An Ethics Dunce Apologizes

When you do something unethical and hurtful that cannot be undone, the only remaining ethical course is to apologize and do whatever you can to mitigate the damage. That is what Doug Wead is doing now, following widespread and richly deserved criticism [See February Ethics Dunce: Doug Wead] of his surreptitious taping of George W. Bush while he was running for the presidency and his subsequent justification of his conduct after he revealed sections of the tape to journalists in order to promote his upcoming book.

In today’s USA Today’s letters section, Wead’s complete apology appears under the heading "I’m sorry, Mr. President." Here it is:

I’m sorry, Mr. President

I began tape-recording George W. Bush in 1987. In those first years, it was with his permission. Every tape and memo and scrap of paper was carefully filed. I was proud of him, sensing he was destined for great things. His decisiveness and self-discipline were remarkably evident even then. Long before he became a millionaire with the Texas Rangers or moved into the governor’s mansion in Austin or gave his speech at Ground Zero, he was a complete package.

When his father won the presidential election of 1988, I wrote him a 44-page paper on what happens to children of presidents. Nine were elected to Congress, many made a run for the White House and several came very close.

When our conversations began again in 1997, I first started taking notes. Many options were discussed and discarded in those conversations. Eventually, I was asked to carry a sensitive message to a reporter or even to a political opponent’s camp. The exact wording was critical and I felt inadequate to the task. And so, the following year, my secret tape-recording of George W. Bush began. At first, it was only to make sure I was doing the right thing, what he wanted. But it was prideful and arrogant of me to think my good intentions justified my actions. I taped a man without his permission and he happened to win the presidency. My decision to release a portion of the tapes has come at a terrible price for my family and has deeply hurt many others.

I was foolish and wrong to tape-record Mr. Bush without his permission. I was wrong to play any part of the tapes for my publisher, regardless of the circumstances. I was wrong to play any part of them for a journalist. I apologized to the president before the story appeared and again afterward. He has been typically patient, in spite of the personal hurt.

Today, the work of reparation has begun.

  • My book promotion has been canceled.
  • Future royalties from the book have been assigned to charity.
  • The hours of tapes, which prompted offers of millions of dollars, have been turned over to the president.
  • The work of rebuilding relationships, with God, the president and friends, has begun.

If I could live my life over again, there are many things I would do differently. I cannot undo the hurt I have caused but I can, with God’s help, take the heat I deserve and move on.

Doug Wead
Former special assistant to President George H.W. Bush

Wead’s public apology doesn’t change the magnitude of his betrayal, or wipe the slate clean. But a full confession takes courage and a willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions, and Wead deserves credit for doing the right thing after doing an undeniably wrong thing. Few of those who are featured in the Scoreboard can bring themselves to do what he has done. He cannot restore his trustworthiness with one letter, but it is definitely an excellent start.


Business & Commercial
Sports & Entertainment
Government & Politics
Science & Technology
Professions & Institutions

The Ethics Scoreboard, ProEthics, Ltd., 2707 Westminster Place, Alexandria, VA 22305
Telephone: 703-548-5229    E-mail: ProEthics President

© 2007 Jack Marshall & ProEthics, Ltd     Disclaimers, Permissions & Legal Stuff    Content & Corrections Policy