Thoughts on “No comment”

Every so often, as a reporter at The Canadian Jewish News, I would write about difficult, painful or divisive situations that arose at community institutions like synagogues and schools.

Sometimes, the logical spokespeople for those institutions deflected my questions with a “No comment.”

The problem with that answer is that it can reflect poorly on the speaker and the institution, for failing to be upfront. People tend to imagine the worst, or think the speaker has something to hide. They may think the institution isn’t addressing the problem, or isn’t dealing with it in a good way.

So why are some people quick to say “No comment?” Either they don’t see the relevance of the subject, or more often – at least, in my experience – they want to avoid negative PR. Or both.

I used to explain to reluctant interviewees why I thought a subject was important, and what the implications might be of not addressing it.

I was secretly happy when they agreed to talk to me, and especially when they came up with reasoned answers that demonstrated responsibility.

In those cases, the bonus for them – contrary to what they expected – was good PR.