I came across the phrase “a State Department spokesperson had walked back his (John Kerry’s) comments in the Time magazine’s (August 2) article titled, “Oops: John Kerry gaffes, Washington backpedals.” http://swampland.time.com/2013/08/02/oops-john-kerry-gaffes-washington-backpedals/#ixzz2aqtJvoJJ
The article deals with Secretary of States’ remarks about the drone campaign in Pakistan on a press interview:
“I think the program will end as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it,” Kerry said. “I think the President has a very real timeline, and we hope it’s going to be very, very soon.” Was Kerry announcing a dramatic policy shift? Nope. Within hours a State Department spokesperson had walked back his comments, saying: “This was in no way indicating a change in policy…. I have no exact timeline to provide.”
As I wasn’t quite familiar with the case of using ‘walk back’ in such a context as denying or distancing one’s comments, I checked Cambridge, Oxford, and Merriam-Webster online English Dictionary. None of them shows “walk back” as an idiom, though they show “call back, look back, talk back, walkout, walk through, walk up,” and so on.
I’m puzzled about the expression, “walk back his comment,” because I understand ‘walk’ is an intransitive verb that doesn’t take objective noun (here, his comments). Is this grammatically right expression? Though the word, 'backpedal' in the headline gave me a hint, what does ‘a spokesperson had walked back his comments’ exactly mean?
Is “walk back” an idiom in this case, and used very often in such a way as “walk back” one’s comment / idea / policy / promise / stand / connection, or person?