Kristen Stewart, the attractive actress who woodenly plays the Mary Sue heroine of the astonishingly bad yet ridiculously popular “Twilight” movies by never smiling ever (seriously, this is the best I think she can do), turns out to have been having a fling with her director in that Snow White movie I didn’t see and probably will never see even though it has that guy who played Thor in it who I think is kind of cool. Ms. Stewart was very publicly dating her co-star from the movies, that kinda-creepy-looking Robert Pattinson guy who seems to have eyeliner tattooed on his face. The director, Rupert Sanders, is married and has children with his wife, who happens to have also been an actor in that Snow White movie I am likely never going to see. (As far as I know, they’re normal-looking, although she does high fashion modeling so she probably looks weird doing that.)
Celebrity gossip. So what?
“So what” is that the affair came to light only yesterday. Today, the still-unsmiling Ms. Stewart issued this statement: “I’m deeply sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I’ve caused to those close to me and everyone this has affected. This momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person I love and respect the most, Rob. I love him, I love him, I’m so sorry.” Mr. Sanders issued his own statement shortly afterwards, similarly short and apologetic.
That’s the way you do it. The crow isn’t going to taste any better when it gets cold. The price of buying your mistakes only increases over time. If you got caught doing something bad, don’t lie about it. Come clean, right away, acknowledge that what you did was bad, vow not to do it again, ask for forgiveness… and chances are good that it will blow over quickly. Ms. Stewart either has good instincts or she got good advice.
Compare this to the way Tiger Woods’ indiscretions came to light. You remember, the car hitting the tree, the wife throwing the golf club — and the lies told by the press people trying to explain how everybody involved acted in an exemplary and utterly blameless fashion. Made it worse than it had to be.
Partly to blame, in the celebrity context, are PR flacks who insist that their celebrity clients be unimpeachable paragons of perfection. And so too is the basic human impulse to deny having done anything wrong and the hope that maybe you won’t get caught.
What I think about is how eager I would be to use an admission of wrongdoing by someone to attach liability were I to have a client suing them — and the knots people tie themselves into to escape that because they fear being sued. I’ve heard stories of doctors hesitating to say, “I’m sorry” an expression of sympathy when a patient dies, for fear that statement will be used back at them in a malpractice suit. Now, today’s scandal is just sex. No one’s going to be suing anyone for it, other than maybe a divorce, which in California is a no-fault procedure so it doesn’t much matter anyway.
But I wonder if there might not be some sort of way to modify the law to accommodate sincere expressions of moral regret, let people put their lives together. Probably not. And even if there were, it would almost immediately be abused to the point of self-satire because people are already cynical and manipulative even before they get a lawyer’s advice. And my brother and sister attorneys are going to (and should) have juries on the brain when we do dispense that advice, not concerns about healing and forgiveness. We work in a universe where forgiveness and apologies are expressed in numbers — dollars in the civil cases and time in the criminal cases. So no, I don’t think there’s any way around it — the law provides a disincentive for people to apologize and own up to their mistakes.