Monday afternoon, it was announced by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak that missing Malaysian flight 370 “ended” in the Indian Ocean and that everyone aboard the aircraft had died. Though this announcement didn’t quell the mystery of what actually took place aboard the aircraft, it did force us to realize the reality of the extraordinary loss of life that took place with this tragedy. Unfortunately, a couple of old rivals used this horrible tragedy as an opportunity to throw shots at each other on Twitter.

Jeremy Clarkson’s Poorly Timed Joke

Shortly after the sad announcement, famous British broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson made an off-color joke about oxygen masks on Twitter:

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Old rival Piers Morgan saw this as an opportunity to take a shot at Clarkson, retweeting Clarkson’s joke as “utterly shameful:”

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Clarkson and Morgan Have a Long History of Public Fights

Clarkson and Morgon have a decade-long spat that started when Clarkson broke his finger punching Morgan in the face at the 2004 British Press Awards. The tiff has fizzled in recent years, but flared up again last month when ‘Piers Morgan Live’ was canceled by CNN. Clarkson was quoted as saying,

“Billions had the ability to watch, but few did.  His show failed because the viewers hated him.  Everybody hates him.”

The cattiness between the two has continued to grow since, as Morgan challenged Clarkson to a fight for charity, and Morgan turned Clarkson’s tweet into a firestorm. Various news outlets picked up on Clarkson’s tweet and turned it into an embarrassing story.Clarkson Made a Mistake, But Refused to ApologizeOf course, all of this hubbub could have been avoided if Clarkson had posted a simple apology. Clarkson says that when he took the photo he was on an airplane and was completely unaware of the Flight 370 announcement. It seems that he didn’t know just how terrible his timing was. Though his tweet was still in poor taste, most would have understood the mistake if he had just retreated and apologized. But that’s not what happened. Fueled by hatred for his rival Morgan, Clarkson decided to fire back at some of his Twitter replies, digging himself much deeper into trouble.

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Even under fire for his comments, Clarkson couldn’t let Morgan off the hook without getting in one more shot at his favorite target over the last ten years. Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.31.16 PM

Twitter statistics show that plenty of people are retweeting that zinger, making this an embarrassing incident for both Clarkson and Morgan.

What We Can Learn from the Clarkson-Morgan Twitter Fight

No one’s really right in this situation, but there are still lessons to be learned from this online spat.

Clarkson should understand this in the wake of an airplane tragedy, it’s simply too soon to make jokes about your plane going down. It’s even worse to Tweet a joke just a couple hours after an announcement that 239 people died in a plane crash. It’s simply not going to be received well, no matter who you are.

It’s also important to own your mistakes and apologize when necessary. Mistakes happen, and it’s entirely plausible that Clarkson had no knowledge of the announcement when he shared his tweet. But Clarkson’s mistake was further compounded when he refused to admit his mistake, and instead fired back with negative tweets. He could have easily explained himself, passed along his condolences for the lives lost, and be done with it.

Clarkson Should Have Dropped His Ego to Apologize

Unfortunately, Clarkson’s ego got in the way of an apology. Twitter has allowed people to publish their thoughts instantaneously, and that sets up everyone with the opportunity to tweet something that they will regret.  The issue here is that he could have easily diffused the situation, apologized, expressed grief, and moved on. Instead, he took the opportunity to not only rile up people who felt he was being insensitive, but also to get in a couple more shots at his nemesis. A poor choice if you ask me.

If developing a reputation for being an insensitive windbag is what Clarkson wanted, he made that happen. I just hope Morgan and Clarkson can put that celebrity boxing match together so they can try to knock some sense into each other.