The Brush-Off: picking your words carefully

You've huddled, evaluated the situation and decided no good can come of responding to a reporter's questions. It may just be a timing problem. Improbably, the VP actually is on vacation. Maybe you're in a mandated quiet period. Now you have to rebuff the reporter's firm advances in as few words as possible. What's your favourite catchphrase?

  • We're just not speaking to that subject.
  • Have you seen our backgrounder?
  • Sorry, but we just finished briefing the WSJ on that.
  • Have you heard of the new Amway soap line?

    Tom Scocca, the New York Observer's Off The Record columnist, had some blunt comments about how the media itself uses the technique:

    It's kind of a downer to have to confront the rank hypocrisy in your own line of work every single week -- the editors who send reporters out to ask civilians questions about their business, then won't talk to reporters about their own business. The spokespeople have this really cute line these days: "Thanks, but he/she's going to pass on this one." Like I'm coming around with a fucking tray of bacon-wrapped scallops on toothpicks. Chicken satay. I'm not offering you an hors d'ouevre, asswipe, I'm trying to get the answer to a fucking question. ...

    You failed. You haven't parried the reporter's questions. They still want a quote. Today. Why not an "email interview" - quicker, more convenient, seemingly more transparent, right? After all, it says right there it's from the spokesperson's email account!

    I especially like it when an editor sends out a quote through a spokesperson. Oh, should I put that in quotation marks for you and pretend we talked? I'm sure a magazine editor would be really happy if one of his own fancy writers came in and said, "Well, chief, I couldn't score an actual interview with Sofia Coppola -- she passed on this one -- but her spokesperson e-mailed me some quotes." That wouldn't violate any journalistic standards.(The Black Table)

    Thanks to Romenesko for the pointer.

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