Cutting-Edge Leadership

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Why Jon Stewart is the Most Trusted Man in America

Jon Stewart the new Cronkite? Answer: the psychology of trust.

A recent TIME magazine on-line poll asked Americans who the most trusted newsman in America following the passing of Walter Cronkite. The shocking winner was Comedy Central "fake news" anchor, Jon Stewart, beating out real news anchors Charlie Gibson, Brian Williams, and Katie Couric.

How can a cable television comedian be the most trusted man in U.S. media? The answer is in the psychology of trust.

Research in communication and psychology clearly shows that to be trusted a communicator has to be seen as knowledgeable and credible. Surface characteristics, such as physical attractiveness, being expressive and articulate, also are connected to perceptions of trust. Jon Stewart has the basics - he's articulate, expressive and appears knowledgeable.

Stewart seems to know what's really going on in the news. In fact, a great part of his appeal as a news source is the fact that he shows the "real" news story behind the network and cable news programs often limited and politically slanted versions of a story.

But the most important element is that Jon Stewart's main purpose is that he is attempting to provide the REAL story that gets beyond the media spin and perceived (and actual) media bias. Jon Stewart is simply the advocate of the news-hungry viewer.

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Ralph Nader, another highly trusted person in Ameria, is a consumer advocate. Like Jon Stewart, Nader doesn't seem to have any personal agenda. His goal is trying to get information to U.S. consumers so that they can protect themselves from faulty or dangerous products. Thus, Nader and Stewart both seem to have the public's best interests at heart - and this leads to a strong bond of trust.

And, the very obvious conservative slant of Fox News, and the more liberal slant of MSNBC, makes it easier for viewers to trust Stewart, who often pokes fun at both conservatives and liberals (although admittedly, Stewart is much more left-leaning). But, the fact that Stewart appears to have no vested interest (he's not trying to gain supporters of a political agenda, merely amuse and entertain), makes him more trustworthy by comparison to the others.

 

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Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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