‘Yeah, I Know Journalists Are Untrustworthy But They Support MY Biases, So I Trust Them Anyway,’ And More Revelations From The Annual Gallup Survey

The chart above shows the summary results of Gallup’s annual survey of the public’s trust in various professions. The venerable polling organization  has set out to measure the public attitudes toward the honesty and ethical standards of professions and occupations since 1976.  The  poll, conducted between December 3 and 12, 1,025, asked U.S. adults, as Johnny Carson’s quiz show didfrom 1957-1962, “Who Do You Trust?” and also “How much?” The survey has never revealed whether and how much any of these groups should be trusted, for trust is often irrational, and based more on perception than reality. If you want to be cynical about it, you can conclude that it only tells us who does the better job of conning those who depend on them.

As in every year for two decades, (with the exception of 2001, when firefighters were on the list after the 9/11 terrorist attacks) nurses topped the list.  Before that, pharmacists and clergymen  exchanged yearly titles for most-trusted. I have wondered if pharmacists lost votes once “It’s A Wonderful Life” started being shown on the networks every holiday season, with old Mr. Gower shown drunkenly loading pill capsules meant for a sick kid from the contents of a jar labeled “POISON.” However, there isn’t much mystery why public regard for the clergy’s ethics has dived.

This year,  37% of respondents had a “very high” or “high” opinion of the honesty and ethical standards of men and women of the cloth. 43% of people gave them an average rating, while 15 percent said they had a “low” or “very low” opinion, according to the poll, released on December 12. This was the worst rating for priests and ministers since this Gallup survey began. In 1985,  67% trusted their spiritual betters highly or very highly, but since 2009 the  trust rating has receded into negative territory. This year has been an especially bad one for sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, and Protestant churches haven’t been immune either, so the drop should surprise anyone.

I am surprised, frankly, that the ratings aren’t a lot worse. They should be. Faith works miracles, I guess. Or, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Unlike pharmacists, it may be that the clergy benefits from the survey always taking place between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when church attendance spikes.

In addition to those trustworthy nurses and pharmacists, Americans rate three other professions as having “high” or “very high” honesty and ethical standards: medical doctors (67%), , high school teachers (60%), and police officers (54%).  I am also surprised that police officers continue to rank high, despite the long-running effort to tar them as trigger-happy racists.

In a graphic example of how confirmation bias works, the ratings for journalists bounced up this year, a year in which the profession sank to new lows in professionalism, competence, honesty, and fairness. Guess why.

Partisans’ Ratings of Journalists’ Honesty and Ethical Standards

Naturally, Democrats like the fact that the news media is pushing their interests and views, even though this means that journalists are untrustworthy. I presume that the cognitive dissonance scale is also at work for independents, who react to President Trump’s labeling of the news media as “enemies of the people” with reflex revulsion, a true as the assessment may be. This depressing but predictable phenomenon explains why journalists won’t reform any time soon, if ever. Only when a significant percentage of those partisans whom the journalists unethically manipulate their reporting to help begin to protest will the news media be motivated to stop choosing propaganda over facts. Right now, their power game is working.

The whole survey is here.

25 thoughts on “‘Yeah, I Know Journalists Are Untrustworthy But They Support MY Biases, So I Trust Them Anyway,’ And More Revelations From The Annual Gallup Survey

  1. I feel car salesmen get a bad rap. Knowing quite a few of them, their business is largely previous business or referrals. For example, my dad has sold 103 cars this year. He told me yesterday that doing his review, more than 75 of those were previous customers and referrals. When I asked him if that was common, he told me while the number of sales isn’t normally that high the repore is.

  2. I look at this survey as almost a percentage of people in the profession who are unethical and untrustworthy. From this perspective, I think the police are about right. Over half the police officers I have interacted with have seemed professional and ethical in their behavior. I think the building contractors and real estate agents have earned their spots as well, based on the ones I have interacted with. Of the attorneys I have deal with, I would say only 1 of the 5 was even competent, so that rating seems about right.

    I am surprised nurses, physicians, and teachers are so highly esteemed. The people I am related to in the medical field rate the nurses at about 40%. Meaning that about 60% of the nurses are worthless. Physicians and nurses are the #3 cause of death in the US today. As for the teachers, have they seen the school systems today? Have you seen what is being taught? Even the teachers I know admit that only 20% or less of the teachers are worth anything. The Detroit Public School Superintendent had to admit that, improbably as it seems, the students would know more if they never went to school based on their test scores.

    • You must live where health care is pretty crappy. That most certainly isn’t my experience with nurses, they work very hard and are well trained in my experiences with them.

      • I’ve heard so many stories about bad nurses I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. Though, most of these nurses are in-home providers, not once that work in a hospital. It could be just simple complaining.

    • To me, there’s no mystery why nurses should be regarded so highly. If you are in a hospital, the nurses are the ones who you really interact with, and they’re the ones you see as taking care of you and making your stay as pleasant as it can be.

      The nurses I have known and interacted with have generally been dedicated, empathetic persons. I think the medical profession has generally tended to denigrate nurses, but I think that tends to reflect their own blindness rather than actual shortcomings of the nurses.

      • Empathy and sympathy are not the same as competence. You can be an empathetic, sympathetic nurse and still fail to roll the patient because you didn’t read the orders, you don’t know how to, or you don’t feel like it. Here are a few things to think about. A nurse gave a friend 10x the morphine injection specified because of an error, a nurse accidentally delivered all the doses in a self-administered morphine machine (forgot to disconnect the patient before flushing the machine) to a relative, think about the hospital where no nurse rolled a patient for 25 days after a heart attack resulting in a life-threatening bed sore, a hospital that found that only 2 nurses in the entire hospital were actually reading the patient’s orders (after a malpractice incident), the hospital where none of the nurses were wearing gloves, masks, or gowns when going into isolation rooms because ‘it was too much trouble’… I could go on and on. Three of my four grandparents were killed due to errors by the physicians and/or nurses. All the nurses involved in everything above were ‘sympathetic and empathetic’. I know more than one nurse who has quit jobs because they were tired of making up or covering up for nurses who wouldn’t or couldn’t do their job. The impression of the nurses I know is that more than half the nurses either won’t or don’t know how to do their job. The hospice nurses, however, seem to be the best (although they do tend to burn out). The NCLEX used to ask a lot of dosing questions and missing even one meant failing the test. I don’t think many nurses could get half right these days, so the NCLEX has just stopped asking the questions (this is national, not ‘just in my area’). Hospitals have just stopped having nurses do dosing because they can’t do it, so pharmacy technicians now do it (nationally, not ‘just in my area’). In any given year, a nurse in the US is roughly 1,0000 times more likely to kill a person than a firearm is. Roughly 10% of the nurses in the US kill someone in any given year by an error (nationally, not ‘just in my area’).

        You may wonder how this can happen. Here is an example. We were meeting a nurse for dinner. She was an hour and a half late. She was late because she, another nurse, and a physician had spend over an hour keeping a patient from dying after they administered a medication. The patient’s blood pressure dropped to almost nothing and they almost couldn’t save him. I asked if the patient had been on a specific cardiac medication. She replied with “Yes, how did you know?” and I said “Because I looked up that drug you administered on WebMD and it says that those two medications should never be used together because it will cause the blood pressure to plummet. Does that $3000/minute (yes minute) doctor nor any of the nursing staff check for dangerous drug interactions?” Now, did the ‘caring and empathetic’ nurses tell the patient’s family about the mistake?

        I think this situation is similar to teachers. The data is clear that our public schools are failing to educate our children, but people think the teachers are just great. “Yes, our public schools are terrible, but are teachers are great and need more money.” No, they aren’t great. They are destroying our children’s futures. The psychiatrists in the USSR believed they were helping people when they institutionalized them for wanting freedom, but that doesn’t make them admirable. The doctors giving patients syphilis on purpose for study thought they were doing good things, but it doesn’t make them admirable. The people who separated twins just so they could study them as they were raised in very different environments thought they were doing good things, it didn’t make them admirable.

        I don’t care if my nurse has a winning personality. I want my nurse to be competent. There are a lot of dedicated, competent nurses and teachers out there, but there are a lot who aren’t. Stop making excuses for the ones who aren’t and stop denying they exist.

        • You’re confusing reality with perceptions. I commented on why nurses are perceived as being more honest and ethical — it is not the same thing as asserting they are 100% competent, which I did not do.

          I cannot argue that there are nurses who aren’t competent. That is true in any profession or job. I don’t make excuses for the ones who aren’t, but I also do not believe they are the norm.

          When you say that nurses kill 300,000 Americans each year, that is about 65 -120 % of the total iatrogenic deaths annually, depending on what numbers you like. I have a problem with those numbers — I just do not believe that nurses are the single most lethal component in the health care industry. I don’t doubt that they bear some of the responsibility, but I do doubt they are the prime cause.

          Again, the survey was not on technical and professional competence, but on perceptions of honesty and ethics.

          • Here is a link. There are a lot of others. The studies are pretty consistent on the 300,000-500,000/year figure.

            It is unethical to be in a job that you are not competent to perform. It is unethical to be in a job that you are unwilling or unable to perform. This is doubly true when your job actually impacts the lives and health of others.

            This just in. A relative of mine had an operation yesterday. When his wife went in to see him after the operation, he was on his side with his back to her. She thought he looked odd and he did. It was the wrong person. The nurses were completely confused. They had no idea. They also gave her the wrong ECG results (wrong person). We are now trying to figure out if they performed the right procedure on him (and the other person). No one knows what happened because they still aren’t sure which person is which person. Competence

            • I’m not going to endlessly argue about whether nurses are the primary cause of iatrogenic deaths. I don’t buy it, but we’re obviously not going to change each other’s minds. We can trade anecdotes as to whether nurses are good people or monsters, but they really prove nothing.

              But my original point, once again, is that the survey was about public perceptions of professions — this is not necessarily connected on a one-to-one basis with the actualities. Nurses are perceived this way by the vast majority of the public, and I don’t see that changing.

  3. First, the elephant in the living room is unsurprisingly lawyers with their low trustworthiness average. This probably is a factor of the area of law they practice in: My guess is probate attorneys rank higher that medical malpractice and criminal defense attorneys. It doesn’t help that that majority of members of Congress went to law school.

    • Those other professions are coming down to the lawyers, though. Their pcts have hardly budged. And most of the negative votes come from ignorance, frankly. The average non-lawyer doesn’t think bad people and guilty people deserve representation at all. They don’t get why lawyers have to protect client confidences.

    • It sounds like you are confusing things, re lawyers. Their ethical standard charges them with proper and devoted advocacy for their client. Those who defend the accused earn the dislike of those who believe the old saw “if they got charged (or indited) then they must have done it”. They think it is unethical to provide a robust defense. Remember this: there is nothing you can do to totally avoid being falsely accused. When it happens you will seek out that “unethical” lawyer with an endless supply of “technicalities” to mine that road to conviction.

      We want to trust all the various professions on the list, but to do it honestly we have to know exactly what their job entails and the ethical burdens associated.

      • I’m not confusing anything: There are major problems with the US legal system: Jury selection where lawyers systemically weed out jurors who can think rationally and less likely to be swayed by emotions which skillful lawyers manipulate to their client’s advantage. In addition, the plea bargaining system where in order to avoid lengthy trials, felons are allowed to plead guilty to misdeamors or sentenced to community service.

        • Emotional jurors are more helpful to the state. Jurors who can think are often helpful to the defense. Had a jury trial last month involving 8 counts of sexual abuse of a child. We took a risk not striking two female jurors with sexual abuse in their pasts. They could tell the victim was lying. We got 5 people to vote to acquit, and it ended in a mistrial.

          As for plea bargaining, it is made necessary by a state that charges out more cases than it could reasonably bring to trial. Defendants willing to plead guilty prevent the system from collapsing under its own weight.

          Finally, I got a felon off on a technicality once and, by technicality, I mean his Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.


    • I would say that the problem with lawyers is that they advocate for a position. And they can be expected to advocate one position one day, and another position the next.

      When a landlord client comes to me to evict someone, I tell him every way that I try to drag the process out when I represent tenants and that he can expect those things may happen.

      However, when a tenant client comes in, I tell him how fast the process can go and every way the landlord can get him kicked out as quickly as possible.

      I know because I have been on both sides and I have an idea what tricks each side can play.

      In the normal world, this looks like duplicity. It looks like hypocrisy. It looks like the behavior of someone who will say whatever he can to get his way. It looks like someone who cannot be trusted.

      The thing is: the fact that I can do that means I CAN be trusted (by my clients, at the very least).

      On a related note: I have often told potential clients that, if they don’t think they can trust me, they should find a different lawyer and that it is better to have an average lawyer they can trust than a brilliant one they cannot (assuming both are competent).


        • True, but that is not your typical landlord tenant scenario. (Actually, It is probably a rare scenario.)

          I can represent landlords and tenants in eviction actions on the same day, even on the same issue (failure to pay rent), assuming that I am not representing a party in one case and against him in another.

          I think the same reasoning applies to prosecutors for one jurisdiction who practice criminal defense in other jurisdiction (I forget the rule offhand, though).


  4. It is interesting about high school teachers being so high. On a percentage basis weighted for how much our children are exposed to teachers vs clergy, teachers seem about equal in their sexual exploitation of our young as are the clergy.

    • Michael West wrote,
      “On a percentage basis weighted for how much our children are exposed to teachers vs clergy, teachers seem about equal in their sexual exploitation of our young as are the clergy.”

      What are you really saying with this sentence. I find it hard to understand.

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