With a Capital T

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR:’Tis not Trouble we’re talking, my friends, but Trust.

With a Capital T
Illustration by Dave Plunkert

The good stuff: assured reliance on character, ability, strength, truth. It holds together the fabric of society, fosters social and economic prosperity, nurtures flexible and sustainable organizations and nations and systems, and is the veritable coin of the realm. Something that must be earned, might be betrayed in ways great or trifling. And once breached, hard to mend.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none,” counsels the mothering Countess in All’s Well That Ends Well. Not bad advice for the day-to-day.

So put the word trust into action: Who will show themselves worthy of trust in the accumulation of daily decisions or small disturbances? Or when hurricane or earthquake strikes or a nightmare wildfire comes roaring over the ridge?

Or this: If word comes—as it did for me once years ago, on a brilliant late spring day, when I was teaching with the Peace Corps at a university in western Ukraine—that there had been an accident at the nuclear power plant nearby. Local officials denied anything was amiss. But this was the land of Chernobyl; who would trust the powers-that-be to come clean when atomic disaster threatened? Instead, citizens had their own radiation detectors; those read above normal. Kids were kept indoors at school. Panic in the city of a quarter million was palpable. You couldn’t buy a train ticket out of town to save your life. When the story made the international press a couple days later—a brief blurb—it was clear that the reporter had simply phoned an official in the capital who said (surprise!), “We’re getting all these calls from panicked farmers out west asking if it’s OK to open the window. Nothing is wrong!”

One valuable lesson it offered me was how journalism might fail us—especially if it forgets the responsibility to hold people in power accountable. And now, years later, here in the United States, trust in journalism is near an all-time low. How to earn that back? So glad you asked. The Trust Project, a global effort based at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, has staked out one way: creating a set of clear standards that news stories must adhere to if they want your trust. And these standards begin the answer, with proof, to the question: Why should I believe you?

Because there comes a time we might be told in soothing tones: “Trust in me.” (See, for example, The Jungle Book, snake named Kaa, trying to lure the boy Mowgli into its coils.) And when you hear those words, perhaps via a Disney film, is it in the honeyed voice of Scarlett Johansson or, from half a century ago, avuncular Sterling Holloway? He also gave voice to Winnie the Pooh. But here’s the thing: Everybody knows—even if you haven’t read the first book of the Bible—that you can’t trust the snake.

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