PM dodges the question – is that ever a good idea?

PM dodges the question – is that ever a good idea?

I’ve written before in this blog that David Cameron, in contrast with many politicians on both sides of the House, usually makes every effort to answer, or at least address, questions journalists ask. It serves him well. But I’ve also pointed out that his occasional habit of avoiding the question serves only to undermine him, making him look slippery and untrustworthy.

So when he used the avoidance tactic with Andrew Marr last weekend, over whether his advisor, Lynton Crosby, had talked to him about shelving plans for plain cigarette packaging (Crosby’s other clients include tobacco companies), I found myself screeching, “Answer the question!”, at the TV set. I’m sure I wasn’t alone. I don’t like to be taken for a fool any more than the next viewer, and I wasn’t taken in by the PM’s assertion that Crosby had never “intervened” in government decision-making – an answer to a question that Marr hadn’t asked.

Even leaving to one side the ethical rights and wrongs, avoidance is a rarely a sensible tactic. After all, Michael Howard might have been embarrassed for a few days if he had given a frank and truthful answer to a Jeremy Paxman question back in 1997, but I doubt whether it would have done the long-term damage to his reputation caused by his decision to dodge the same question 14 times in a row. Even now, 16 years on, my media training delegates still recall that interview, and think the worse of Howard because of it.

My advice to those doing interviews is this: your default should be to answer a difficult question truthfully and briefly, and then bridge to something more positive. As for questions that you cannot or should not give a direct answer to (if, for example, you’re asked to reveal commercially or politically sensitive information that might damage your organisation), then at least address the question by telling the journalist why you cannot give a direct answer.

But if you are ever tempted to avoid the question altogether, ask yourself this: are you absolutely sure that portraying yourself to be untrustworthy and deceitful (the inevitable consequence of avoidance) is less damaging to your reputation than answering the question.

Article date

July 24th, 2013

Robert Taylor

Media Trainer

@RT_MediaTrainer

My main passion is media training, and I’m proud to be one of the UK’s most experienced and successful trainers in this field.

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