DEAR MISS MANNERS: I received two voicemail messages and an email from a reporter asking me to reply to a personal statement made by a relative. I replied by email that I was not going to comment.
Later, I wondered what the protocol is for questions from reporters. Am I free to ignore them? Is it more polite to give a negative response than no response at all? Are reporters in the same category as nosy neighbors, or should I think of them as fellow citizens "just doing their job"?
GENTLE READER: You put Miss Manners in an awkward position. Of course she deplores nosiness. But, uh, she has been a journalist all her adult life and, um, journalists ask questions.
Not that all questions are legitimate. Miss Manners winces when she sees newly bereaved people being asked how their loss makes them feel, and other such probings that promote discomfort without yielding any actual news.
But some questions that are made to extract necessary information can nevertheless be unwelcome. If you are, for example, an elected official or a criminal (or both), you may look worse if you refuse to answer.
Miss Manners hopes she is not giving away trade secrets when she assures you that you need not respond. (Journalists count on your feeling too awkward not to fill the silence following the question.) And when asked to comment on others, it is usually wise to refrain.
A warning: Sometimes it is better to be noted as having been unable to be reached. "No comment" is the conventional way of refusing, but that can be dangerous. This was impressed upon Miss Manners many years ago, at an inaugural ball. A certain outspoken Cabinet wife had been instructed by her husband to stop talking to the press, so when someone asked her how she had enjoyed her dance with the new president (admittedly one of those silly questions), she replied with a curt, "No comment."