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. SteveSailer says:

    It’s a media myth that Walter Cronkite was universally trusted. He was a highly controversial figure in the 1970s because he was not trusted by political conservatives.

    I think that the man with, overall, the most admirers for his honesty — and with the fewest detractors — is football commentator John Madden. He was a success as an NFL coach, and has been a huge success as a TV analyst for decades. The football video game with his name on it is the gold standard among sports games.

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  2. SteveSailer says:

    It’s a media myth that Walter Cronkite was universally trusted. He was a highly controversial figure in the 1970s because he was not trusted by political conservatives.

    I think that the man with, overall, the most admirers for his honesty — and with the fewest detractors — is football commentator John Madden. He was a success as an NFL coach, and has been a huge success as a TV analyst for decades. The football video game with his name on it is the gold standard among sports games.

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  3. GamblingEconomist says:

    Off topic:

    I wonder if Levitt watches “The Wire” on HBO.

    I wonder if the creators of “The Wire” read Levitt’s paper on the economics of drug gangs.

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  4. GamblingEconomist says:

    Off topic:

    I wonder if Levitt watches “The Wire” on HBO.

    I wonder if the creators of “The Wire” read Levitt’s paper on the economics of drug gangs.

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  5. davidari says:

    Jimmy Carter was certainly the most trusted man in America to his former friend, Yasir Arafat. I’m not inclined to trust a man who lent much more than tacit support to a mass-murderer.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/flashback/flashback-nordlinger101102.asp

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  6. davidari says:

    Jimmy Carter was certainly the most trusted man in America to his former friend, Yasir Arafat. I’m not inclined to trust a man who lent much more than tacit support to a mass-murderer.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/flashback/flashback-nordlinger101102.asp

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  7. Daedalus B. Logos says:

    Long time reader – first time commenter
    I find the comments heavily towards who is not listed than who is listed. Which in itself seems very odd to me…comments seems to be captured in the temporal and irrelevant i.e. whether Obama is a good candidate, Bill Gates’ conscience, etc. Which is kind of interesting, sort of…Actually, I find the list very intriguing and cause of my comment. I may have misunderstood Freakonomics altogether, but I would gather that the context of this list can be turned on its head a bit given the tabulated data.

    One of them is dead, one doesn’t exist, one woman, one actor, one general turned statesman turned philanthropist, one radio host, one doctor, one minister, one comedian (or political satirist), and a man that held a politically nominated position but never elected. There is not a lot of commonality. Wealthy CEOs, Generals, Presidents, media stars etc. make sense since they are in leadership positions or role models. However, three jokesters all thought of Homer Simpson! Why not Popeye, Spiderman, Batman, etc? And it was this question that led me to my conclusion: we cherish honesty or goodwill the most. And this is the most likely commonalities of these people/characters listed. In the case of Homer, in the mind of his writers, Homer leads an honest life that is notably more so than his superficial existence.

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  8. Daedalus B. Logos says:

    Long time reader – first time commenter
    I find the comments heavily towards who is not listed than who is listed. Which in itself seems very odd to me…comments seems to be captured in the temporal and irrelevant i.e. whether Obama is a good candidate, Bill Gates’ conscience, etc. Which is kind of interesting, sort of…Actually, I find the list very intriguing and cause of my comment. I may have misunderstood Freakonomics altogether, but I would gather that the context of this list can be turned on its head a bit given the tabulated data.

    One of them is dead, one doesn’t exist, one woman, one actor, one general turned statesman turned philanthropist, one radio host, one doctor, one minister, one comedian (or political satirist), and a man that held a politically nominated position but never elected. There is not a lot of commonality. Wealthy CEOs, Generals, Presidents, media stars etc. make sense since they are in leadership positions or role models. However, three jokesters all thought of Homer Simpson! Why not Popeye, Spiderman, Batman, etc? And it was this question that led me to my conclusion: we cherish honesty or goodwill the most. And this is the most likely commonalities of these people/characters listed. In the case of Homer, in the mind of his writers, Homer leads an honest life that is notably more so than his superficial existence.

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