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Deep Regret

The term “deep regret” is often used as a carefully calibrated expression of apology or contrition without admitting legal or ethical wrongdoing.

The phrase is generally deployed in statements or speeches to manage crises or mitigate public relations damage, often after scandals.

The level of sincerity behind the sentiment can vary, and critics frequently scrutinize its usage as potentially being a tactical maneuver rather than a genuine admission of fault or responsibility.

Richard Nixon’s Checkers speech is a classic example of the tactic.

More on “Deep Regret”

A classic form of non-apology apology, in which the politician does not actually express contrition.

Politicians or officials are frequently in the news for some-thing they said, or did, which was deemed offensive by someone. Depending on the severity of their misstep, after a delay comes a message of deep regret, which if parsed closely isn’t much of an apology.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid found himself forced into this ritual early in 2010, upon publication of the book Game Change. The Nevada lawmaker apologized, in a way, for making racially insensitive remarks about Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. Authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann quoted Reid as saying privately that Obama, as a black candidate, could be successful in part to his “light-skinned” appearance and speaking patterns “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

In a statement to CNN, Reid said, “I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words.” (“Poor choice of words,” incidentally, has become the standard response to “I’m sorry what I said caused such an uproar.” So has the passive-voice “mistakes were made” that is often attributed to Nixon’s White House during Watergate but actually stems from the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal.)

“Deep regret” also pops up in announcements of political resignations. Generally speaking, it means someone that a politician is genuinely sad to see depart. Someone who was forced out or encouraged to step down, on the other hand, often merits a simple “regret.” When embarrassing income-tax problems led former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle to with-draw his name in 2009 as the nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services, President Barack Obama gave him the regrets-only treatment.

From Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes © 2014 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Deep Regret” in a sentence

  • After the leaked emails revealed the campaign’s controversial tactics, the candidate issued a statement expressing “deep regret” for the lack of transparency.
  • The senator conveyed his “deep regret” over the unintended consequences of the legislation he championed, promising to work on amendments.
  • During the press conference, the governor cited “deep regret” for the administrative failures that led to the crisis, while stopping short of admitting direct responsibility.