Media Training Home

Who Needs Media Training

The Training

  • Working with the Media
  • 6 Media Principles
  • 10 Tips to Remember
  • Correcting Errors
  • Media Query Policy
  • Handling a Call
  • Questions You Ask
  • Interview Ground Rules
  • Using Quotes and Bites
  • Avoiding a Disaster
  • Handling Tough Questions
  • Verbal Communication
  • It's Your Attitude
  • Body Language
  • Dress and Appearance
  • Media Opportunities
  • Put the Castle Forward
  • Parting Tips


20 Questions You Should Know About, and Three More

Some Points to Remember:

  • Most likely ninety percent of the questions a reporter asks can be predicted before the interview. That means that answers with positive message points can be prepared ahead of time. This strategy prevents many questions from becoming tough questions.
  • Never accept a reporter's statements as truth; correct them if you know the truth.
  • Don't speculate on the contents of reports you haven't seen based upon a synopsis given by the reporter.
  • Ambush interviews seldom occur. If you are put on the spot (if a reporter asks for an interview to discuss one subject and begins asking questions about another subject), wait until the question is asked and say, "I thought this interview was to be about -----." You may tell him you are not in a position to discuss the other subject.
  • Be prepared for any skeleton's in the Corps' closet to come up in the interview.  Stay within your subject and area of expertise. Refer other questions to the Corporate Communications Office.
  • Use positive statements when responding to negative or leading questions.
  • Relax. Be factual.
  • Be realistic, be positive.
  • Don't offer more information than asked for.
Reporters use a variety of techniques to get a good interview and responses from an interviewee. Unless you've done something inappropriate or you're being interviewed by an investigative reporter trying to dig up something you might be hiding, reporters don't typically try to put you on the spot with trick questions. However, knowing about the types of questions you may be asked and how to respond can come in handy in any interview situation.  

Here are some suggested responses and deflections to commonly asked questions that may cause problems in an interview:  

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 1. Loaded Question: Don’t accept the premise by ignoring it. Instead, challenge the premise politely but firmly, then move on to talk about your message.

QUESTION: "How much damage has your lack of response caused?”

ANSWER: "With respect, I don’t agree that our response was lacking or that it caused any damage. In fact…”

 2. Bait Question: When a reporter tries to put words in your mouth. Don’t repeat the bait word, even to deny it. Refute it without repeating it.

QUESTION: “Why is the Corps such an unscrupulous agency?”

ANSWER: “I wouldn’t say that. Everything we do…”

 3. Personal Opinion: Keep your personal opinion out of it.

QUESTION: “What is your personal opinion concerning this?”

ANSWER: “My personal opinion is not the issue here. The issue is ..."

 4. Speaking on Behalf of Others: Refer the question to the appropriate responder. Speak only about the Corps and your work.

QUESTION: “Why do you think FEMA decided to do that?

ANSWER. “I wouldn't know, you’d will need to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ask them."

 5. You Don’t Know the Answer: Say you don’t know and offer to get the information for the reporter. Never lie, never guess, never speculate.

QUESTION: “How much did it cost to build that; how long did it take?”

ANSWER: “I’m not sure. I can get that information for you.”

 6. You Know the Answer but aren’t Allowed to Say: Give the reason why you can’t answer.

QUESTION: “What was the amount of the bid?”

ANSWER: “I’m not in a position to discuss that because:

  • that information is confidential.
  • the issue is before the courts.
  • it would be inappropriate for me to comment.
  • the issue is very sensitive.
  • the issue is currently under discussion/review/negotiation.
  • I am not the appropriate person to ask. I can put you in contact with him/her.
 7. Getting Boxed In (two options from which to choose and none are correct). Ignore two options. Begin with a straightforward statement or theme.

QUESTION: “Are you going to increase funding or maintain the status quo?”

ANSWER: “Neither. Our goal is to provide quality service.”

 8. Emotionally Loaded or Hostile Question: Don’t respond with hostility or emotion. Make a quick, clear disclaimer. Restate with less emotional words.

QUESTION: “Aren’t you just strangling the public?”

ANSWER: “Not at all. If you’re asking will the public have to pay more for our services, the answer, unfortunately, is yes.”

 9. Hostile But There is Some Truth to It: Restate in your own words.

QUESTION: “Why did you fail to meet the deadline and thus destroy your credibility?”

ANSWER: “It is true that we weren’t able to meet the deadline; however, our revised completion date will ensure we meet our customer's needs.”

 10. Persistent Questioning:  When the interviewer clearly won’t give up. Politely but firmly signal you’re not going to give in. Repeat your message. Leave the problem in the interviewer’s court. If it’s a live broadcast, the interviewer has to be concerned about appearing to badger you. It it’s a taped/edited interview, the journalist is likely to continue being persistent until he or she generates the desired sound bite from you. Stick to your message.

QUESTION:  “…then why won’t you reveal the strategy?”

ANSWER:  “As I mentioned, the strategy is in place ready to go and we’ll announce it at the appropriate time."
QUESTION:  “...but you should feel obligated to the public to reveal your strategy?”

ANSWER:  “As I've said, our strategy is in place and ready to go. We will announce it at the appropriate time."

 11. Open-ended/Vague Question: Ask the reporter to clarify or focus the question if you really don’t understand it; or, use a vague question to your advantage by answering in a way that suits your messages.

QUESTION: “Tell me about your organization?”

ANSWER: What specific aspect are you interested in?”

 12. Rumor: Don’t speculate. Label it as speculation.

QUESTION: “There’s rumor that your department won't be fully funded next year and you'll have to start letting people go."

ANSWER: "It would be inappropriate to respond to rumors; we’ll just have to deal with a funding issue if and when it arises.”
 - or -

ANSWER:  “At this time, I’ve seen no evidence to support that rumor.”

 13. Hypothetical Question: Don’t speculate. Label it as speculation.

QUESTION: “What would happen if someone cut the plastic sheeting protecting that levee from flood waters?”

ANSWER: “I don’t want to speculate on what would or could happen; but I hope nobody would do that."

 14. Multi-part Question: Signal that you recognize what is going on. You don’t have to answer all the questions at once. Choose the question that you want to answer, then have them repeat the other question.

QUESTION: “What impact will the changes make…and will you be able to continue to…or will you have to…?”

ANSWER:  “You’ve asked a number of questions there.  Let me begin with your first question. The changes will make us more efficient…”

 15. Giving Advice or Recommendation to Others: Don’t give public advice or recommendations to others unless the purpose is to apply public pressure, such as wearing life jackets, safe boating, etc.

QUESTION: “What would you recommend the City do about their problem?”

ANSWER: “If the City were to ask the Corps for a recommendation, we would assist them in any way we are authorized to do so. However, I,personally, don't have an opinion on what the City should do."

 16. Sympathetic Approach: When a reporter tries to sympathize with you and get you to agree to their point of view. Don’t get lulled into agreeing.

QUESTION: “I guess it must be really tough on you with all the problems your organization is facing?”

ANSWER: “Well I don’t believe that’s the main concern. We are carrying out our responsibilities for the public and will continue to do so to the best of our ability.”

 17. Yes or No Question: If it's a tough question, avoid evading the question. Answer it. Every yes or no question, whether tough or not, provides you the opportunity to elaborate with your message. Don't stop after saying "yes" or "no." Explain why and move on to your message.

QUESTION: “Did you do it, yes or no?”

ANSWER: “Yes, we did because…”

 18. Blind-Sided Question: When a reporter asks a question that has nothing to do with the subject, or asks you something personal, be candid and redirect the discussion to the interview topic.

QUESTION: “I heard that you've declared bankruptcy?”

ANSWER: “That was a painful experience which we could discuss some other time – but it’s not related to what we’re talking about here…”
    - or -

ANSWER: “Yes, and what would you like to know about it?” (Smile) Force the reporter to expand on his or her “sniper shot” which many times will make them uncomfortable and drop the question.

 19. Off-Agenda Questions: When a reporter asks a question that has nothing to do with the subject matter.
QUESTION: "So, what do you think about the President's chance for re-election?"
ANSWER: “I thought this interview was to be about..."
- or -
ANSWER: "I'm not in a position to discuss...”
 20. Scatter-Gun / Rapid-Fire Approach: When a reporter asks questions one after the other or multiple questions about a variety of different subjects.
QUESTION: "What does the Corps do to prepare for flooding, how often do you train your people, are your flood risk reduction projects reliable, what about the integrity of the levees along the river, and why does it seem to flood every year?"
ANSWER: “We seem to be hopping all over the place (pause)…  Let me just focus on one area that you have touched upon…”
 21. The Silent Treatment: After you have given your answer, the reporter waits silently expecting you to continue. Let the silence happen. If televised, nod slightly, look at the interviewer, and animate your face slightly in anticipation of the next question.
QUESTION: ".........."
ANSWER: "..........."
IMPORTANT POINT TO REMEMBER: Just because there may be a microphone or camera pointed at you, does not mean you have to keep on talking. Respond to the question and stop talking.
 22. Incorrect Information. When a reporter asks a question that includes incorrect information or an error in fact.
QUESTION: "I see that the Corps has allowed thousands of acres of wetlands to be filled due to its ineffective permitting process. Why is that?"
ANSWER:  “I would like to first correct something you said. The Corps has not…”
 23. Can you Assure Us. When a reporter wants you to assure the public that you will do something, commit to something, or won't do something again. Anything can happen. You should never commit to something when it is possible it can happen again, no matter how much effort is made not to.
QUESTION: "Can you tell our viewers that the Corps will never make that same mistake again?"
ANSWER: “I can’t give you that assurance. But I can assure you that we will do our best to…”