I have been advising clients for years that they should always answer journalists’ questions, but this week I have seen the most amazing piece of question-evasion I’ve ever witnessed in my life. And it didn’t come from a media interviewee!

No, it came from a guy called Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, Acting Head of the United States Indian Health Service. He was being grilled in a Senate hearing by Democratic Senator Jon Tester, about proposed budget cuts.

Would the cuts reduce the agency’s resources available to hire staff? Not a hard or complex question. But RADM Weahkee ducked and dived in a manner that would do credit to a featherweight boxing champ.

I’ll let you see the exchange in just a moment, but first some very quick points about why you might not want to answer a question and why you should anyway.

1) “It has nothing to do with you”. (Well, I’m a journalist/lawmaker, so it does.)

2) “It’s confidential”. (If it is commercially sensitive or privileged, say so and explain why. If you don’t, it looks evasive. Evasive means you have something to hide. That means the journalists/lawmakers will try even harder. And they will make what might have been a side issue into a big issue. Think of the UK Lib Dem leader Tim Farron and his uncomfortable answers about gay sex.)

3) “It’s private”. (If a journalist/lawmaker brings something into the public domain by asking a question, it creates the expectation that either there will be an answer or there will be a reasonable explanation of why no answer is forthcoming.)

4) “It’s embarrassing”. (Life is hard. Many things are dragged into the public domain that someone would rather have kept secret. But if there’s bad news, it’s better that it comes from you. Then you’re in control of the narrative. The BBC would rather not have revealed the disparities between the pay of its male and female employees, but it was ordered to. Volunteering the information earlier would have looked better).

5) “It’s not relevant”. (If you think you’ve been asked a pointless or irrelevant question, answer it briefly and then keep talking. Now you can change the subject on to what you came to talk about.)

Now I won’t keep you on tenterhooks any longer. Here’s the wonderful exchange between Sen Tester and RADM Weahkee.