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Two high-profile crises prove that 'no comment' lengthens the media cycle

If you are the first to report your crisis, you’ll land better and recover quicker, writes Renu Bakshi
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refuses to reveal who stayed in a $7,000-a-night room | Government of Canada

One ongoing crisis involves the federal government. Another crisis involves a private company in B.C.

Both entities have something in common: They lengthened media scrutiny of their respective stories by either refusing to answer even basic questions or ghosting the media entirely.

Let’s start with the Trudeau government and the nightly cost of $7,000 for a single hotel room someone occupied to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. (The media initially reported the cost to be $6,000 a night, but with the exchange rate at the time, the number is now confirmed to be higher).

Other five-star hotels were available at lower rates.

Dogged by media questions since last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Ministry of Global Affairs refuse to reveal who stayed in the room and instructed staff to do the same.

Trudeau is obviously the guest who enjoyed the room – complete with private butler service – so “no comment” is laughable. But until the government shares what taxpayers have a right to know, media scrutiny will continue.

Meanwhile in B.C., a real-estate development company filed for creditor protection and made front-page headlines that have persisted for more than a week. The story matters because the company’s court action is something that concerns developers. Is the court action the impact of current interest rates and should the industry worry? It also matters because hundreds of the company’s customers are left in the dark about their purchases.

To alleviate fear, the story begs for clarity. But the company opted to ghost the media, so the news cycle continues.

Ignoring the media or refusing to comment have the same outcome: They send a message that you are hiding something, which only serves to escalate the crisis. Speculation and rumours abound. You lose the narrative. You sustain reputational damage.

Without information, journalists dig for anything they can find. Sometimes coverage becomes hostile, even personal.

So, why do people refuse to comment when they’re in crisis? Often, lawyers advise clients to avoid the media because the case is “before the courts.” That’s an old-school mindset, one that erodes trust and hinders the ability to rebuild it.

On the other hand, lawyers who understand the impact of public opinion work with crisis managers to help control the narrative. Together, they draft public comments for sensitive situations without compromising legal integrity.

Taking it a daring step further: If you are the first to report your crisis, you’ll land better and recover quicker.

The federal government and real estate developer both blew the chance to tell their story first. In fact, Canada’s high commissioner in London anticipated the outcome of the opulent hotel room, writing in an internal email: “We knew it was going to come out.”

Well, duh.

So, it begs the question: If government knew the matter would be exposed, why didn’t it cancel the booking and choose a different option? Call it idiocy; call it entitlement.

For the developer, a court filing is a matter of public record. The company could have used that information to inform a public statement and get ahead of the story.

By issuing a public statement, the news cycle becomes shorter or ends. On the other hand, stonewalling or remaining silent results in handing over the reigns of your reputation to someone else to tell your story.

Renu Bakshi is a former long-time journalist who now works as an international crisis manager and media trainer. She is based in Vancouver and can be reached at [email protected].