The Boy Scouts Issued an ‘Apology’ for Trump’s Behavior. It’s Not Enough. Here’s Why.
It took three days for the Boy Scouts of America to address the controversy that followed President Donald Trump’s bizarre speech on Monday to the organization’s Jamboree. Three days, and the statement was not from the organization’s president, Randall L. Stephenson, but from Michael Surbaugh, its Chief Scout Executive.
Stephenson has 85 billion reasons to not pen an apology for Trump’s speech, which may explain why it took three days to craft the organization’s statement, which apologized “to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree.” In popular culture, the act of offering an apology not for causing offense but for the fact that someone complained that they are offended is known as a “non-apology apology.” This was an example of that sort of apology.
In his day job, Stephenson is chairman, chief executive officer and President of AT&T Inc., which made an offer in October to purchase Time Warner for approximately $85.4 billion. The U.S. Justice Department began its antitrust review of the deal in recent weeks. During the campaign, Donald Trump spoke out against the merger on the campaign trail and declared at one point, “Deals like this destroy democracy.”
Time Warner’s shareholders approved the merger in a vote in February.
In June, the White House hosted a technology summit at which chief executives of technology companies met with President Trump. Stephenson sat beside the president, who lavished praise on AT&T’s CEO and said Stephenson is “doing a really top job.”
At&T, Time Warner, and CNN
No one knows if President Trump now likes the idea of an AT&T merger with Time Warner or if he still dislikes it, but adding to Stephenson’s difficulties is the fact that Donald Trump hates one of Time Warner’s most famous brands: CNN. He calls it “fake news.” In July, the New York Times reported that “White House advisers have discussed” the merger as a “potential point of leverage over their adversary” CNN. The Daily Caller reported on July 6 that, “The White House does not support the pending merger between CNN’s parent company Time Warner and AT&T if Jeff Zucker remains president of CNN.”
When he spoke to 40,000 Boy Scouts at their jamboree on Monday, he mentioned “fake news” a half-dozen times. Donald Trump that day was not just another U.S. president at the traditional Boy Scouts of America jamboree; he was the president of the U.S. speaking in front of the Boy Scouts of America—whose president is also the CEO of a company that wants his administration to not interfere in a major merger about which Trump has possible ambitions.
A sincere apology from the Boy Scouts of America to scouts and families and human beings offended by the president’s bizarre speech ran the risk of offending Trump, which might not help At&T’s cause. An apology from Randall L. Stephenson himself, CEO of At&T and president of the BSA, ran the risk of offending Trump. Thousands of former and current scouts spoke and wrote about the president’s offensive performance on Monday. A statement was required.
Thus, Michael Surbaugh turned to a myth of scouting’s history of non-partisanship in explaining what the chief offense committed against the organization was. He wrote, “For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.”
RELATED: I’m an Eagle Scout. I Saw Bill Clinton Speak at Jamboree. Here’s What I Think of Trump’s Speech
President Trump certainly was partisan in some of his controversial statements, but he also offered some other thoughts, including one about Christmas …
And by the way, under the Trump administration, you’ll be saying Merry Christmas again when you go shopping. Believe me. Merry Christmas. They’ve been downplaying that little beautiful phrase. You’re going to be saying Merry Christmas again, folks.
… and a long anecdote about boats, the French Riviera, New York City nightlife and Time Warner that rambled to this conclusion:
And I saw him at a cocktail party and it was very sad. Because the hottest people in New York were at this party. It was the party of Steve Ross. Steve Ross, he was one of the great people. He came up and discovered—really founded—Time Warner, and he was a great guy. He had a lot of successful people at the party. And I was doing well so I got invited to the party.
Time Warner was on his mind.
The Myth of Non-Partisanship
The Boy Scouts of America statement could only apologize for “partisanship that was inserted into the jamboree” but only to those who might have been offended by it. Not for the fact of it. The organization has been partisan in the past and continues to be so. One need only look at its history with social issues and its evolving definition of who can be a scout. Atheists and agnostics are blocked. Until 2014, gays were banned from membership. In January 2017, transgender boys were allowed to participate. Some celebrated each development as a positive step towards an overall more inclusive and less judgmental society and some did not. Each of these decisions was socially partisan.
The Boy Scouts of America is not non-partisan, but when handed 85 billion reasons to not complain, the complaint about partisanship rearing its head was the best its Chief Scout Executive could do.
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)