Advanced Media Training Tip: The "As You Know" Construct
Reporters occasionally ask questions that they know you can’t answer for legitimate reasons. For example, if you’re a hospital executive being asked about a specific patient, HIPAA laws may restrict what you’re allowed to say.
In the past, I advised using the technique of “commenting without commenting” to answer those types of questions by saying something such as:
“Due to HIPAA laws that have been established to protect patient privacy, we are unable to provide you with those details.”
That remains a valid approach—but in some cases, you may be able to add a few words to your response that can meaningfully change the way it’s perceived by the public.
Three little words—“as you know”—can help shift responsibility for a non-answer from the spokesperson back to the reporter.
In a live interview with a medical reporter, for example, you might be able to answer that question by saying:
“As you know, Jane, due to HIPAA laws that have been established to protect patient privacy, we are unable to provide you with those details.”
That response sends a message to the audience: this reporter is asking questions that she knows the spokesperson is not allowed to answer. In some circumstances, the use of that one phrase can help defang the reporter’s question and shift audience sympathy toward the spokesperson.
If you’re wondering whether that response could come across as testy, yes, it might. For that reason, I’d reserve this phraseology only for specific circumstances and spokespersons who can execute it without coming across as aggressive.
As examples of times when “as you know” can work, here are four professions that seem like a natural fit for it:
White House Spokesperson: “As you know, we can’t comment on an ongoing operation that could endanger the lives of intelligence officers.”
Military officials: “As you know, this is classified information.”
Hospital executives: “As you know, HIPAA laws prevent us from being able to share that information with the public or the press.”
Law enforcement: “As you know, our policy is not to reveal the methods we use to track sexual predators.”
This technique can be used beautifully by the right person in the right situation, but can backfire badly if used by the wrong person clumsily. Therefore, I’d use this technique judiciously, but would keep it available on your menu of options.