There are very few times when we recommend you respond to a reporter’s question with “no comment.” But it’s especially poor form when you’re the President of the United States and your citizens are experiencing a total loss of life and livelihood.
Instead of “no comment,” here are a few compassionate ways to respond to a tragedy without getting ahead of the story:
#1 — Demonstrate empathy. When people are suffering, it’s important to show that you care. If you’re a person of faith who wants to pray for the injured or those who have lost loved ones, offer your prayers. If you’re not a person of faith, you can always say you’re “heartbroken over the news and tragic loss of life.” Whatever your background is, the key is to demonstrate empathy in an authentic way.
#2 — Timing matters. Every tragedy is different, but choosing the right time to talk about solutions and how you’ll work to prevent it from happening again is important. If it’s a natural disaster and there is an ongoing recovery effort, make it clear that you will discuss future preventative measures once everyone who needs help has been helped. In other situations—like 9/11—it’s necessary to communicate that those responsible will be held accountable immediately.
#3 — Show up. The best way to show you care is by showing up. For President Biden, that means traveling to Hawaii to meet with state and local officials as well as the residents who lost loved ones, their homes, and/or their livelihoods. Showing you care always trumps saying you care.