On Thursday March 30, 2023, Donald J. Trump became the first former U.S. President indicted on criminal charges. The following morning, Friday March 31, President Joseph R. Biden was asked by the White House Press Corps about the historic indictment and answered with “no comment” five times.
GEOFF: You brought this to my attention, Megan, and I didn’t think much of it at first – until I saw the President had said ‘no comment’ to the White House Press Corps a full FIVE times. No matter your political affiliation or how you approach this case: that is a public relations no-no.
MEGAN: President Biden missed an opportunity to provide a thoughtful and sincere response; one that perhaps called for unity and instilled confidence in our legal process and most of all our democracy. Instead, ‘no comment’ typically implies guilt and is quite frankly one of the worst things you can say.
GEOFF: Right. As you always say – ‘no comment’ is a comment! And a lot of people especially looking at it from one point of view may think, “Well, he’s saying the former president is below his standard for attention” or “that kind of alleged conduct doesn’t warrant a dignified response.” Yet it’s exactly the type of thing that should warrant attention and response. Donald Trump once held the highest elected office in the land; moreover, he held it directly preceding President Biden!
Thus, there are many serious considerations and soul-searching moments happening across the nation now, and that sort of “where were you when you heard” situation demands confident, strategized communication.
MEGAN: Exactly. This is a pivotal time in U.S. history and one that certainly deserves more than ‘no comment.’
GEOFF: So, let’s get constructive and say President Biden was our client. Preparation should begin long before the question is asked – so how would we prepare the President for the questions we know are coming?
MEGAN: We would start our preparation with a list of anticipated questions that reporters might ask. We would instruct the President to be authentic and to keep his answers short and concise. In this instance, answering one or two questions honestly and genuinely would go a long way. At that time, it would be appropriate for the President or his Press Secretary to state, “we won’t be taking any more questions at this time.”
GEOFF: The benefit of working with a client like the President is that they’re used to speaking with the media. Honesty and genuineness should be easy; after that, it’s just a matter of focusing on what you want the audience to hear. Below is an example of what a reporter actually asked President Biden, and what we might recommend he say:
- Q: “Mr. President, do you think that the charges against Trump are politically motivated?”
- A: “The American people need to know that the ideal of American justice is to be thorough, unbiased and fair. It is a cornerstone of our democracy. As with any American before the court of law, we trust and hope that justice will prevail.”
MEGAN: Saying less is more. In this case, you are not only addressing the American people, but the world. In any case, it’s always important to have a sound communications strategy before the questions begin.