1. A hedge of an otherwise effusive expression of contrition with all the reasons you shouldn't need to make it.
2. "I'm sorry. But it's not me, it's them."
As public apologies for shameful acts reach a cultural zenith, Geoffrey Nunberg, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, has coined what could be the defining term of this age of redemption. Take the case of David Vitter. When he was implicated in a prostitution scandal in 2007, the Republican senator from Louisiana immediately began earning his Teflon status by citing the "important values" that he had reaffirmed "several years ago" and played the victim card with subtle sleights of diction: "Unfortunately, my admission has encouraged some longtime political enemies . . . to spread falsehoods," he said. "If continuing to believe in and acknowledge those values causes some to attack me because of my past failings, well, so be it." Now, that's an apoloblame.
A Field Guide to the Fixers
Founder and president, Smith & Company
Tapped to Rehab: Wesley Snipes, Paula Deen, Monica Lewinsky, Larry Craig
Redemption Resume: The real-life inspiration behind ABC's hit show Scandal is the choice fixer for some of the thorniest PR nightmares and says the series is a slightly dramatized version of her real life—as in, "I don't remove dead bodies from crime scenes." Still, Smith's typical day doesn't need much glamorizing: "I might get a call from a high-profile individual in a scandal about to break or a celebrity who's about to get kicked off set—all before noon."
Best Work: Aside from her obsessive devotion to privacy, the fact that she worked with Larry Craig and he and his "wide stance" somehow managed to finish out his term means she can quell an inferno.
Founder, Hiltzik Strategies
Tapped to Rehab: Justin Bieber, Alec Baldwin, Glenn Beck, Annie Leibovitz
Redemption Resume: A favorite fixer in Hollywood, Hiltzik is not afraid of making mutually beneficial deals, as when Manti Te'o gave his first post-hoax interview to Katie Couric—both clients. The pragmatist's strategy is to "understand when to debate the smaller points and when to just own up to your mistake."
Best Work: He was hired by Bieber in 2011 after a woman claimed the teen idol got her pregnant, and he shut the story down by going on the offensive—encouraging the pop star to take a paternity test, appear on Today, and threaten to sue the accuser.
Howard J. Rubenstein
President, Rubenstein Associates
Tapped to Rehab: Naomi Campbell, Michael Richards, Mike Tyson
Redemption Resume: Perhaps the most influential flack—or person, for that matter—in New York City over the past four decades, the 81-year-old Rubenstein has whispered in the ears of nearly every mayor and has the unique ability to silence his clients' opponents and stamp out flames in the tabloids while maintaining his good-guy persona. "I try to give the best, most honest, most ethical advice I can," he says, "and not tailor my approach or counsel to the temperaments involved."
Best Work: After years of assaulting assistants, cops, and housekeepers, Campbell now makes headlines as a reality-TV host and activist, thanks to Rubenstein.
President, Ari Fleischer Sports Communications
Tapped to Rehab: Mark McGwire, the NCAA's Bowl Championship Series
Redemption Resume: The former White House press secretary left politics after working under Dubya through 9/11 and the Iraq invasion to focus on sports crisis management.
Best Work: Following McGwire's steroid scandal, Fleischer helped him successfully reenter the public eye with a well-orchestrated one-day media blitz that started with an AP story and ended with a prime-time interview with Bob Costas. "Mark was able to come back because he sacrificed himself and didn't lie," Fleischer says.
Founder, chairman, and CEO of Sitrick and Company
Tapped to Rehab: Paris Hilton, Rush Limbaugh, Chris Brown, Michael Vick
Redemption Resume: This spin artist is a master at finding just the right media outlet for lawbreakers to get their good name back—whether it's TMZ or Vanity Fair—and he monitors the press nearly 24-7. "Information is power," says Sitrick, whose staff includes several former top journalists. "What we do is, we will learn more about a situation than almost anyone else—because we are on the inside."
Best Work: Sitrick orchestrated Hilton's release from jail in 2007 and sent her to Larry King to morph her from a party girl into a credible charity-hopping socialite. "We prepped her the way a lawyer would prep their client," he says.
The High Cost of Coming Back They say a good reputation is priceless, but how much does it cost to repair a damaged one? In August, TMZ seemed to answer that question when it revealed that Michael Vick owed Mike Sitrick $111,317.13—a figure obtained from court documents in the NFL star's bankruptcy case following his dogfighting scandal. If that seems like a lot, consider that it's just the tip of the iceberg. "Those were just Vick's outstanding balances," Sitrick says. Although the fixer declines to reveal how much he charged in total, he says his fees are "on par with a top law firm." The upper tier of elite attorneys command $1,000 an hour, so you can only imagine how fast the quarterback's bills mounted.