Most of my criticism of Ron Lindsay and, by extension, the CFI, has been about terrible communication in response to an initial mis-step. Ron Lindsay had the good sense to apologize for writing a nasty blog post about Rebecca Watson, though he continued to be quite adversarial in tone, even in the apology.
In the world of public figure and corporate responses, you have a lot of options: Ignore, deny, obfuscate, non-apology apology, tactical apology, and a full apology. All of these play out differently depending on whether the organization thinks they’ve done anything wrong, what the level of public backlash is, and whether there are legal issues involved.
For a lesson in contrasts, we can look at how American Atheists responded to the lawsuit being filed by AJ Johnson and how CFI has responded to the complaints about Ron Lindsay.
AA released a long, detailed refutation of claims of racism, providing evidence and a rebuttal to all major points made. This despite the fact that they are dealing with a legal matter, which often makes organizations become very tight-lipped. It should be noted that this doesn’t mean that AA is innocent from any and all accusations, I am not privy to any special knowledge here, but it does mean that they are willing to publicly engage openly and clearly with those who are criticizing them.
CFI on the other hand released a statement that functionally just acknowledged that people were unhappy with them and that that was sad. No acknowledgment of the claims or who was involved, certainly no detailed response to any of the criticisms, and no indication that they cared at all about the feedback that they had been getting — either to be indignant or apologetic about it. Greta has a much more thorough parsing of just how bad this statement was.
What would a good statement have looked like?
Pretty much anything that wasn’t this: The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.
OK wow passive language. Here’s the problem the CFI is expressing, that is what is happening in this whole statement, so they should just express it. They are also so incredibly vague here. They should have just not said anything if this is what they were going to say. If I stood where they apparently stand on the issue, I would have replaced that sentence with this:
“The CFI Board has read dozens of letters about Ron Lindsay’s remarks at the recent Women in Secularism 2 conference. While we find nothing offensive ourselves in Ron Lindsay’s opening speech, we are making an ongoing effort to understand the perspective of the people our event was meant to support and are happy to receive further feedback. Our goal is to be supportive of women, and if women feel we are not fulfilling that goal, we are eager to continue to receive feedback. We were disappointed in the tone Ron Lindsay took in responding to criticism and have told him in no uncertain terms our feelings about this. He apologized soon after these remarks, and we feel that that was the correct course of action and support him.”
While this would not have made people happy, it would have at least indicated that the board:
1. Understood the issue
2. Knew the details of the complaints
3. Cared about the responses that they were getting
4. Had an opinion about what happened, even if it was the wrong one
5. Acknowledged the need for the apology already given
6. Were not closing the door to further feedback
7. Had some sort of discussion with Ron Lindsay about his behavior