Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Who Do You Trust Most, Government, Business, or Media?

This was the morning question being discussed on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal on my way into work. While I generally don’t put a lot of stock in the audience answers, today it was the overwhelming number of callers, representing both political parties, that caught my attention. Granted almost all of the comments began with something to the effect of "I don’t trust any of them," or "this is a difficult question, but if I have to pick one...." That being said, of the 20-30 calls that I heard, maybe 3, or about 10% said business, no one, that I can recall, named government, and the remaining 90% or so indicated that of the three they trusted media the most.

Before I attempt to provide an answer, I suppose I should gripe a bit about the question itself. First, it never indicates what you are to trust them to do. In other words, the question appears, at least to me, to suffer a fatal flaw, namely, it should have been phrased, who do you most trust to do X, government, business or media? I presume from the tenor of the news articles being read during the segment that the X was supposed to be "tell the truth," but that was never made clear, nor was it a part of the actual question. My second, and final, critique of the question is that it uses vague undefined terms. Which part of the government, which businesses, and what type of media are not specified. Thus, it becomes difficult to really gauge the true meaning of the responses, even on an antidotal level, because it very well could be that each person calling who named the media has a different impression about what the word media includes.

Even with these flaws, I thought it was an interesting question. My answer would be the government first, media second, and business third. This is largely based on the fact that the government is the only one of the three entities whose actions not only effect the entire population, but also answer to the entire population (via elections). This is to be contrasted with business and media, who by and large are responsible to only an interested subset of the population (i.e., stockholders in business and subscribers/viewers in media), and therefore have a lot more flexibility and a lot less accountablitiy with respect to their position in the public sphere. In addition, business and media are fungable, while government is not. In other words, to use the CBS news scandel, if a business or media outlet does something that a consumer does not like or approve of, they can change the channel, buy different products, or stop investing in the company. If Americans don't like their government, they can protest, vote for change, or otherwise participate in the political process, but they can't, at least not without extreme hardship, relocate to another country, or simply decide to adopt a different government in the same way that they decide to drink Coke as opposed to Pepsi.

That being my answer, I’m most interested in what my fellow bloggers would do with this question.


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