I do not trust this Associated Press poll

I do not trust this Associated Press poll September 17, 2010

"Who do you trust?" the Associated Press asks in an annual poll. It's a silly poll and every year it produces a silly article. This year's silly article was written by Alan Fram and Jennifer Agiesta: "AP-NCC Poll: Not much trust in major institutions."

This article is always fundamentally askew because it always finds and laments this lack of "trust." The AP should know better. They're journalists, after all, so distrust is their profession.

This is Rule No. 1 for journalists: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

That rule applies to the readers of newspapers just as surely as it does to their reporters and editors. A newspaper should never say to readers "Trust us, we're the authority," but rather, "We stand by every word we print. Test it for yourself."

There's a hint that the AP has started to forget this in one of its new questions in the annual poll. The AP asks if respondents trust "blogs" — then crows triumphantly when they find that most respondents don't.

That's an illiterate question. It's like asking "Do you trust magazines?" or "Do you trust books?" Well, which magazines? Which books?

People write things — by hand, on typewriters and computers. They write in books, newspapers, magazines and online. They write for the page, for the stage, for the screens large and small. They write for the Web. They write in spraypaint for passing motorists and in granite for future generations.

No one should start off trusting any of this writing. Check it out for yourself. As it checks out, you can begin to develop trust. The more something doesn't check out, the more distrust you should have. That's true for everything from the most prestigious peer-reviewed scientific journals to newspapers to food critics to hobby bloggers to holy scripture. (Fundamentalists misread Paul as saying that the scriptures are beyond question. What he actually said was that they can withstand questioning. A universe of difference there.)

This year's article on the annual poll also included this confusing section discussing the Preamble to the Constitution:

The new survey found a souring sense of how well the government is
meeting six broad goals set by the preamble to the Constitution.

That would lead one to believe that respondents were asked to evaluate our government on: 1. forming a more perfect union; 2. establishing justice; 3. insuring domestic tranquility; 4. providing for the common defence; 5. promoting the general welfare and 6. securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

But the AP seems to be working from some other Preamble to some other Constitution:

The government got positive scores in three areas, though each had
dropped since the 2008 AP-NCC poll: making sure that people can pursue
happiness, that they feel safe and free and that they are shielded from
foreign and domestic threats.

But most said the government is
doing a poor job of helping everyone and not just special interests.
They were about evenly split over whether the government is making
America a better place and making sure all are treated equally.

The pursuit of happiness is certainly an ideal in line with the aims of the Constitution, but the phrase doesn't come from there. The Associated Press needs to brush up on its Schoolhouse Rock.

The most depressing aspect of this silly article is the quote Fram and Agiesta chose to summarize the views of all Americans:

"Does anybody have common sense anymore?" said Rosanne Favaloro, 53, of
Lebanon, Pa. "Is anybody worried about the middle-class family anymore? I
wonder."

No, she does not wonder. Rosanne Favaloro, 53, of Lebanon, Pa., seems to have stopped wondering years ago, replacing wonder in all its senses with the stale prefab nonthought of cliched indignation. Asked to participate in this poll, she, as Orwell put it, threw her mind open and let "the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences
for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at
need they will perform the important service of partially concealing
your meaning even from yourself."

Throughout the article, the AP laments the lack of trust in America's major institutions, but as I said earlier, a skeptical distrust isn't something to be lamented.

But I don't think distrust is what this poll really measures. I think what they're measuring, rather, is the level of free-floating, self-congratulatory offendedness. Their poll shows this narcissistic feigned indignation is on the rise.

That is, indeed, lamentable.

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