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Kevin Stein - Southern Utah University. Cedar City, UT, US

Kevin Stein

Director MAPC Program/Professor of Communication | Southern Utah University


Specializing in the rhetoric of attack, apology, and responses to apology as well as political campaign communication.


Dr. Kevin A. Stein is a professor of communication at Southern Utah University and director of the Master of Arts in Professional Communication program. His research focuses primarily on the rhetoric of attack (kategoria), defense (apologia), and persuasive responses to defense (antapologia). Other academic interests include political campaign communication and popular culture.

Dr. Stein has published numerous articles addressing a variety of apologetic contexts, as well as books and peer-reviewed articles on different types of political campaign messages including debates, advertisements, acceptance addresses, direct mail brochures, and television talk show appearances. He has presented his academic work at regional, national, and international conferences, including presentations at the University of Athens in Greece and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He received SUU's Distinguished Scholar award in 2020 and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Outstanding Scholar award in 2019.

While on a year-long sabbatical in China, Dr. Stein directed the American Studies Center at Hunan Normal University in Changsha (Hunan Province). Since then he has returned several times as a liaison for the SUU Office of International Affairs and as a teacher in a dual degree communication program offered by Wuhan Polytechnic University and Southern Utah University.

Dr. Stein is the webmaster for Public Apology Central (www.publicapologycentral.com), which archives crisis summaries, transcripts, videos, and audio of public apologies (apologia) from politicians, celebrities, athletes, organizations, religious leaders, media figures, heads of state, and lay citizens.

He earned a bachelor's degree in communication from Southern Utah University (1999), a master's degree in communication in speech from Idaho State University (2002), and a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Missouri (2005).


Answers (3)

Are there any resources available for people interested in public apology?

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There are many books and journal articles examining individual apologies, but I recently noticed there wasn't a specific website dedicated to archiving the most prominent examples of image repair in our culture. With the help of some grant money, I created Public Apology Central (www.publicapologycentral.com). The website is the web's best source for crisis summaries, transcripts, videos, and audio of public apologies (apologia) from politicians, celebrities, athletes, organizations, religious leaders, media figures, heads of state, and lay citizens. Although the term "apology" means taking responsibility, apologia includes a variety of defensive strategies used by those accused of wrongdoing, including denial (“I didn’t do it), shifting blame (“He did it”), minimization (“It wasn’t that bad”), and mortification (“I’m sorry”). The site deals with all forms of persuasive defense and not simply “apology,” where one takes responsibility for his or her actions. The site also contains a wealth of educational resources for those interested in this type of rhetoric, including definitions of the key strategies, some data on recent trends in apology, examples of apologia in movies, and a reference list of the most noteworthy publications on apology.

How has public apology changed with the advent of new technology and social media?

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Not only has technology changed the way people apologize, but it has also functioned to increase the overall number of apologies. I recently completed (with my colleague Dr. Matt Barton) a fairly comprehensive content analysis of over four hundred apologies from the past century and discovered that the sheer number of apologies is on the rise. Our sample contained 554 apologies between 1920 and 2000 and 1,584 apologies after the year 2000. Are people in the 21st century more socially deviant than previous generations? I don't think so. I think that technology has placed a spotlight on offensive behaviors. It's simply harder to get away with things than it used to be. Technology, particularly social media, has also changed the way people apologize. For example, public relations professionals have to be bothered that they craft careful messages for their clients only to find that the client posts contradictory (and much less polished) statements on Facebook or Twitter. This certainly occurred with Kanye West after he grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. West was contrite in his interview with Jay Leno where he said, "It was very…it was rude, period. And, you know, I’d like to be able to apologize to her in person, and, you know, I’m going to do that.” However, on his Twitter feed, he posted: "I’m sorry to my fans if I let you guys down! I’m sorry to my friends at mtv. I will apologize to taylor 2mrw. welcome to the real world! everybody wanna booooo me but i’m a fan of real pop culture!" So clearly social media apologies look different from traditional apologies offered in interviews and press releases. Some argue they are more authentic because they do not come from the public figure's "handlers," and I would agree there can be great value in this level of authenticity. However, the strategies on social media must be consistent with other released statements and these public figures are sometimes too emotional to be able to objectively determine which strategies are the best choice for repairing their images.

What are the best strategies to use when attempting to repair image after a public scandal?

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There are no easy answers to this question and public relations professionals are sometimes confounded any time a new scandal arises. Just when they think they've got a good playbook in place for dealing with controversy, someone will come along and do something crazy like Justin Timberlake tearing off Janet Jackson's shirt during a Super Bowl halftime performance or crematorium owner Ray Marsh stacking up corpses behind his place and business and giving the relatives urns of concrete rather than the remains. Aristotle defined rhetoric as "the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion." This means that professionals have to be somewhat flexible in developing strategies for image repair. An awareness of what scandals have occurred before and what strategies were used in hundreds of cases should help one to hone in on just the right combination of strategies. That being said, there are some strategies that are generally more effective than others. The first of these is the strategy of mortification, wherein one takes full responsibility for his/her actions. A person accused of wrongdoing should say "I'm sorry for what I've done. Please forgive me." Often, however, people will waffle on this strategy and say things that evade responsibility, such as "I'm sorry you were offended" or "I regret that this incident occurred." Other times, they will combine their mortification with other evasive strategies, such as provocation ("He made me do it") or minimization ("The thing I did was not that bad"). Sometimes the accused person is limited in what responses he/she can provide because of specific elements of the context. If a person was caught on video doing something egregious, he/she can't say the act didn't happen or that it was less significant than it appeared to be for audiences who watched the video. In short, a good rule of thumb is to take full responsibility and to offer some form of corrective action (restitution). It sounds so simple and you might wonder why anybody would pay consultants for this advice. Well, people are not good at following advice because their pride sometimes gets in the way and they can't resist the temptation to use strategies that detract from the sincerity of their apologies.





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Anatomy of an apology: Kevin Stein at TEDxSUU Meet Our Professors: Kevin Stein, Communications


Industry Expertise (4)

Public Relations and Communications


Motion Pictures and Film

Writing and Editing

Areas of Expertise (13)

Antapologia Strategies

Political Campaign Messages


Rhetoric of Defense




Pop Culture

Political Communication


Rhetoric of Attack

Critical Thinking

Public Apologies

Education (3)

University of Missouri: Ph.D., Communication, emphasis in Rhetoric and Political Communication

Idaho State University: M.A., Communication in Speech

Southern Utah University: B.S., Communication

Media Appearances (3)

As Obama Stumps for Struggling Democrats, Biden and Team Muddle the Message

Newsweek  online


"Sadly, it is true that candidates of both parties have tried to argue that their opponents are simply pawns of other political figures," Kevin Stein, a communications professor at Southern Utah University and an expert in political communication, told Newsweek. "This is really prevalent in the history of political advertising."

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Two Communication Professors Publish Research on How Public Figures Avoid Genuine Apologies

Southern Utah University News  online


Professors Kevin Stein and Matthew Barton of the Department of Communication at Southern Utah University published this week a comprehensive analysis of apologies offered by public figures to understand the ways people use language to take or avoid responsibility for harmful behavior, such as infidelity, domestic violence, and deception.

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5 Secrets Politicians Use in Debate Battle

Fox 13  online


Announcements. Polls. Ads. Debates. Attacks. Policies. We’ve been inundated with presidential campaign news since early 2015, but what do all of these messages mean? Kevin Stein, associate professor of Communication at Southern Utah University, researches the content of political campaign messaging, and shares strategies to look for when watching the news.

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Articles (7)

"I'm Sorry You Interpreted My Behavior the Way You Did": Toward A New Understanding of the Nuances of Mortification

Western Journal of Communication

Kevin A. Stein and Matthew H. Barton


The study uses content analytic and grounded theory approaches to analyze 409 cases of public apologia from 351 different incidents in order to develop a typology of mortification-specific strategies. Its purpose is to offer a critique of existing scholarship and its inattention to the specific nuances of mortification. Historically, scholars have limited their conclusions to a discussion of strategy, while ignoring the reality that specific language choices need only appear to be sincere in order to satisfy the rhetor’s goal.

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Taco the Puppy is Super Sick: Student Excuses as a Unique Form of Apologia Rhetoric

Relevant Rhetoric

Kevin Stein and Michael Ostrowsky

College students use a plethora of excuses in their interactions with professors in order to accomplish​ various goals, such as securing more time to complete an assignment or to obtain a reprieve for an absence. But why? Simply put, some students attempt to limit their responsibility for the negative behaviors necessitating the excuse. Our focus is not on whether the excuse is true, but rather to understand the manner in which students construct messages so that they function to account for their undesirable classroom behaviors.

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Listening to Unheard Voices: Nurses ’ Communication Experiences with the NRS Pain Scale

The Journal of the SCASD

Matthew H. Barton and Kevin Stein

This study examines nurses’ experiences with the Numeric Rating Scale (NRS). These responses characterize the communication trials that nurses face with pain diagnosis, pain management, and overall patient care. Interviews with 20 nurses reveal three themes: subject dissatisfaction, feeling limited, and subjective satisfaction. An analysis of these themes reveals the need for renewed discussion about the way pain is communicated and the challenging expectations nurses must regularly confront. Implications for listening to important, but often quiet, even silent, voices in pain management and clinical practice are discussed.

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140 Characters to Say “I Hate You”: Melissa Click, Racism, and the Media Circus at Mizzou

Relevant Rhetoric

Kevin A. Stein, Matthew H. Barton, Wm. Bryan Paul


On November 9, 2015, University of Missouri communication professor, Melissa Click, made national headlines for attempting to suppress student journalists covering a campus protest, adding to the flurry of media attention already surrounding a major controversy. While participating in student demonstrations against the university administration’s alleged indifference toward reports of racism on campus, Click had attempted to eject student reporter, Tim Tai, from a “safe zone” created by protesters. As a result of her errant behavior, Click eventually faced suspension, a misdemeanor assault charge, and official dismissal from the university.

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Apologist-in-Chief?: Newspaper Kategoria and Antapologia following Barack Obama’s “Global Apology Tour”

Iowa Journal of Communication

Kevin A. Stein, Matthew H. Barton, Michael K. Ault and James R. Briscoe


This essay critically analyzes newspaper statements following President Obama’s Global Apology Tour utilizing Benoit and Dorries’ (1996) framework of persuasive attack and Stein’s (2008) typology of antapologia strategies. Because of the unique nature of Obama’s apologia, in which he offers an apology that was not demanded by any audience, the authors conclude the line between kategoria (attack) and antapologia (response to apologia) is blurred.

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Jewish Antapologia in Response to Mel Gibson’s Multiple Attempts at Absolution

Relevant Rhetoric

Kevin Stein


This essay explores the possibility that hate speech may require a unique combination of strategies that might be ineffective for other kinds of harmful acts. Although it is difficult to make comparisons between negative behaviors, many people find racist or discriminatory acts to be more offensive than acts that do not denigrate the character of others, even when such behaviors may be illegal. Is it possible that hateful utterances are so reprehensible that any strategies utilized to counteract their effects are rendered meaningless?

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Say it like you meme it: Looking back on Covid memes as an extension of the news cycle.

Northwest Journal of Communication.

Taylor, J. R., Stein, K. A., & Barton, M. H.

Taylor, J. R., Stein, K. A., & Barton, M. H. Say it like you meme it: Looking back on Covid memes as an extension of the news cycle. Northwest Journal of Communication.

Courses (11)

COMM 1310 Thinking & Listening Critically

A study of critical thinking and reasoning skills toward messages delivered and received through various communication formats. The course is designed to aid the student in the ability to define a problem, select pertinent information for the solution of the problem, recognize stated and unstated assumptions, formulate and select relevant hypotheses, and make valid conclusions and inferences.

COMM 2010 Media & Society

A study of the power and responsibility of newspapers, magazines, radio, television, computer networks, motion pictures students strive to improve media literacy and other mass media and their significance in contemporary society.

COMM 2110 Interpersonal Communication

A study of interpersonal communication variables and situations, designed to aid the student in improving social relationships, increasing self-awareness and in using effective communication to achieve personal goals.

OMM 3020 Communication Research

This course emphasizes empirical and critical research appropriate for understanding mediated communication. An emphasis is placed on conducting surveys, focus groups, content analysis, and social marketing methods.

COMM 3150 Nonverbal Communication

A study of the sub-codes of nonverbal communication and how they affect human communication patterns and interpersonal relationships.

COMM 4502 Political Communication

A study of how symbols are used when communicating in a public context. Emphasis is placed on understanding the discourse of contemporary prominent political speakers, how radio and television have shaped political discourse, the role of political debates and the communication strategies employed in mass advertising campaigns. Specific attention is placed on understanding the effects of the media on political persuasion.

COMM 6020 Qualitative Communication Research

Examination of the fundamentals and relative strengths of various qualitative and rhetorical research methods, with their associated theoretical bases and specific applications of the most common approaches. These methods include: ethnography/participant observation phenomenology, case study research, critical theory, narrative, generic, metaphor and Burkean criticism.

COMM 6140 Pop Culture Messages

Examines influential texts (e.g., YouTube, TV, Film, Advertisements, Music, Gaming) students consume daily. Focuses on ways these discourses create identity and collective understanding. Explores message forms and their implications for critical thinking and consumption.

COMM 6240 Political and Corporate Speechwriting

Current Issues in Communication discussing contemporary communication topics varying by semester. Repeatable with different topics up to 18 credits toward the master’s degree. Check department for upcoming topics.

COMM 6850 Individual Graduate Research

The project is individually arranged and negotiated with a faculty advisor to provide students an opportunity to gain experience in a communication field. This project is distinct from a capstone project.

COMM 6900 Masters Capstone Thesis

A capstone experience demonstrating the ability to complete a professional thesis in consultation with a graduate faculty. Students will conceive, research, and produce an original research investigation in a relevant area of communication.