VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Mimi Kenny
Really? That's the best you could do? For this list, we'll be looking at the most insincere-sounding mea culpas from world leaders and other politicians, including times when an “I'm sorry” was in order and was not given. Our countdown includes Justin Trudeau, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and more!
Top 10 Worst Apologies From Politicians
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Worst Apologies From Politicians.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most insincere-sounding mea culpas from world leaders and other politicians, including times when an “I’m sorry” was in order and was not given.
What politician apology do you find most unbelievable? Let us know in the comments!
#10: Justin Trudeau (2019)
A politician getting exposed once for wearing blackface or brownface is bad enough. But when it happens three times? That’s a whole new level of PR emergency. In 2019, about a month before the Canadian federal election, photos and video emerged of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressing up with his skin darkened. Trudeau ended up apologizing on numerous occasions and copping to the racist nature of the acts in question. However, he sidestepped questions about the number of times he’d done so. Like with many political apologies, this incident begs the question: was he sorry he did it, or just sorry he got caught? Nonetheless, Trudeau still managed to win re-election, so the damage wasn’t exactly long-lasting.
#9: Aaron Reitz (2021)
Gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the women’s team final at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, citing mental health struggles. Though most saw it as a noble act, Texas Deputy Attorney General Aaron Reitz didn’t feel that way. He quoted a tweet about gymnast Kerri Strug. The latter athlete performed a vault on a broken ankle, helping her team reach gold in 1996. He compared Strug to Biles, who he called a “selfish, childish national embarrassment.” After earning plenty of backlash for his comments, Reitz tweeted a half-baked apology. He said his words came from “frustration and disappointment”, before calling the gymnast a “true patriot.” Still, it felt forced and surface level.
#8: Michael Grimm (2014)
Politicians are people. And like all people, they’re prone to get emotional. However, there’s a difference between getting emotional and bringing talk of physical violence into the equation. When then New York Representative Michael Grimm was asked about a federal investigation into his campaign, the former Marine told reporter Michael Scotto that he would "break [him] in half" Grimm also profanely threatened to throw him off the balcony. While he eventually apologized, it wasn't until after defending his conduct and claiming Scotto's question was a "cheap shot."
#7: Ashraf Ghani (2021)
When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, President Ashraf Ghani fled to the United Arab Emirates for humanitarian asylum. Ghani said that he left the capital of Kabul to avoid further bloodshed and assassination, and apologized for not being able to “make it end differently”. But many took his departure as an act of betrayal, and that mea culpa wasn’t enough. That’s not the only thing people are upset about, either. He’s also been accused of embezzling nearly $170 million of the country’s money, although no evidence has been presented to support the accusation.
#6: Ted Yoho (2020)
The exact words Representative Ted Yoho allegedly said to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Capitol Hill steps are too vulgar to say here. He reportedly confronted her, notably calling her "disgusting" for positing that job loss and poverty had impacted New York City's crime rate. Ocasio-Cortez is said to have stood up to the Florida Republican, calling his words out as “rude.” Upon walking away, Yoho reportedly referred to her in very profane terms. He did apologize to AOC on the House floor for his combative demeanor, but denied addressing her in offensive terms. Ocasio-Cortez didn’t find the apology valid, saying that Yoho wasn’t actually taking accountability for his actions.
#5: Ronald Reagan (1987)
The Iran-Contra Affair was a scandal in which the US sold weapons to Iran to back the Nicaraguan Contras and secure the release of hostages. The American government had previously pledged not to assist Iran, which this act defied. The scandal was first exposed in 1986. And in the following year’s State of the Union address, Reagan said that "serious mistakes were made" in the efforts to free the hostages. However, he didn’t explicitly mention the sale of weapons, or even actually apologize for the scandal, framing it instead as something that was simply done to save American lives.
#4: Alberto Fernández (2021)
It’s fine to be patriotic about your country. But that shouldn’t mean denigrating the people of other places or a large portion of your own population in the process. Alberto Fernández, President of Argentina, learned this the hard way. During a meeting with business leaders and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Fernández made an offensive comment about Brazilian peoples’ origins [came from the jungle]. To make matters worse, he said that Argentines came from Europe, ignoring his country’s diverse populace. These comments were condemned as racially insensitive, and Fernández, who was reportedly quoting a famous work, said he “did not mean to offend anyone.”
#3: Boris Johnson (2021)
A common trait of insincere apologies is apologizing if anyone was offended instead of taking responsibility for hurtful comments. In a report initiated by his Conservative Party regarding discrimination, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed some of his previous comments about Islam. These included comparing women in burqas to bank robbers, appearance-wise. Johnson said he was “obviously sorry for any offense taken” and that, as Prime Minister, he would not use his inflammatory language from the past. Anti-racism group HOPE not hate found Johnson’s apology lacking, referring to it as “mealy-mouthed.”
#2: Todd Akin (2012)
When Missouri Representative Todd Akin ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012, he made comments about pregnancy and assault that were condemned as grossly insensitive and medically inaccurate. Both Democrats and Akin's fellow Republicans called for him to withdraw, but he didn’t. In an underwhelming apology, Akin claimed he didn’t phrase his statement properly. He lost to incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill and later expressed remorse for his apology, standing by his initial remarks. As Maya Angelou once said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
#1: Donald Trump (2016)
Donald Trump isn’t a man who’s quick to apologize. So the fact that he did after sexist comments made in 2005 surfaced before the 2016 election is somewhat significant. But based on his phrasing, the then-presidential candidate didn’t seem to take real responsibility. In a statement, he focused on how the remarks were made years ago, and brought up Bill Clinton in an attempt to deflect. He also excused his words as “locker room banter” and offered a conditional "if anyone was offended" sorry. Trump’s comments weren’t surprising. But many were shocked that he still managed to win the presidential election.