There are going to be times when you can’t comment on an issue to the news media, either for legal, ethical or other reasons. Your legal counsel will tell you to say “No comment” to any reporter who calls. Others within your organization will tell you that it is too risky to speak to the media and that you have to say “No comment.”
This is always bad advice.
If you literally say “No comment” or “I can’t comment.” Then you are going to be quoted as saying “No comment” or “I can’t comment.” The problem with this being the only quote in the story is that it looks like you have something to hide and people associate “No comment” with gangsters, criminals and corrupt politicians who have been caught red-handed committing a crime.
Furthermore, the reason reporters feel obligated quoted you saying “No comment” is that has 5 or 10 major sound bite elements embedded in it.
- It is an absolute.
- It is an implied attack on the questioner.
- It is emotional.
- It is action oriented.
- It evokes images from pop culture, i.e. the criminal on the court house steps from the movies and TV.
So reporters are going to quote you when you say “no comment.”
At this point, you might be thinking, “TJ, what in the heck AM I supposed to say if I can’t say ‘No comment’ and I’m not supposed to comment?”
Here are my suggestions:
“We’d be happy to comment once the litigation has been concluded.”
“I’d be happy to clarify all issues one we have notified all next of kin…”
There are numerous ways of answering that will serve your needs. The important things to remember are the following:
- Don’t tell the reporters what you can’t do someone or when you can’t do or say something.
- Do tell reporters what you can do and when you can do it.
- Never rebut premises.
- State your own positive premises that are directly relevant to the issue at hand.
TJ Walker is founder of Media Training Worldwide. To discuss having TJ come to your organization to conduct a media training workshop, please call 212.764.4955