To Tell the Truth

Do you ever marvel at people who are adept at never giving a direct answer to a question when being interviewed? Some public figures are masters of the craft. The practice of evasiveness is so obvious there must be a conspiracy. Well, there is.

In William Safire’s book, “Leadership,” he quotes Robert L. Woodrum who gives advice to people planning to hold a press conference.

His diverse clients include such persons as the new president of an organization, a candidate for office, the executive of a company involved in a legal matter, a pastor speaking out on a controversial issue, a lawyer defending a client, and others. Here is his advice:

“Prepare/rehearse. You set the agenda. Before meeting with the press, you determine your objectives. Write down the two or three main points you want to make and stick to them during the interview. Anticipate the tough questions and practice your answers with your staff. “When asked a question by a reporter, remember ‘Answer the question you wish you had been asked.’ Make the points you want to make and stick to your agenda.”

Now we know. The crafty art is actually taught to newsmakers. They are tutored to be evasive, non-responsive, and diversionary. Listeners need to understand what those who have mastered the craft well are doing.

A second thing a listener needs to keep in mind is that skill should not be equated with intellect. Singers, athletes, actors and actresses, authors and their genre are often interviewed as “authorities.” The IQ of some is slightly below the January temperature in Nome, Alaska. They have no reason to be interviewed on many subjects other than their skill in a rather limited field. It is their persona, not their proficiency, related to the subject that gets them the interview.

These two factors involving newsmakers results in the public being overly informed though not well informed.

This sage wisdom lifted from the pages of the New Testament would change news. It simply states, “Let your ‘Yes be Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5: 37)

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” (Colossians 4: 6)

In classical writing “salt” used regarding speech referred to the wit with which conversation was flavored. “Grace and salt,” wit and knowledge, make an ideal combination. 

Counter to this Sir Walter Scott said, “Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive.” One old timer said, “One lie is the pappy of another.” 

This is not an instruction to use only these words in responding, but to be clear, concise, and correct. With that in mind: “That’s all folks.”