The following story first appeared in The Dallas Morning News.

Edelman PR chief sees American cynicism on rise

Cheryl Hall – Dallas Morning News/

 8 November 2011

The United States has become a nation of cynics, and our communal distrust is deepening daily.

Those are the conclusions of the chief executive of the world’s largest independent public relations firm. Matt Harrington, 49, president of Edelman, is referring to his firm’s 2011 Trust Barometer, which indicates that six in 10 Americans doubt that the government will do the right thing.

“We’ve joined the countries of the most cynical, ranking down there with Russia,” says Harrington, who was in town for an ethics and trust conference at Southern Methodist University last week. “This is a clear indication of frustration being expressed in government and business — no job creation and impasses in Congress. And this data came in before the debt debacle.”

Harrington said he will be stunned if the 2012 Trust Barometer doesn’t show marked deterioration again. “It will be fascinating to see what we find when we go into field later this month.”

Edelman is about to conduct its 12th annual survey, and it does similar surveys in 20 countries.

The report gauges how “opinion elites” — affluent, college-educated, well-read Americans — view government, nonprofits, businesses and the media.

Americans are skeptics about all of the above, with the media least trusted of all. People have to hear something up to six times from various sources before they believe it.

Ironically, the much-maligned corps of CEOs regained some traction in the 2011 poll, although trust in business as a whole reversed from a dramatic uptick in 2010, when people thought the U.S. economy was recovering.

“2010 was a dead cat bounce,” Harrington says. “It wasn’t sustainable because of the lack of movement on jobs and the inability of government and business to work in concert to move the economy forward.”

Telling it like it is

Harrington thinks CEOs fared better in 2011 because they’ve gotten better at telling it as it is. “They were more upfront about the economic conditions and the storm they were trying to navigate and the tough actions they had to take,” he says. “That earned them some level of credibility. Every CEO hasn’t taken that route, but many have.”

Harrington thinks CEOs fared better in 2011 because they’ve gotten better at telling it as it is. “They were more upfront about the economic conditions and the storm they were trying to navigate and the tough actions they had to take,” he says. “That earned them some level of credibility. Every CEO hasn’t taken that route, but many have.”

This gain may be fleeting, he warns. Think ill-fated moves with customers.

“We’re in a cycle of Reed Hastings [at Netflix], Brian Moynihan [at Bank of America] and a variety of CEOs who’ve gotten high visibility of a nonconstructive basis,” he says. That’s been coupled with “a spate of CEOs losing their jobs and getting extraordinary payout packages, none of which engenders trust.”

Harrington works closely with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, whom he calls “a perfect example of someone who — whether it’s internally or externally — you know what the business is about, what his values are, what he’s driving for, and who you’re dealing with.”

Harrington was struck by the widespread negative reaction to the fiasco going on in Washington this summer. “People really, really focused on that and why this was not what we sent them to Washington for.”
Legislators, he said, “thought they were playing an inside-the-Beltway game and that no one was paying attention. Then all of a sudden, they began to realize: ‘No, no. This is not going over well.’”

Now another clock is ticking. The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction has two weeks to find $1.5 trillion more to slice from the federal deficit in the next 10 years.

“It’s going to be like watching the 12 Angry Men — can we get to a jury decision? It’s going to be intense for them to figure out what can be cut,” Harrington says.

Trust is key

And trust is the critical issue facing presidential candidates, Harrington says. Without it, there is no political clout.

And trust is the critical issue facing presidential candidates, Harrington says. Without it, there is no political clout.

“A year from now, we need to be pulling a lever for a candidate who has demonstrated why he can be trusted,” says Harrington. “The question will be: ‘Did we do it?’”

So what can a candidate do to engender trust?

Try being honest and quit finger-pointing, he says, then outline a path out of this mess in concrete terms.

“It’s a sad state,” Harrington concludes. “I hope it’s not a situation where we get what we deserve. But in this environment, it’s hard to imagine someone who has their wits about them who’d want to run.

“There are very few people in the happy box. And if they are in the happy box, I want to know what they’re taking.”

News Room

News Archive 2014

News Archive 2013

News Archive 2012

2 Professors Are Brains Behind CNN

Seven Things Happening Today

80 Years Later

9/11 Reshaped Lives of Muslims

Allan Sloan on Marketplace

American Cynicism on Rise

American Dream Shattered

Annual Conference of the Professions

Art Blog of Sandie

BART Controversy Centers on Social Media

BART Social Media Crackdown Uncharted Legal Territory

Bauer incentive Scholarship

Campaign Hits Ground

Campaign 2012: SMU Experts Weigh In

Commemorating Nine Eleven

Council Fields Trip to SMU

Dallas Council to Attend Ethics Class

Dallas Council to Attend Ethics Conference

Dallas Fort Worth 9/11 Events

Dallas Mayor Discusses Education

Dallas Philanthropist Dies

Dallas City Officials Say Party Funds Sought Inappropriately

Dennis Simon speaks on civil rights movements 50th anniversary

DFW International Community Alliance

Distinguished Professor Dennis Simon Pressents "Politics of Memory and Legacy of Civil Rights" on Oct. 1

Eagle Scholars First in Families

Earning Trust Demand for Ethics Leadership

'E-Democracy' the new 'grassroots'

Engaged Learning

Ethical Leadership in Government

Ethics of Financial Transparency

Ethics Trust & Transparency Conference

Frito Lay Plano Library Possibility

Frito Lay Plano Library Possibility

Future of Education KERA

Giveing perspective to the GOP Convention in Tampa Bay

GOP debates get physical

Gov Perry Hits Pres Campiagn Trail

Humann Recieves Reward

Humann Recognized

Is it Okay for Women to Curse at Work

Letters to the President

KERA Future of Education

Kimberly Clark Wins Ethics Award

Komen Reverses Cut to Planned Parenthood

KRLD Interviews Two SMU Professors About Their Dial Testing Technology

Leadership in Government Ethics

Legacies of September 11th

Legacies of September 11th D-Mag

Dial Testing in South Carolina

Looking back and ahead

Maguire Center Helps Students

Marin of Error: Two Candidates, Two Journeys, One lost race of dreams

Medallion Awards: Rita Kirk

Muslims Fight for Acceptance

Mustangs Jump into DNC Politics

September 11 Memorial Events at SMU

Oil Comapny and Houston settle 20 years of wrangling

In online journal, SMU students share memories of 9/11

9/11 Blog- Dallas Morning News

Panel Discusses Civil Liberites

Pegasus News: 9/11 Week

PolicyPulse Tests

Practical Advice from Commuication Experts

Prosecution of Top Government Offiicals for Torture

In Public and Private Forth Worth Residents Remember 9/11

Rais Bhuiyan of Dallas speaks message of forgiveness

Report on SMU Ethics Program

Report back: Yoo v. Pitts debate in Dallas

Responsible Business Leadership

Ryan's speech gives undecided voters mild nudge towards Romney

Share your 9/11 Story

SMU conference examines natinoal security and civil liberites

SMU Experts, organizations teach an electoral college 2012

SMU experts discuss Rick Perry's 2012 presidential run

SMU Experts: Rick Perry's quest for the presidency

SMU Eyes Bright Future

SMU's Home Opener on 9/11 to Feature Patriotic Theme, Special Military Tribute

SMU to honor tenth anniversary of 9/11

SMU honors 9/11 with thought provoking events

SMU honors distinguished alumni and emerging leader

SMU honors 9/11 with thought provoking events- SMU Website

SMU Hosts Luncheon Honoring Millitary Veterans

To Mark September 11 Anniversary, SMU Launches Website

SMU 9/11 Journal Helps Students Cope a Decade Later

SMU, Park Cities, Remember, Honor 9/11

SMU Student Honors 9/11 Victim Father

SMU Student Remembers Dad Who Died in 9/11

Brave New World: SMU to examine social media ethics in law, medicine, and religion

Christina Rancke

Strong Ethics Must Start at the Top

Student honors, volunteers in memory of her father

Tables of Content Tables Host- Rita Kirk

The Big Short Discussion Continues

Theology of Terorism Discussed

The Trust Barometer

To commemorate the 10th annivarsary of 9/11, SMU hosted a range of public events

Sepember 11th Anniversary Website- Dallas Observer

Across the Nation, Tragedy Spawned Inspiration

Turner reflects on September 11, 2001

University Ceremony Remembers Victims

Using Social Media to Tell Sandy's Story

SMU Voter Rally to be Part of SMU's Constitution Day 2012

On 9/11 Vows of Rememberance

Walt Humann to Recieve SMU Award

Website Raises Awarness

Wat connects with political convention viewers

Robin Lovin: what went wrong? 9/11

What Went Wong? PBS

News Archive 2011

Ethics Blog
© Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas | Legal Disclosures | A-Z Site Index | Contact SMU