I won't even bother linking to the "study" that shows every year that the public's regard for the journalists' reputations is tied with those of lawyers, and hovering precariously over used-car salesmen and lobbyists. Like "binge-drinking epidemic on college campuses!" you've read the story a thousand times.
And obviously there are plenty of good reasons why the public loathes journalists, the leading reason being: The public mostly consumes news via TV, and TV news people are 80 percent creeps. Also, 20 percent of print reporters are creeps. So the American public, having gone to American public schools, does the math, and figures that journalists are 100 percent creeps.
But lately I've noticed that there's another reason that Americans distrust journalists. Americans are really stupid about journalism!
I started to get this sense a few years ago during that horrible Jayson Blair affair, where the young star New York Times reporter made up a bunch of details for stories he'd written. Investigating Blair, the Times asked a bunch of his sources why they didn't report his lies years before he was caught. The consensus response was, We thought all reporters made shit up.
No, you Big Stoops, all reporters don't make stuff up! Most reporters, even if they have biases and angles, would never make stuff up!
This is the kind of naive suspiciousness of hicks in the big city who always think cabbies are driving them in circles just to steal their bread. (Thieves don't generally drive cabs, and liars don't generally go into journalism.)
It's not just hillbillies who think journalists are professional tall-tale tellers.
Last weekend a corporate IT exec friend expressed astonishment when he heard that I once wrote an unflattering profile of a town's mayor, after having interviewed the guy for a day. "But he had given you money!" my friend said, reasoning that the fee I had received from the magazine was partly owed to the subject of the article, without access to whom I might not have gotten the assignment.
"So you actually think that since this guy agreed to sit down with me and I got paid for the article, I flat-out owed him a positive piece!?" Yes, he confirmed, that's exactly what he thought. It was hard to know who was more incredulous—my friend, that I would stab my subject/benefactor in the back, or me, that an educated voter thinks journalism is so perfectly quid pro quo.
Other people think of journalists as their personal propagandists.
A neighbor woman who I think of as fairly sophisticated recently called me in a panic because she needed something written—and quick—about some tenants in a building she owns in Indiana, who are suing her over something or other. Because she was calling me from a courthouse and sounded panicky, I assumed she meant that she wanted me to craft some kind of powerful advocacy statement for the court.
Nope. It turned out she wanted me to write something scathing about these tenants in the Chicago Tribune!
Does she imagine lots of the newspaper articles she reads come about as the result of a journalist's acquaintance having a personal beef with someone?
The imbecility extends to the corporate world, too. The latest Edelman Trust Index finds that people trust journalists who write about companies less than they trust companies writing about themselves. But they don't trust CEOs, about anything. And they trust their Facebook friends over everyone. Or something like that.
I think we need another poll, where journalists rank the public. I bet the public would rank just above a rabid, staggering, growling, foaming mad dog more wisely shot than communicated with.