by Matt Stoller, Thu Dec 14, 2006 at 05:03:05 PM EST
The Fix has an interesting catch from a Gallup survey.
So, a new poll from Gallup is sure to cause considerable agitation in the world of elected officials. The survey, testing 1,009 voters from Dec. 8-10, asks people to rate the "honesty and ethical standards" of a variety of professions. The results are somewhat dismal (even for the most cynical observers).
Governors are the most respected of public officials with 22 percent rating their ethics and honesty as high or very high and 26 percent scoring it low or very low. Journalists nudged out governors with 26 percent rating their ethics as high or very high and 25 scoring them low or very low (We'll take it.)
Not surprisingly, the most trusted professions remain those related to healthcare. Eighty-four percent of the sample rated nurses as possessing high standards for honesty and ethics. Druggists/pharmacists (73 percent), doctors (69 percent), dentists (62 percent) and engineers (61 percent) rounded out the top five.
I find this fascinating. Unlike car salesman or nurses, what journalists 'sell' to the public is trust. And yet the public doesn't rate journalists as having particularly high integrity, which is puzzling because they still in some ways dominate public discourse. If I were a journalist seeking to serve the public, I might find this incredibly alarming and a reason to fret and examine why the public is skeptical. For Cillizza, who I'm picking on only because his attitude is hardly unusual among journalists, it's cause for snark and nothing more. 'I'll take it' is his mantra, since it doesn't really matter if you trust him or not, he's secure in his post at the Post.
This could explain why paid media is so dominant in the narratives of campaigns. I've seen two campaigns up close where journalism essentially made zero difference - Jon Corzine for Governor in 2005 and Ned Lamont in 2006. Voters are using different sources of information to make political decisions at this point, and the press doesn't really help matters by allowing paid media and statements from campaigns back and forth to dominate the discourse. Whether paid media is dominant because voters have somehow 'changed' to a more apathetic and less information-rich stance or whether journalism has become less trustworthy isn't clear.
My guess is that journalists are no longer communicating in a way that makes sense to voters. For instance, if you look at most Connecticut papers, you would find almost no coverage of the fact that Lieberman misled voters on his main campaign promise to bring the troops home as soon as possible, or that Lamont's claim that a vote for Lieberman is a "vote for more war" happens to be true. The campaign is over, so it's apparently not relevant that Senator Lieberman just called for more troops, which simply cannot be taken as anything but a call for more war. This isn't just sour grapes; it would have been incredibly tough for Lamont to win regardless, but the fact that Lieberman was able to utter statements in the post-primary which are now revealed as lies, and have basically no coverage in local papers, is remarkable. It's shallow. It disempowers Connecticut voters, who are not told the truth about what they voted for.
I don't really have an answer for irresponsible lack of follow-on coverage, or the boring scandal-driven untrustworthy nonsense that passes as news. At this point we still need the press, I suppose, and we need them to dig up credible information so that we can consider public discourse reasonably and responsibly. Still, it would be nice if journalists considered a lack of trust from the public as an identity crisis rather than an opportunity for snark. In the meantime, the press will continue to lose relevance and other more unpredictable social structures will take its place.