After rereading my thoughts on trust last night, I think I need to walk my comments back a little bit. I finished reading Ben Bradlee’s memoirs this morning, “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures.” Bradlee was the managing editor of the Washington Post for 29 years and oversaw the paper’s coverage of Watergate.
He was portrayed memorably by Jason Robards in “All the President’s Men.” Bradlee looked at everything with a skeptical eye because he had good reason to. First of all, he was a newspaper editor and as the old journalism adage goes, “if your mother says she loves you, find another source.” In addition to Watergate, he talks about numerous scandals in his book: Gary Hart, Iran-Contra, and the Janet Cooke plagiarism scandal.
In my view of scandals, I guess Gary Hart wouldn’t have meant much. But Bradlee talked about hypocrisy. Hart basically told the media to “come at me bro.” And they did. They caught him red handed.
The Cooke scandal scarred Bradlee. Cooke fabricated a story about a child heroin addict and the story went on to win a Pulitzer. Editors should place a lot of trust in reporters. It helps them do their job well, but what about when someone abuses that trust? Oof. That’s bad for everyone.
Maybe I’m not skeptical enough of people. I trust people pretty easily. I give the people the benefit of the doubt. I try to be earnest and honest with people, so I naturally assume that they give the same back to me. I don’t think that’s always the case.
But how do we build trust in candidates running for president? I have absolutely no idea. I’d like to think I could trust Obama, but the man doesn’t talk to journalists, or at least regular journalists. For the record, he doesn’t score well with the press.
But then there are those who say we can’t trust the press. Who exactly do they mean when they say that? Do they not trust CNN or Fox News? Or the New York Times? I don’t know.
I feel like we can’t see the forest for the trees on the issue of trust in politics and the press. Those who run for the school board benefit the most from all of it, so do mayors and state legislators. State legislatures are especially easy places to for trust to be broken. Why do the elected officials who can affect our lives the most get the least amount of attention? It’s not sexy. It doesn’t sell papers, yet property taxes are one of the most direct ways people interact with government. The president does not influence your property taxes, your school board does.
I think this goes back to what I said yesterday. Building trust is a two-way street. You need to do that by being involved in the political process. Support local journalism. Get out and vote. Don’t base your trust on a gut instinct. That is far, far too easily manipulated.