A quick comment on ‘no comment’

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When you say "no comment," what do you really mean? Photo credit woodleywonderworks / Flickr / CC BY 2.0.
When you say “no comment,” what do you really mean? Photo credit woodleywonderworks / Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

You see it all the time on television. A reporter is badgering a government official, attorney or other source with questions, and the subject says, “No comment.” At this point, the reporter either shuts up or keeps asking questions.

Personally, I’m not a fan of “no comment” as the only thing you tell a reporter. It can mean a multitude of things:

  • “I have nothing to say about this.”
  • “I’m not authorized to say anything about this.”
  • “I don’t want to talk about this.”
  • “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
  • “I don’t feel comfortable speaking on the record about this.”
  • “I don’t have anything additional to say about this.”
  • “I’m too busy to talk to you right now.”
  • “I don’t like you and don’t want to talk to you, period.”

And so on. Which of these do you mean? Be specific. Tell me why you’re not commenting—and if you’re not commenting because you’re not authorized to say anything about it, point me to someone who can talk to me. If you’re not commenting because you have no idea what I’m talking about, tell me. In both of these cases, saying “no comment” wastes my time and could possibly hurt your cause.

But if you’re going to leave it at “no comment,” don’t be surprised if I write “So-and-so refused to comment”; “Questions about the scandal were met with a terse ‘no comment'”; or “Officials would not comment on the situation, but witnesses said…”