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.


Bill Gates? Trusted?

Let's recall that Bill Gates, via his company, Microsoft, is a convicted felon. Readers may recall Microsoft's conviction, its appeal because they thought Judge Jackson was biased. [Actually, Judge Jackson's remarks where his outrage at Microsofts truly anti-competitive behavior]. MS got Judge Jackson recused from the case and the case was subsequently assigned to the most business-friendly judge in the entire universe: Judge Kollar-Kotelly

I think it is a sad state of affairs when the great unwashed think Bill Gates is trustworthy. ... Oh! Wait! ... I'll bet there's a way to monetize this concept! ... nobody ever went broke underestimating ... Oh, nevermind.


nothing like finishing second because you typed a long answer


In the world of blogs, no prize, no incentive is needed. A forum for your personally wrought argots suffices. Gutenburg started this ball rolling, and it rolls ever onward.


I, like you, immediately thought of Jimmy Carter. And, even after reading the list of entries, I have a hard time fitting most of them into the moniker. Maybe he's a bit too low profile but he has the kind of moral compass that few others come close to. (And certainly not some of the individuals who made the list).



Bill Gates isn't a convicted felon because Microsoft, a separate corporate entity, was ordered to split into two components. It's not as if the police could come arrest him at his house if Microsoft didn't comply with the ruling. And I bet this blog was created on a Windows machine. HAHAHAHAH YOU LOSE!!!


Next time I highly recommend plugging your question into Google and making sure the answer isn't in the first 20 results.


I agree with your impression of Obama. I never actually met him in person but based on two interviews, and a speech that he gave at my college just last month, I definitely feel like he would be a great president. Plus he really sounded like an economist when he talked about inequality and social security during the speech he gave here, and I thought that was about the coolest thing ever.


Taking a quick look at facebook (an online community of mostly college students), I found that there are approximately 57,576 members currently registered in a group that supports Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for the Presidency/Vice Presidency in 2008. While this is a small number while comparing it to the population or even the population of facebook, I still thought it was a pretty significant figure as to the trust these two have drawn from college students.

Jun Okumura

The relative lack of
1) religious figures; and
2) political figures (only the two most recent presidents, and not too many votes either); and
the conspicuous presence of
3) two philanthropic bajillionaires;
4) three apolitical-liberal TV personalities (but no one from Fox News); and
5) Homer Simpson
suggest that Freakonomics bloggers are a bunch of secular, pro-market,inclusive folks with a powerful philanthropic streak. And pro-nuclear.


I am not surprised at all that religious "leaders" don't show up on the list.

The best members of the clergy serve their local community and don't seek national attention. I am not fond of Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell, Jim Bakker, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or anyone that appears on the religious channel with goofy hair and too much make-up.

As far as Obama, the guy is charismatic, a great speaker, and may very well be a 2008 presidential candidate. I know this board isn't political, so at the risk of crossing the line, I will say his positions are diametrically opposed to everything I believe in, and I couldn't support him.


I think your right, Jon Stewart would make a good president. But I definatly agree that Obama would make a GREAT president (To any who read this: If Obama should run, don't hesitate to vote for him.) Anyways, kudos on that thought, and don't worry too much about the whole competition thing. I Googled it and found the same answer... it was a fun hunt though - that much I admit.


If you're too young to understand why Walter Cronkite came immediately to mind to many people, then you're equally too young to understand why Jimmy Carter did not. The Carter presidency was not the same as the Habitat for Humanity reunion tour that followed his retirement from public office.


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"


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).


Amos Moses

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Daedalus B. Logos

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.