How Public Figures Avoid Genuine Apologies

How Public Figures Avoid Genuine Apologies

April 1, 20192 min read

Professors Kevin Stein and Matthew Barton of the Department of Communication at Southern Utah University published 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.

Research on apologia (image repair) is incredibly extensive and probably one of the most popular areas in the communication discipline when it comes to “public” address.  The reason scholars typically look at each case in isolation is because individual offenses (such as nudging another man’s foot in a neighboring bathroom stall) tend to be somewhat unique and the insights extracted from these contexts can be illuminating.

Our intention, at least in the beginning stages of the project, was to include every “prominent” defense ever offered.  This became rather difficult as we discovered that many apologies are not archived online, purchasable videos are incredibly expensive, and that certain public figures have an interest in their embarrassing moments disappearing from cyberspace.  However, we believe our sample of texts is fairly comprehensive in light of these difficulties. In the end, we collected 409 apologetic statements from 351 different contexts. Transcripts of the texts were accessed from a variety of locations including websites, newspapers and magazines, and library databases.  

Dr. Barton’s research focuses on persuasion and rhetoric in public apologies as well as teaching communication theory. Dr. Stein’s research focuses primarily on the rhetoric of attack, defense, and persuasive responses to defense.


Dr. Barton and Dr. Stein are both familiar with the media and are available for interviews. Simply visit their profiles.

Connect with:
  • Matt Barton
    Matt Barton Professor of Communication, Department Chair

    Specializing in rhetoric and persuasion in public discourse, communication theory, and critical thinking

  • Kevin Stein
    Kevin Stein Director MAPC Program/Professor of Communication

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

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