Columns

2006.11.08 There's worse than reporters

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

My name is David Green and I approve of this column.

Aren’t you tired of hearing that phrase–or at least a common variant uttered by politician after politician? They should be ashamed to approve some of the drivel known as political advertising. There’s nothing like a politician to make a person really hate politics.

Fortunately, I have some excellent news to report regarding politicians. Good for me, that is.

A recent survey of potential Michigan voters found that journalists are not as mistrusted as politicians. Our respectability rating is apparently on the rise—or perhaps the politicians are sinking deeper into the muck.

The study conducted last month asked Michigan citizens to rate six typically mistrusted professions. Journalist ranked down in fifth place, I’m sort of pleased to say.

I mean it’s embarrassing enough to be listed among the dirty six, but at least we’re nearly the cleanest of the dirt.

This was the question: “In your opinion, of the following professions, whom are you least likely to trust?”

Hold on a minute. Whom are you least likely to trust? A profession isn’t a whom.  The question should be “which are you least likely to trust?” It takes a journalist to get these things right. Trust me on that.

Here’s how it came out: About 35 percent of those interviewed said they were least likely to trust politicians. Thirty-five percent! It’s dirty work our politicians do.

The remainder of the untrustworthy six came out in this order: oil company executives, 17 percent; used car salesmen, 14 percent; lawyers, 11 percent; news reporters, 10 percent; and mechanics, nine percent.

So mechanics make the list. I suppose this is because of the number of people who take their car in to repair problem X and then learn about problems Y and Z, as though the mechanic might have created the other two problems in order to make his boat payment, as the guys on Car Talk would say.

Lawyers. Now that’s a tough profession. You have a client whom you know is guilty but you have to prove that he’s innocent. So when can you ever trust a lawyer?

Used car salesmen traditionally make an appearance on these lists. Maybe it’s deserved, but from my days of selling advertising, used car salesmen were among my favorite people. And I bought some good cars from them.

I’m surprised to see oil company executives on the list, not that they might not be deserving. I’m just wondering if they’ve always been there, or whether their inclusion arrived with the rise of gasoline prices, along with all the news reports about record-breaking profits.

Exxon and Shell were both reporting a gain of more than 30 percent a year ago—the third highest in company history for Exxon. ConocoPhilips was up 51 percent. And you know about the increase in the price at the pump.

I’m not suggesting there’s any connection between the two. I’m sure the oil company executives had an explanation, one that helped boost them into second place in the mistrust standings. Those explanations are the sort of thing journalists explore.

And then come the politicians. Randy “Duke” Cunningham: accepting $2.4 million in bribes. Bob Ney: accepting bribes and lying. William Jefferson: bribes and wire fraud. Tom DeLay: money laundering, conspiracy.

Curt Weldon: under investigation. Ted Stevens: under investigation.

And so it goes. That’s certainly no exhaustive list. There’s someone new every couple of weeks, it seems, and the list of crooks associated with the politicians is much longer.

It doesn’t help that President Bush has such an amazingly low approval rating and Vice President Cheney an even lower standing.

The survey found that Democrats are a little more trusting of politicians than Republicans, and Republicans have a very strong distrust for reporters.

It’s probably all a cycle. Eventually the Democrats will be in charge and they’ll start taking the bribes and then they’ll really hate those probing journalists.

I guess there’s no way out for us newspaper guys. We’ll always remain on the list. Trust me on that one, too.

    - Nov. 8, 2006 

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