The most trusted man in America (and an apology)

I think I will have disappointed many blog readers. The question about who was the most trusted man in America was not meant to be a trick one. I was just struck at the charity event, in the 10 seconds between when they said they had a clip from the most trusted man in America and when the clip started, by what an intersting question that was. I didn’t mean to imply that the answer they gave was suprising or counterintuitive.

In fact, the answer turns out to be far less interesting than even I had thought, because apparently the man in question, Walter Cronkite, is literally known as the “most trusted man in America” according to Wikipedia! Like most readers of this blog, I’m too young to know that.

You know a question is too easy when the very first person who answers it gets the right answer. So the winner is a reader who goes by the name “Amos Moses” (he has his own blog).

The othe 150+ respondents don’t win a prize, but did you did generate some interesting data. Other than Cronkite, the most common answers were:

Warren Buffett 8
Bill Gates 7
Jon Stewart 7
Oprah Winfrey 6
Alan Greenspan 4
Billy Graham 4
Colin Powell 4
Bill Clinton 4
Tom Hanks 3
Dr. Phil 3
Paul Harvey 3
Mister Rogers 3
George Bush 3
Homer Simpson 3

I’m not sure what, if anything, this list tells us about Freaknomics blog commenters or America more generally. Especially since the prize was only for the first person to list a name!

I find it interesting that religious/quasi-religious figures are mostly missing from the list except for Billy Graham. In general, I think of trustworthiness as being tied to having a strong moral code, which you expect religious leaders to have. I think most people deeply trust their own minister/priest/rabbbi. Very prominent religious leaders of late, however, do not seem to be generally seen as that trustworthy (take Ted Haggard for instance).

Gates and Buffett seem like reasonable choices because they have chosen to give so much money away. I wonder if Andrew Carnegie was seen the same way in his day?

I have to say that when I met Jon Stewart, I felt an immediate sense of trust in him and thought he would make a good president. I get that same sense from Barack Obama, but 100 times stronger. (Barack got 2 votes for most trustworthy.)

The name that popped into my head at that charity event was Jimmy Carter. I’m surprised he only got one vote.

Our promise to you: the next contest we run will have a more interesting answer.

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  1. akratzer says:

    Just to help you out on some things that you may be too young to know:

    George Washington is called the “Father of Our Country”

    Elvis Presley was known as “The King”

    Greg Norman is “The Great White Shark”

    James Brown is “The Godfather of Soul”

    Jackie Gleason was called “The Great One”

    Muhammad Ali is called “The Greatest”

    Frank Sanatra was called “Ol’ Blue Eyes”

    Reggie Jackson “Mr. October”

    Al Capone was “Scarface”

    Joseph Stalin was “Uncle Joe”

    Wilt Chamberlan was known as “The Stilt”

    Babe Ruth was “The Bambino”

    Joe Namath was “Broadway Joe”

    Louis Armstrong was “Pops or Satchmo”

    John Wayne was “The Duke”

    Joe DiMaggio was “the Yankee Clipper”

    Joe Louis was “The Brown Bomber”

    Ronald Reagan was “The Gipper”

    Lon Chaney was “The Man of a Thousand Faces”

    Idi Amin was “Big Daddy”

    Dwight Gooden is “Doc”

    General George Patton was “Old Blood and Guts”

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  2. akratzer says:

    Just to help you out on some things that you may be too young to know:

    George Washington is called the “Father of Our Country”

    Elvis Presley was known as “The King”

    Greg Norman is “The Great White Shark”

    James Brown is “The Godfather of Soul”

    Jackie Gleason was called “The Great One”

    Muhammad Ali is called “The Greatest”

    Frank Sanatra was called “Ol’ Blue Eyes”

    Reggie Jackson “Mr. October”

    Al Capone was “Scarface”

    Joseph Stalin was “Uncle Joe”

    Wilt Chamberlan was known as “The Stilt”

    Babe Ruth was “The Bambino”

    Joe Namath was “Broadway Joe”

    Louis Armstrong was “Pops or Satchmo”

    John Wayne was “The Duke”

    Joe DiMaggio was “the Yankee Clipper”

    Joe Louis was “The Brown Bomber”

    Ronald Reagan was “The Gipper”

    Lon Chaney was “The Man of a Thousand Faces”

    Idi Amin was “Big Daddy”

    Dwight Gooden is “Doc”

    General George Patton was “Old Blood and Guts”

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  3. pkimelma says:

    I do not think any political figure can earn the title “most trusted”, whether they are trustworthy or not. Our vicious and acidic political climate (more or less dating back to the founding) leaves no one unscarred, whether deserving or not. So, even though Jimmy Carter was always honest, in truth he was too honest. Every admission by him as President allowed his opponents to “spin it” to a negative (in the same way that they made “liberal” into an epithet (bad kind) rather than a simple indicator of belief). Obama has not yet faced the artillery of the attack-machine. Once he does, you will wonder how you could have ever thought he was trustworthy (whether we like it or not, the attack ads and attack blogs work in a subconscious way).
    Walter Cronkite earned this title because unlike the Fox news model, he was not afraid to tell you what happened without sneer or snide-comment or rhetorical question attached. People trusted that they could get the news unvarnished from him (and ER Murrow before him). Again, even newscasters are now branded as liberal or conservative, favoring one side or the other, simply for covering a story that is popular or unpopular (or not “properly” treating it with contempt or import, depending on the side they are to have taken).
    So, it is not surprising that people pick “fake news commentators” and the super-rich who donate vast fortunes. Only they are above the normal sniping (at least for a while).

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  4. pkimelma says:

    I do not think any political figure can earn the title “most trusted”, whether they are trustworthy or not. Our vicious and acidic political climate (more or less dating back to the founding) leaves no one unscarred, whether deserving or not. So, even though Jimmy Carter was always honest, in truth he was too honest. Every admission by him as President allowed his opponents to “spin it” to a negative (in the same way that they made “liberal” into an epithet (bad kind) rather than a simple indicator of belief). Obama has not yet faced the artillery of the attack-machine. Once he does, you will wonder how you could have ever thought he was trustworthy (whether we like it or not, the attack ads and attack blogs work in a subconscious way).
    Walter Cronkite earned this title because unlike the Fox news model, he was not afraid to tell you what happened without sneer or snide-comment or rhetorical question attached. People trusted that they could get the news unvarnished from him (and ER Murrow before him). Again, even newscasters are now branded as liberal or conservative, favoring one side or the other, simply for covering a story that is popular or unpopular (or not “properly” treating it with contempt or import, depending on the side they are to have taken).
    So, it is not surprising that people pick “fake news commentators” and the super-rich who donate vast fortunes. Only they are above the normal sniping (at least for a while).

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  5. Amos Moses says:

    I’m not disappointed Steven. I think it was a great contest :).

    While I didn’t know for a fact Walter Cronkite was literally called the most trusted man in America, I was a little lad when he left TV, it must have been lurking in the back of my mind cause he immediately popped out.

    As the comments rolled in I thought Billy Graham might have been the correct answer.

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  6. Amos Moses says:

    I’m not disappointed Steven. I think it was a great contest :).

    While I didn’t know for a fact Walter Cronkite was literally called the most trusted man in America, I was a little lad when he left TV, it must have been lurking in the back of my mind cause he immediately popped out.

    As the comments rolled in I thought Billy Graham might have been the correct answer.

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  7. i think the reason cronkite gets the distinction is because he’s a journalist. politicians and religious leaders are, ipso facto, polarizing. much of their power and fame is derived from their involvement in issues that either attract or alienate people–in other words, they are inherently biased. journalists–and by that, i mean good ones, not opinionmongers with airtime–are by their very nature impartial. we trust what cronkite says precisely because we know he is able to present information without bias or judgment.

    who would you trust more: the diplomat or his translator? it’s sort of the same thing.

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  8. i think the reason cronkite gets the distinction is because he’s a journalist. politicians and religious leaders are, ipso facto, polarizing. much of their power and fame is derived from their involvement in issues that either attract or alienate people–in other words, they are inherently biased. journalists–and by that, i mean good ones, not opinionmongers with airtime–are by their very nature impartial. we trust what cronkite says precisely because we know he is able to present information without bias or judgment.

    who would you trust more: the diplomat or his translator? it’s sort of the same thing.

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