IOM Today reports:
Mr Quayle told MHKs: ’It is clear that we didn’t get everything right, and the report confirms that. We weren’t always as joined-up as we should have been and mistakes were made.’Government accused of attempt to ‘smear’ Isle of Man Steam Packet
The Wikipedia article on this phrase is devastating:
“Mistakes were made” is an expression that is commonly used as a rhetorical device, whereby a speaker acknowledges that a situation was handled poorly or inappropriately but seeks to evade any direct admission or accusation of responsibility by not specifying the person who made the mistakes. The acknowledgement of “mistakes” is framed in an abstract sense, with no direct reference to who made the mistakes. A less evasive construction might be along the lines of “I made mistakes” or “John Doe made mistakes”. The speaker neither accepts personal responsibility nor accuses anyone else. The word “mistakes” also does not imply intent.
The New York Times has called the phrase a “classic Washington linguistic construct.” Political scientist William Schneider suggested that this usage be referred to as the “past exonerative” tense, and commentator William Safire has defined the phrase as “[a] passive-evasive way of acknowledging error while distancing the speaker from responsibility for it”. A commentator at NPR declared this expression to be “the king of non-apologies“. While perhaps most famous in politics, the phrase has also been used in business, sports, and entertainment.
Despite some mockery of the phrase, its use is still widespread, and in the opinion of one commentator, “the type of evasive and corrupted language for which Ron Ziegler was repeatedly pilloried for using as Nixon’s press secretary is not only accepted, but heartily and shamelessly embraced as a norm of political and social conduct.”Mistakes were made (29 May, 2021)