Why You Shouldn’t Evade, Obfuscate, Spin, Dodge Or Waffle

When some people learn that I’m a media trainer, their first reaction is to say, “Oh, so you teach people how to spin?”

I patiently explain (usually) that ethical media trainers don’t teach people to spin, since effective communication requires answering direct questions and offering authentic responses that don’t feel canned.

Evasion, obfuscation, spinning, dodging, hedging, sidestepping, and waffling doesn’t usually work.

If you’re going to refuse to answer direct and obvious questions, should you turn down the interview?

Carlos Gutierrez, Co-Chair of the Romney Campaign’s Hispanic Steering Committee, proved the point when he appeared on CNN’s Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien last week. O’Brien’s rather direct question? “What is Mitt Romney’s position on SB 1070?” (SB 1070 refers to the controversial Arizona immigration policy.)

As you’ll see, Mr. Gutierrez was completely unprepared to offer a direct response. And she hammered him for it.

Even more damning, Ms. O’Brien played a clip from Rick Gorka, the Traveling Press Secretary for the Romney campaign, in which he, too, refused to comment on SB 1070.

After watching these exchanges, the public is left to conclude only one thing: The Romney campaign is terrified of the issue, wants to sidestep it, and isn’t willing to take a principled stand on immigration policy in either direction.

If I had been preparing Mr. Gutierrez for this interview, I would have told him that his answer was insufficient – especially because Ms. O’Brien is known as a challenging interviewer who asks tough follow-up questions. I would have advised him to either answer the question more directly or to bail on the interview altogether. Ms. O’Brien was right to press him for a direct response—I wish more interviewers followed her lead—and Mr. Gutierrez should have been willing to offer a better answer.

But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?