Whether it is the impeached Bill Clinton leaving office with solid approval ratings or the once-disgraced Eliot Spitzer now surging in New York City electoral polls, there is ample evidence that America forgives public figures for their transgressions. And yet, contrition is not exactly common on the public stage. Like the Fonz from "Happy Days," today's media stars, politicians and celebrities often have trouble saying the words "I was wrong" or "I am sorry"—even when they have made obvious mistakes and when apologies are clearly necessary.
Such a pervasive hostility to self-reproach is one of the big reasons that the recent mea culpa from CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is so significant. Indeed, his apology for previously advocating marijuana prohibition is a critical reminder not just that the Drug War is misguided, but also that public figures bear a special responsibility to admit mistakes. Why? Because when they refuse to admit error, they allow destructive misperceptions to persist in the larger population.