Say you're sorry
As a veteran of many mistakes in judgment leading to foolish, embarrassing, and self-destructive actions, I can offer some advice to public figures about the form and content of apologies.
What doesn’t work. This is an age of the non-apologizing apology, which typically begins, “I’m sorry if I offended anyone ...” Let’s be clear about this, Bunky. You would not be standing in public with your family gathered around you to issue an apology unless someone had been offended, big time.
Why it doesn’t work. That “if I offended anyone” suggests something on the lines of “I regret that hypersensitive people overreacted.” People are on to this dodge. It no longer works. Give up on trying to weasel out of what you said/did.
Take responsibility. The more you try to explain the context and present an explanation of why you did it, the more you will sound like someone trying to justify what you did or said. So just admit that it’s your fault.
Say you’re sorry. Don’t squirm. Don’t wallow. You offended, and you regret it. Tell all the relevant parties that you regret it. Don’t go on about how much you’re disappointed in yourself for failing to live up to your own high standards. Nobody cares about that. Focus on the people you injured.
Move on. You’ve got some rehabilitation to do. The first thing: Whatever you did wrong, don’t do it again. To accomplish that, you may need to talk through with specialized help how you are an insensitive nimrod and how to behave better. You might be able to reconcile with the person or persons you offended, but that’s up to them, not you. You’re going to have to show the collateral parties—family, friends, colleagues, the public—that you can behave more responsibly, and that is going to require time to rebuild trust and your reputation.
You screwed up because you’re human and therefore inherently prone to error. (Editors understand this more clearly than anyone but theologians and defense attorneys.) Forgiveness and reconciliation are possible, but they won’t happen unless you first take responsibility for yourself.