20 better ways to say ‘no comment’

These guidelines, intended for lawyers, offer prudent options for communicators, especially those dealing with a crisis.

A terse “no comment” can send a bad message, but what are your alternatives?

A reader recently sent me a document called “101 Ways To Not Comment Without Using The Words ‘No Comment.'” It’s full of witticisms, some more useful than others.

He had received the handout at a legal conference more than a decade ago and couldn’t remember its source. (I contacted the organization that hosted the conference; its communications director was also unable to identify the provenance of the document.) My own web searches have also proved fruitless.

To respect the unknown author’s intellectual property, I selected my favorite 20 ways to say “no comment” indirectly, though I will not post the full list. (If you know the author of this document, please let us know in the comments section.)

Here are 20 ways to decline the opportunity to comment (with an emphasis on matters of law):

  1. I am hard pressed to comment on a lawsuit we haven’t yet seen.
  2. We have an obligation to be fair, thorough and professional. We will live up to our obligation.
  3. We will not cut corners in the interest of public curiosity.
  4. That someone else has chosen to talk to you does not relieve us of our responsibilities to defer public comment at this time.
  5. I want to be able to say “No, your honor” when I’m asked if this office initiated any press.
  6. Without commenting on any specific case, here’s the general rule.
  7. I won’t be able to directly answer that question until our work is concluded.
  8. No one in this office is going to prejudge a case that’s still under investigation.
  9. Until the court/jury/legislature decides, it is premature to speculate about the next step.
  10. Let me tell you one reason for our longstanding policy of deferring comment: Frankly, some of the information we receive is unreliable.
  11. It would be irresponsible for us to perpetuate allegations that may prove to be unfounded.
  12. It would compromise our efforts if I publicly discussed the matter with you at this point.
  13. Not to sound disrespectful, but sometimes it takes the legal system a while to sort it all out.
  14. I don’t at all feel comfortable in discussing what at this stage falls within attorney-client privilege.
  15. From a process standpoint, first we gather the facts. Then we look at the law. We stack those two things up and see where it takes us.
  16. The challenge for us is to assure you and the public that we’re doing the right thing without telling you how.
  17. The timeframe is driven by the facts, and they’re not all in yet.
  18. I cannot give you a “yes” or “no” answer to that question right now, but if you have time, I can read you the 85-page opinion from the court.
  19. Until we have an opportunity to review what the court said, I’m hard pressed to tell you what it means.
  20. If I were to speculate with you about all the options, someone might think I’ve commented on this specific case.

Although many of the lines above are clever, I would use such approaches only when the facts justify them—not simply to evade legitimate questions with knowable answers. I have written about my own approach to “commenting without commenting” in this post.

Brad Phillips is president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He is author of the Mr. Media Training Blog, (where a version of this article originally appeared) and two books: “The Media Training Bible” and “101 Ways to Open a Speech.”

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Topics: PR

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