If Not Cronkite, Whom? A Few Notables Weigh In on Whom (or What) They Trust.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We asked a few people to suggest public figures who meet the Cronkite standard of trustworthiness. Herewith, their nominees -- and we invite contributions on washingtonpost.com/style:

Oprah Winfrey, "because she has been so open and so transparent about her own life, and so welcoming to a range of Americans, inviting them to be no less open about theirs." -- Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian's

National Museum of African Art.

Elizabeth Warren, Harvard law professor and banking oversight czar, "because she's been telling the truth to the American people since the beginning, with passion, steadfastness and a clear sense of history and what is at stake."

-- Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post.

"I trust Barack Obama -- he has incredible attributes and gifts -- but does the system he operates in allow him to bring all of that to bear? I don't think so."

-- Liz Lerman, founder of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange.

Warren Buffett "is smart. He's unafraid. He doesn't need favors or help from anyone. And his calls are pretty smart."

-- Ben Stein, economist and actor.

"Tony Kushner, because he can take some truth about America and expose it in a very clear mirror." -- Septime Webre, artistic director of the Washington Ballet.

The Everyperson. "In a way it's not one or two figures any longer, it's believing in a group consensus. The Internet blogger has become as opinionated and as strong a voice as the reviewer from the New York Times. And people trust the people around them perhaps even more than a single figure like a president or journalist." -- Neil LaBute, playwright and film director.

"I guess Anderson Cooper would be my answer, because he always has that slight bit of cynicism when it's deserved. . . . I always said there are only two reasons to have television: war and pornography. So I guess if it's war, I'd look at him. And I guess if I had to look at any newscaster in a porno film, I'd pick him." -- John Waters, filmmaker.

"Larry David. There's a Yiddish proverb, 'Whoever tells the truth is chased out of nine villages.' On this basis, no one is more maddening -- and trustworthy." -- Eric Dezenhall, Washington public relations guru.

Jon Stewart. "He's got no agenda. His agenda is to get to the bottom of everyone's [baloney]. " -- Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of 9:30 club.

"It would be difficult to name any one person in our present time who could fill the role Walter Cronkite had as the most trusted person in America. That is particularly true in media for two reasons. The first is the large and increasing number of sources to which we turn for information and the second is the trend of today's journalists not only to report the news objectively, but also to provide personal commentary through columns, blogs and TV punditry." -- Archbishop Donald Wuerl, Archdiocese of Washington.

Garrison Keillor. "Brutally honest at times, that man." -- Jim Sanborn, Washington artist.

Alice Waters, "because she's the grande dame of the American local food movement. I trust her because she's always right, and she makes sustainability utterly delicious." -- James Alefantis, Washington restaurateur.

"As far as the world is concerned, if I had to choose one person it would be the Dalai Lama, because he's not selling anything but peace. In America I trust Obama more than anyone else. He's doing the best he can. I think Americans in general trust Oprah because they can relate to her." -- Deepak Chopra, spiritual guru.

"Possibly Miley Cyrus?" -- Daniel Tosh, comedian.

"Bill Moyers has a grandfatherly way about him that makes you believe him, even if its not what you want to hear. . . . 'Buying the War' was one of the best pieces of journalism about the Iraq war on television." -- Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets.

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger III. "Anybody flying a plane that's going down and sees the big river below as a runway, then lands it in the water, checks the plane before he gets off himself, never breaks a sweat and nobody gets hurts -- I trust that man. He can fly me anywhere. Also, Michelle Obama. Rosie the Riveter for our times in a designer gown. You just want to be her best friend forever." -- Vicki Mabrey, correspondent, ABC News's "Nightline."

"Fareed Zakaria. He's unapologetic about being intellectually honest, even where his views may be uncomfortable for some. . . . He seems to have insights into the broader global context that offers true wisdom that Americans can learn from." -- Keith M. Harper, member of the Cherokee Nation and lawyer at Kilpatrick Stockton.

"There are a few. Joel Osteen: Americans are looking increasingly to the pulpit for spiritual direction in uncertain times, and the biggest televangelist-author of all of them is Osteen. Chris Berman, HBO: If you are a sports fan, and there are tens of millions of them in the U.S., this choice requires no explanation. When the Boomer speaks, people listen. Oprah Winfrey: One of the tag lines of the 21st century has become, 'It must be true; I heard it on Oprah.' " -- John Prendergast, co-founder of the Center for American Progress's Enough Project, a nonprofit group that works to end genocide and crimes against humanity.

"I would say bishop Gene Robinson. . . . I just feel like he has done what he's done with such a tremendous amount of integrity, not just the process obviously for himself of becoming the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. . . . I mean, he campaigned for Obama, but he's not afraid to disagree with Obama." -- Cathy Renna, Renna Communications, New York.

"Brian Williams. He's got a sense of humor -- I think he understands the gravity of the news he reports -- some very heavy and life-changing news. But at the same time, he knows most of us will continue on to the next day, and there's going to be another story tomorrow." -- Michael Sessa, gay-rights advocate.

"The first name that pops into my head is President Obama. I trust in him. I believe him. . . . Trust doesn't mean you have to like someone, just that you believe them." -- Jeffrey Banks, New York menswear designer.

"When I think trust, I think who would I trust with my life. Would I trust Brad Pitt with my life? No. A newscaster? No. A politician? No. I'd never trust anybody out of my small circle of friends. Who do I trust not to [speak nonsense to] me? Jon Stewart. He'd be the first person I'd trust out of that genre." -- Nancy Pearlstein, owner of Relish, a women's clothing store in Georgetown.

"I'm not supposed to say Jon Stewart, right? . . . [My husband] Bill and I both agree fervently that we trust President Obama. Absolutely. I like what I perceive as his deep thoughtfulness."-- Deeda Blair, philanthropist and wife of William McCormick Blair, former U.S. ambassador to Denmark and the Philippines.

"When you talk about trust, you're dealing with language; what you are trusting is my language, what I'm saying. You are taking my word. That's how I look at Bill Moyers." -- E. Ethelbert Miller, poet.

"Jim Fowler. You remember Marlin Perkins, on 'Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom'? He was Marlin Perkins's sidekick. Marlin Perkins always left the daunting physical tasks of capturing the animals to Jim Fowler. When it came time to actually wrestle the animals to the ground, it was always Jim Fowler's job." -- Robert Hyman, explorer.

"Barbara Walters. As a foreigner like me coming to this country from Bolivia and knowing nothing, when you come to the States, you turn on the TV, and you watch the show, and something about her I liked from the beginning. . . . She's a master of extracting the real truth." -- German Vidal, sales manager for the Spanish department at Ourisman Honda.

"If the standard is Walter Cronkite, forget about it. The era of universally trusted people is gone if not forgotten." -- Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

"Maybe Oprah. I think she has made a name for herself by being an authentic person and helping people find their own voice and their own truth, and I think this has been one of her messages." -- Denyce Graves, opera singer.

"That's a minefield. You're not going to get me to answer that, and you can quote me on that." -- Marion Barry, D.C. Council member.

Jim Lehrer. "It's so cool that he's been covering the news for years and doesn't vote, doesn't have a party affiliation." -- Emil de Cou, associate conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra.

"Barack Obama. I respected him when he ran for office, and I respect him now. He is a man of integrity, he communicates well, and he is optimistic without being unrealistic." -- Stacy Keach, star of "King Lear" at Shakespeare Theatre Company.

"Google. On July 21, 1969, we turned to Cronkite; 40 years later, we turn to Google. And unlike Cronkite, we give Google millions of pieces of information about our lives with a surprisingly large degree of trust." -- Russ Schriefer, Washington political adman.

-- Compiled from staff reports

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company