A terse "no comment" can send a bad message, but what are your
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
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.)
[RELATED: Announcing the PR and Media Relations Summit, featuring speakers from Time, Huffington Post, the FBI, PwC and more.]
Here are 20 ways to decline the opportunity to comment (with an emphasis on
matters of law):
I am hard pressed to comment on a lawsuit we haven't yet seen.
We have an obligation to be fair, thorough and professional. We will
live up to our obligation.
We will not cut corners in the interest of public curiosity.
That someone else has chosen to talk to you does not relieve us of our
responsibilities to defer public comment at this time.
I want to be able to say "No, your honor" when I'm asked if this office
initiated any press.
Without commenting on any specific case, here's the general rule.
I won't be able to directly answer that question until our work is
No one in this office is going to prejudge a case that's still under
Until the court/jury/legislature decides, it is premature to speculate
about the next step.
Let me tell you one reason for our longstanding policy of deferring
comment: Frankly, some of the information we receive is
It would be irresponsible for us to perpetuate allegations that may
prove to be unfounded.
It would compromise our efforts if I publicly discussed the matter with
you at this point.
Not to sound disrespectful, but sometimes it takes the legal system a
while to sort it all out.
I don't at all feel comfortable in discussing what at this stage falls
within attorney-client privilege.
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.
The challenge for us is to assure you and the public that we're doing
the right thing without telling you how.
The timeframe is driven by the facts, and they're not all in yet.
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
Until we have an opportunity to review what the court said, I'm hard
pressed to tell you what it means.
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
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."