercation over.

    • “I’m sorry I offended you.” is also:

      “I’m sorry you overheard what I said.”
      “I’m sorry you took offense to what I said.”
      “If I had to do it over again, I would have done the same thing, but ensured you couldn’t hear me.”

      • And any of those would do. Since the problem was that the TSA agent was offended, even the last one would have sufficed. If the agent had not heard, there would have been no offence and no apology at all necessary. All of those are apologies. Some better than others but still apologies unless said sarcastically and any apology is invalid if issued with sarcasm.

        • But that’s not showing contrition for your acts. That’s showing sympathy for the other’s disposition. A real apology is contrition. A non-apology is sympathy.

  11. It is showing contrition for offending the agent. Sympathy would be saying, “I understand (or empathize, or sympathize) how you feel but I am not apologizing.” I have never even heard of a non-apology but unless they changed the definition, it wouldn’t start with “I’m sorry”.

    • My mistake, it could start with “I’m sorry”, if it was “I am sorry you feel that way”, that would not imply contrition for offending the agent and kind of does imply sympathy. It is not what he said though.

      • Why should anyone be sorry about how another person feels? I can only regret my actions or the results of them, as in “I’m sorry my scream when I was attacked by Jack the Ripper woke up your baby, but I’m still glad I screamed.”

        • Jack, I honestly think if you are using, “I am sorry I offended you,” as what someone earlier called a non-apology that you should stick to, “I am sorry you were offended”, or “I am sorry you……”.

          As the person who might be on the receiving end of one of these non-apologies one day, I would consider, “I am sorry I…..” implies contrition. In that statement it appears you are sorry about something you did. In “I am sorry you…” it appears you are not sorry about anything because how can you be sorry about what someone else did?

          Of course, I realize that it is no skin off your butt if I misunderstand you but it seems you are trying to make a point wth the non-apology and I am not the only one that reads implied contrition in a statement beginning with, “I am sorry I….” Just sayin’.

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