As I remember it, my most frightening moment in the newspaper business was the time I was flying to New York to accept my seventh Pulitzer Prize and a guided missile … oh, wait, what actually happened is that I was rowing to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro and a submarine … no, no, that’s not it, either. The truth is that I was riding a bike on my paper route and a dog barked at me.
Sorry if my memory seems a little fuzzy, but conflation is an occupational hazard for journalists.
Fortunately, NBC anchorman Brian Williams has brought this affliction to the attention of the American public, and it’s probably well on its way to becoming the disorder du jour. But some people think conflation is just a fancy word for “lying” and that he never will regain the trust of viewers if he returns to television after his six-month suspension.
I don’t know about that. I’m still trying to understand how people decide which celebrities to trust in the first place. What makes them believe that a celebrity they see on their screens, but never met, is someone they should or shouldn’t trust?
Trustworthiness wasn’t necessarily a trait we expected from our celebrities when I was growing up. All we cared about was that they looked beautiful and weren’t Communists. But then CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite was proclaimed the most trusted person in America and trustworthiness became even more important than not being a Communist.
People today tend to trust movie stars. A 2013 Reader’s Digest poll declared that the most trusted person in America was Tom Hanks. I don’t know what makes him more trustworthy than Sandra Bullock, who finished second, or Denzel Washington, who placed third. Maybe trustworthiness is based on number of Oscars won.
But trust can be fleeting. O.J. Simpson, Pete Rose and Tiger Woods were trusted as role models for our children, but that was before it turned out that they all had certain character flaws. Her fans were disappointed when they learned Martha Stewart wasn’t telling them only good things. People no longer assume Bill Cosby is all warm and fuzzy.
Now Brian Williams has fallen from being the 23rd most trusted person in America to No. 835, according to a research company. In terms of certitude, that puts him the neighborhood of actor Gene Hackman, a basketball player named Russell Westbrook and one of those Duck Dynasty guys.
I don’t remember who else is on that list, but I’m sure lots of them are newspaper columnists, probably just behind Denzel Washington. I can’t prove that, though.
So you’ll just have to trust me.
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