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AP Photo/Tina Fineberg
Trouble in the kitchen for Mario Batali.
NOT QUITE

Mario Batali’s apology equates sexual harassment with “fun”

By Leah Fessler

Public sexual-harassment apologies are becoming an art of sorts—one that no man, despite his fame, wealth, or legal team, seems to get quite right.

First, there was Harvey Weinstein, whose sexual harassment apology referenced Jay-Z, and a bizarre plea to fight the NRA. Then there was Louis C.K., who focused his harassment apology on his own fame, entirely evading the words “I’m sorry.” And now there’s celebrity chef Mario Batali, who almost issued a real apology—before demolishing by trying to explain away his sexual misconduct as misguided “fun.”

Today (Dec. 11), a report in Eater described Batali—restaurant-industry mogul, owner of multiple top-tier New York City restaurants, and TV co-host of ABC’s The Chew—as a serial sexual harasser. Four women, three of whom worked for Batali in some capacity, accused him of groping and verbally harassing them over the span of two decades.

What the accusers say

One woman, a former server, says that Batali repeatedly grabbed her from behind “like a linebacker, like a disgusting bear hug,” and pressed against her body. Another says Batali grabbed her breasts when she approached him at an industry party. As Eater reports: “When she walked over and tapped him on the shoulder, ‘he sprung up, like he was startled,’ and with his eyes wide open. Then, immediately, ‘he lifted his arms straight up and grabbed both of my breasts,’ she said. ‘I took a step back and I pushed him away, and when I did that, I remember he said, ‘Oh, come on.’”

Another woman who worked for Batali alleges that he repeatedly grabbed her butt and squeezed it. When she gently confronted him about the misconduct, she says, he responded, “What are you, a lesbian?” Various women say Batali was similarly defensive, and sometimes increasingly aggressive after being confronted.

The first formal complaint against Batali was filed two months ago, a spokesperson for the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group tells Eater. He was reprimanded and attended training. Batali will now be stepping away from all restaurant operations. He has also been suspended by ABC.

His statement in full

In a statement to Eater, Batali confirms that many of the accusations “match up” with his behavior. Here’s his apology, in full:

“I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt. Although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family.

“I have work to do to try to regain the trust of those I have hurt and disappointed. For this reason, I am going to step away from day-to-day operations of my businesses. We built these restaurants so that our guests could have fun and indulge, but I took that too far in my own behavior. I won’t make that mistake again. I want any place I am associated with to feel comfortable and safe for the people who work or dine there.

“I know my actions have disappointed many people. The successes I have enjoyed are owned by everyone on my team. The failures are mine alone. To the people who have been at my side during this time — my family, my partners, my employees, my friends, my fans — I am grateful for your support and hopeful that I can regain your respect and trust. I will spend the next period of time trying to do that.”

Why it is almost effective

Unlike many of his fellow sexual predators, Batali (and his legal team) penned an effective apology on many fronts. As Quartz explains in a step-by-step guide on how to apologize like you actually mean it, the most essential elements of an apology—besides literally saying “I apologize”—are explicitly taking responsibility for your actions and recognizing that the apology is not about you. It’s about the people you’ve hurt.

In validating the truth of these women’s allegations, Batali acknowledges that while the victims’ stories will not always perfectly align with the memory of the accused, that does not make them any less real.

What’s more, in stating that his behavior “was wrong and there are no excuses,” saying he takes “full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family,” and that “the failures are mine alone,” Batali avoids blaming his victims or minimizing the pain of what they experienced.

And why it is not

These successes aside, Batali doesn’t deserve praise for his statement—it’s the bare minimum he can do. Plus, in the second paragraph, he offers this self-sabotaging line: “We built these restaurants so that our guests could have fun and indulge, but I took that too far in my own behavior.”

If you’re still nodding along while reading that sentence—in which Batali implies that his behavior could be conceived of as “fun,” please: Wake. Up.

There is no world in which this sexual abuse is “fun.” There is no world in which this sexual abuse could be justified as a reasonable “indulgence.” There is no world in which Batali—or any person—should make any excuse for harassing anyone.

Batali is accused of harassing women who depended on him for their livelihood or imagined seeking employment with him.) He admits the core truth of their stories. In implying that sexual misconduct falls somewhere on the same continuum of “fun” and “indulgence,” Batali promotes the lie that harassment is a reasonable—even inevitable— mistake for men who are just “having a good time,” or “being boys.”

True remorse requires self-awareness. Batali and his cohort of sexually abusive baby-men need to admit that sexual harassment is a voluntary, conscious choice made by men who view women as objects. They choose to capitalize on their social currency to subjugate less-powerful women, while fully aware that the very same power dynamics will silence their victims.

That silence—and the chauvinist male “fun” it has facilitated—is ending. Sorry, Batali.