Cannot vs. would not comment

By Doug Fisher, Common Sense Journalism

Fairly regularly, I see sentences like this in stories:

“Mayor Jane Darby said she cannot comment because the lawsuit is ongoing.” (Group sues Edisto Beach after town bans religious worship services from its civic center).

She certainly can comment if she wants to, unless there is a clear policy, law, etc., that prevents her.

And maybe there is. But too often stories say an official said he or she “cannot” comment. Often, a stock phrase that like “because the lawsuit is ongoing” is thrown in – phrases that when you parse them really don’t say much.

And that subtly makes us complicit in one of the favorite parlor games of many politicians and too many public officials:  linguistic obfuscation.

She would not comment. It’s a conscious decision. We should make clear to readers/users that’s the case. [Full story]

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