For decades, Walter Cronkite was a towering figure in American life. And his passing has raised an important question.
“Whom can we trust now?”
The Washington Post asked that question last month after the death of Walter Cronkite, once known as the most trusted man in America.
For many years, the CBS news anchor was a soothing, familiar presence in living rooms across America, and as the Post says, “He could have talked us into almost anything, if he wanted to.”
Well, he and I sparred off over what I saw as biased reporting. I even once went over his head to his boss, William Paley. But even so, Walter was always a gentleman.
But times have changed. Where there was once a single fatherly figure reading us the news every evening, now there’s a plethora of voices coming at us from the broadcast networks, the cable networks, the Internet—more sources than we could have dreamed of back in the ’60s and ‘70s. There aren’t many public figures left who can unite the country the way that Cronkite once did.
When the Washington Post asked a group of distinguished figures from various fields whom they trust, the answers were all over the map. Oprah Winfrey’s name came up quite a few times, as did President Obama’s. Agenda-driven journalists like Bill Moyers and Barbara Walters were cited, and so was comedian Jon Stewart, who isn’t really a news anchor but plays one on TV. Even Google got mentioned.
The only religious leaders named were the Dalai Lama, prosperity-gospel advocate Joel Osteen, and Gene Robinson, known for being the first openly gay Episcopal bishop.
Not only are we divided over whom to trust, but we don’t trust in quite the same way anymore. We’ve seen too many government officials, religious leaders, and even news anchors themselves brought down by scandal.
Our trust has been abused, betrayed, and broken time and again. Just this summer, we’ve seen more than one political official go down over a breach of trust with his family and with his constituents. We’ve become so used to the process that nowadays, a lot of people simply roll their eyes over the latest scandal and say, “There goes another one.”
Maybe our whole concept of trust has changed. We used to trust a man whom we thought of as objective, although we now know that wasn’t always true. Yes, even Walter Cronkite made mistakes, as I well know. As the Post says, “His legacy is a paradox: We trusted him to teach us to trust less.”
Now, it seems like we’ll trust anyone just so long as they’ll tell us what we want to hear. And if they fall, we might be upset with them for a time, but then, disillusioned as we might feel, we’ll just go on looking for the next figure who will tell us what we want to hear. We never seem to learn.
It seems to me that this is a twisted reflection of the nature that God has placed in us. The human heart was designed to trust—but our ultimate trust was never supposed to be in our fellow human beings. Certainly Scripture teaches us that all humans are fallen.
So whom can we trust now? Ultimately, there is only one answer—the same answer that has always been. The sad thing is that in our culture today, the one Source of total trustworthiness has been chased from public life—even mocked and scorned.
And without access to Him , people will continue to ask the right question—whom can we trust?—but will continue to look in all the wrong places.