This expression is included in many news stories but to me, it's frustratingly vague.

I see these as "weasel words" - some journalist leaves a voice mail for someone, waits 10 seconds for a callback then goes to press saying there was no immediate response.

From a journalistic perspective, what is the true meaning of this expression? Is the meaning deliberately vague to sensationalize the news?

  • 4
    sort of..opinion-based issue.
    – user66974
    Jul 21, 2014 at 19:34
  • 3
    I don't think anyone's trying to trick you or lie about anything using that statement. Lots of journalists have to use sentences like that because often times that's all they have—the lack of an immediate response. I think it leaves the issue open.
    – user85526
    Jul 21, 2014 at 19:50
  • I think there's a very slight weasel-y-ness to "did not immediately respond to requests for comments" because the average person may not pick up on "immediately" and think of the other, more definite negative-charged statement, "did not respond to our requests for comments". Jul 21, 2014 at 20:26
  • 1
    I see this on theRegister a lot example and there I just take it at face value. They publish news articles throughout the day and it stands to reason that the subject of the article will not always be immediately available. Jul 21, 2014 at 20:32
  • 1
    I don't think the meaning of the quoted phrase is a matter of opinion. I think it's a standard, boilerplate way of asserting that the publisher attempted to elicit a response from the person or entity involved before publication of the story but that person or entity did not respond in time (if it responded at all) for the response to be made a part of the story. I recommend reopening this question.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 20, 2017 at 4:40

2 Answers 2


No, it is not meant in a pejorative sense.

Journalists report on events as they occur. It is always helpful to get additional input from parties involved, e.g. family, employer, public relations representative, attorney, or experts. Sometimes that isn't possible, because the event just occurred, and has been confirmed by authorities. If the event or situation is newsworthy, journalists must report on it, rather than waiting until they get a response from whomever they contacted for additional information.

These are not "weasel words". In fact, good news media reports often republish the story with one or more updates, as responses to comment requests are received. Reuters is particularly good about doing that, occasionally multiple times for a news story! Both Thomson Reuters and the BBC have guidelines on requests for comment.

Via Reuters Handbook of Journalism excerpt, "Vetting"

Give the other side every opportunity to comment. If you don’t elicit a comment in an initial contact, call again. Record all the times you tried to contact them. If they decline to comment, note that down.

and excerpt, "Legal":

When a key subject, company or institution declines to comment, provide its point of view. Preferably, this would come from a credible, on-the-record source; at the very least, provide contextual information that may put things in a more neutral light.

Via BBC Editorial Guidelines - Right of Reply excerpt:

Providing a fair opportunity to reply to allegations requires providing enough time to make a response. The amount of time that is fair will change according to circumstances, including... whether there is a pressing need to broadcast in the public interest; the nature of the subject and their resources...a large corporation with a sizable PR operation may be expected to respond quicker than a small business with just a few employees or an individual.

  • 1
    Very good answer. It seems fair to observe that many stories are multifaceted and/or time-sensitive, and journalists constantly face deadlines for getting planned stories published. If the subject of a critical or unflattering or otherwise embarrassing story could block or discredit publication of that story simply by refusing to respond to a request by the journalist for comment, it would be the new favorite strategy of every every crooked public figure who was on the verge of being exposed and every corporate PR department trying to shield the company from bad publicity. ...
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 20, 2017 at 4:22
  • 1
    ...The phrase “X did not immediately respond to requests for comment” means "The reporter, editors, and fact checkers responsible for this story tried to get in touch with X a reasonable amount of time before this story was published, but X did not respond in time for us to include X's response in the story." It seems to me that expecting the publisher to blow a deadline while waiting for a response that might never come is hardly a reasonable position to adopt. Nor do I consider the phrasing to constitute "weasel words." Rather, it is a compact statement of having performed due diligence.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 20, 2017 at 4:28
  • But if I'm reading the story, and the comment is already there, why still say "did not immediately respond"? It's useless information compared to the rest of the story in my view. Not convinces it's not weasely. Sounds like a pity way to make the company or whatever respond faster the next time, with little use to the reader.
    – Nearoo
    Jun 14 at 11:39

It sounds to me like coded language, indicating that the writer believes that the party concerned has no available comment.

Journalism is full of code. One of the most notorious clichés is found in such as the following:

'The body of the murdered schoolteacher was found at an address in east London. A 45-year-old woman is helping police with their inquiries'.

Invariably it means that the police have got their suspect but because he or she is yet to be formally charged they, the newspaper, cannot legally provide the name or the fact that they are a suspect.

  • It isn't coded language. It is a formalized phrase that means exactly what it seems to mean. Jun 19 at 10:41

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.