Reality check on ‘most trusted person’

601px-Handshake_(Workshop_Cologne_'06)The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Who is the most trusted person in your life? And why is that person your most trusted person? What triggers these questions is a recent Reader’s Digest poll surveying subscribers about their most trusted American. Those subscribers told Reader’s Digest that their most trusted American is actor Tom Hanks. In fact, the top four most trusted Americans are actors: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep.

There’s a lot we could talk about here, but let’s just focus on a couple of things.

First, it’s not surprising that subscribers to Reader’s Digest would choose Hollywood actors, especially these four actors. America lives a Hollywood culture. Entertainment is America’s No. 1 pastime. We watch way too much television. We get way too many cultural cues from gossip magazines about celebrities. And, for the most part, average Americans really do believe that Hollywood actors are more intelligent and more informed than them.

Only people my age and older would remember a time when Jack Klugman, a popular television star who once played a medical examiner named “Quincy,” was actually asked by a congressional committee in the early 1980s to testify on an orphan drug bill. By the way, that bill was being blocked by Utah’s own Orrin Hatch who eventually was swayed by the actor to vote for the bill. Klugman’s experience also was no doubt responsible for the popular expression, today spun by the Holiday Inn chain, “I’m not a real doctor, I just play one on TV.”

People believe Hollywood actors. But why shouldn’t they? Actors are acting. They get paid for us to believe them! And that leads us to a second point. It’s not a coincidence that Americans chose Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep as their most trusted Americans – these are four fine actors. Maybe the best Hollywood now has to offer. I watched Denzel in his movie “The Book of Eli,” about a blind post-apocalyptic survivor. Only you didn’t know he was blind until the end of the movie. That’s how good of an actor Denzel is. And that’s why Hollywood actors are enlisted for all sorts of serious and trendy political causes.

Would you believe Tom Hanks about space flight? The National Space Society does. Hanks is a member of its National Governing Board – all because he made a movie about Apollo 13. I’m not saying he doesn’t know about space flight. In fact, making “Apollo 13” had to be a fascinating learning experience. All I’m saying is that if I want to know about space flight, I’ll probably take the word of someone who’s actually flown in space, not an actor who plays an astronaut in a movie.

So let me ask you: Who is the most trusted person in your life? If that most trusted person is someone you’ve never met, you might want to get yourself a reality check. For me, my most trusted person is my wife, Sally. I have work colleagues I trust implicitly with my life. I also have a couple of neighbors whose judgment and care I trust unequivocally. And, like most Americans, there’s those one or two old friends that I haven’t seen in years who, if I needed them today, would be right there to care for me.

Then again, I never met Ronald Reagan and I’d say I trusted him with our country. In light of that, you might be wondering where America’s politicians fell on the Reader’s Digest poll? The first one to appear is Michelle Obama at No. 19. Former President Jimmy Carter came in at No. 24. Hillary Clinton ranked No. 51. And President Barack Obama is the 65th most trusted American.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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