CBS This Morning reaches out to Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner the other day for comment about the FCC delaying new Internet privacy rules that were due to take effect in the U.S. The three companies "did not respond to our request for comment," says Anthony Mason, a senior national correspondent for CBS News.
More than usual, spokespersons for businesses and organizations aren't talking. They're declining to comment, they aren't returning reporters' calls, they can't be reached. The German government, for example, declined to comment in a recent Reuters story about "the London Stock Exchange all but ending a planned merger with Deutsche Boerse..." Remember when New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick declined to comment on Deflategate" And after checking his staff's phones for evidence of leaks, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently "declined to comment about the leaks," according to The Week.
My goodness, even people in the media aren't commenting. Both the editor in chief of Slate and a Slate spokesperson didn't respond to requests for comment about staff reductions at the daily web magazine, according to Huffington Post. These are just a few examples of what seems to be a growing trend.
So, what's going on? Is it fear? Paranoia? Well, a good number of spokespersons likely have risk aversion in their DNA. And that's not surprising. Because, you know, when little things like brand image, reputation and public opinion of a business or an organization rest on a spokesperson's words, there's bound to be some fear and paranoia.
Spokespersons are like first responders. When there's an emergency, they have to react. In their line of work, the emergency is potentially damaging news about the business or organization they represent. Since the dawn of PR, spokespersons have fiddled with words and thoughts in an attempt to shape opinion. And that's the rub. As they're going about their fiddling and shaping, communication often gets filtered, convoluted and confusing. This drives reporters up the wall, understandably so. Spokespersons, on the other hand, fearing that reporters may be out to get them, raise their deflector shields when reporters call.
So there you have it. You have seekers of factual information and spokespersons at odds with each other, you have increasingly filtered, vacuous communication and spokespersons, more that usual, declining to comment. At a time when, perhaps more than ever, both sides need to engage constructively and intelligently.
(PRpro Note: At times, with various considerations and reasons in mind, it may not be possible for people in businesses and organizations to comment on particular situations, issues and events. Sometimes declining to comment is necessary and unavoidable. But what's interesting, more than usual now, is the growing tendency to decline to comment.)