In a crisis situation is there a more lame answer to a reporter than “no comment?”

That answer implies guilt.

So does not answering at all.

Then there’s the ever present “the person did not return our phone calls.” That’s seen as another admission of guilt (even if the desperado councilman was attending his kid’s soccer game).

So what should you do if you are fed a loaded question that you don’t want to answer but don’t want to be seen as uncooperative?

The answer comes from today’s Star Tribune newspaper of Minneapolis (June 2, 2005). Read on and you’ll learn how to say something while not saying anything at all!

Here’s the story. Two restaurants are closing in the City Center. The reporter asked for the reason from the spokesperson for one restaurant and she said, “It was a business decision.’ The intrepid reporter asked the spokesperson for the second restaurant and she must have been reading from the same playbook because she said, “Bottom line, it was a business decision.”

This tactic appears to be very effective since the reporter either didn’t ask a follow up question, or he was not given any more info to work with.

One might think that he would have found employees who were laid off to spill the beans to get the real story. Heck, if two restaurants in a mall died on the same week, that cries out for a trend story on the viability of the mall and its affect on downtown life.

Or the reporter could have just said to himself, “I have only 4 column inches to work with, and I’ve filled it, so I’m done.

I guess he won’t win the Pulitzer Prize, but the PR people should have earned kudos from their bosses for letting the story die a painless death.

Lesson #1: Never underestimate the laziness of a reporter or the frazzled-ness of an editor under deadline. If it fits, it flies.

Lesson #2: The tactic is clear for any person in a relatively tough interview and crisis communications managers: Any answer is an answer, even an answer that doesn’t add any details. You appear to be cooperative and the story dies. You don’t have to show your dirty laundry.

What’s the best non-answer you’ve heard? Post them here — and keep a list in case you are facing the smoking gun.