The real debate has scarcely begun
Dressed in a dark suit and sombre tie, his voice deeper and more gravelly than usual - suggesting he'd had even less sleep than usual - and with damp eyes occasionally glistening in the camera lights, Gordon Brown sought to limit the damage created by a carelessly written letter to the mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan.
The prime minister's tone was, at times, painfully personal as he strove to demonstrate the emotional connection which modern politics demands and with which he is so obviously uncomfortable.
So, after describing himself as "shy" he insisted that he did "feel the pain of those who'd lost loved ones". Without directly referring to the death of his own baby daughter, he declared that "I'm a parent who understands the feelings when things go dreadfully wrong".
His message was that he had been trying to offer comfort, to do his duty and would never have intended to cause further grief.
Like any public gathering a prime ministerial news conference develops its own mood and personality. Often with Gordon Brown it's been one of irritation or anger at his unwillingness to answer straight questions.
On this occasion though the mood was more sympathetic. Many journalists know first-hand that Gordon Brown has poor eyesight and poor handwriting and feel that his staff should have checked this letter and prevented it from being sent.
They know that the prime minister struggles to express sincerely held emotions. They know that the Sun is out to get him and is channelling the raw grief of those who have lost family in Afghanistan to do so. It's clear from the phone-ins, the text messages, the blogs and the like that many share that sympathy.
It is equally clear, though, that many will feel passionately that the prime minister has got it wrong again. They will point out that the prime minister said he'd apologised to Jacqui Janes when in fact he only did so in a statement issued the day after they spoke on the phone.
They will feel that he tried to explain away her anger about the lack of equipment for British troops by putting it all down to her grief. They will feel that Gordon Brown himself used the emotions surrounding Remembrance Day, the return of five more bodies from Helmand Province and even his own personal grief to avoid the tough questions about Afghanistan.
People's reaction to this story will, in large part, be determined by their pre-existing attitude to Gordon Brown and to the continuing presence of British troops in Afghanistan.
What must follow now - at least once President Obama unveils his plan - is a debate about whether there is another strategy which would more effectively safeguard Britain.
Gordon Brown made clear that he'd looked at and rejected the option of bringing the troops home and creating "Fortress Britain" with money saved.
He made plain that he'd examined and rejected the idea of focussing the military effort exclusively on al-Qaeda while ignoring the rise of the Taliban.
The real debate - beneath all this anguish - is surely whether men like Guardsman Janes died in vain or made a sacrifice that is vital to protecting their country. It is a debate that has scarcely begun.