You often hear about retracting statements, or taking back statements, in a legal context, such as when witnesses testify or give police statements and then want to change their stories. This is usually called recanting, and there are many reasons to recant statements.

There may be times when a company's leader — whether a CEO, president, vice president or public relations officer — wants to take back something that was said, usually to the public or the media. When that happens, it's important to do it in a way that smooths things over rather than digging a deeper hole.

Reasons to Recant Statements

One dictionary explanation of "retract" is that when you reach out and touch a hot flame, you retract your hand. You may give a statement or answer that results in you being burned by the public or media, and therefore, you want to pull back from what you said. That's only one of the reasons to recant statements.

The words "recant" and "retract" are synonyms and can be used interchangeably, except that "recant" carries a legal connotation with which you might not want to be associated. Recanting a police statement or an answer given under oath can result in legal consequences, while retracting a statement you gave probably won't incur those consequences. If, however, you said something about another company or person, especially if you did so in writing, such as in a published article, be aware that many states have retraction laws that can be used to encourage you to issue a retraction to avoid a lawsuit and financial penalties.

Some reasons for retraction are:

  • You gave an answer about your company or one of your products that turned out to be inaccurate.

  • You mentioned another company or individual in a way that was interpreted as inaccurate or derogatory, and the company or individual has asked for a retraction.

  • You made a comment publicly that some believe was insensitive, immoral, racist or otherwise defamatory, even though you didn't mean it that way.

Elements of a Retraction

Most retraction laws require retractions to be given promptly and to be a full and frank retraction; weak retractions or those given half-heartedly may not be enough. Retraction statement samples, or recant statement examples, can serve as a retraction statement template once you identify the elements that go into a retraction statement.

First, explain the reason for your retraction as simply and completely as possible, including when and where the original statement was made. Second, give a full and frank retraction statement without admitting guilt if possible. Saying something such as, "I did not mean to imply ... " can take away the plaintiff's ability to accuse you of malice; in other words, you didn't set out to purposely hurt the plaintiff. Requests for retractions can be quite serious, so it's a good idea to ask a lawyer to review your situation and your statement.

Retraction Statement Sample

For example, you could say: "I'd like to retract a statement I made about SVR Incorporated in an article published in the April 16 edition of CAP magazine. I do not believe SVR was part of the fraud scheme described nor did I mean to imply such a connection."

If the purpose of your retraction is to correct an inaccurate statement about your company or products, you might say: "On Tuesday, April 3, I was asked in a press conference when our new product line will be available. Although I expect the line to be completed in a few months, the testing phase, which enables us to provide the best possible products to our customers, will take an additional two or more months, and after that, the products will be available."