Did Reader’s Digest Flunk Its Own Trust Test?

It Pays to Get a Second Opinion

…and I have a highly rated TV show.

In an effort to goose newsstand sales, the June issue of Reader’s Digest features a cover story entitled, “The 100 Most Trusted People in America Today.” Although the article’s “most trusted” claim is far from trustworthy (in fact, 1,000 people voted on 200 American “opinion shapers and headline makers” that Reader’s Digest had pre-selected), there are some quirky results worth noting.

According to the survey:

  • Americans trust doctors, especially if they’re on TV. For example, Dr. Oz (#16) and Sanjay Gupta (#17) outscored respected medical authors Andrew Weil (#75) and Deepak Chopra (#92).
  • Americans also trust TV judges, such as Judge Judy (#28) and Judge Joe Brown (#39), more than they do real-life Supreme Court judges, including Sam Alito (#60) and Elena Kagan (#62).
  • Some strange relative rankings include: Johnny Depp (#35) who outscored Oprah Winfrey (#59), Billy Graham #67) and Condoleezza Rice (#68);  and Adam Sandler (#64) who edged out Barack Obama (#65), but both were far behind Michelle Obama (#19).
  • The top four people on the list are all actors: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep. At the bottom of the 200 candidates were celebrities with damaged brands, including Lance Armstrong and Kim Kardashian.
  • In addition to its untrustworthy headline, Reader’s Digest fesses up in the article that its editors had removed the three highest scorers from its Top 100 list, which were “your own doctor” (77%), “your own spiritual advisor” (71%) and “your own child’s current teacher” (66%).
  • Given 15 categories, the most trusted professions were 1. Doctors, 2. Teachers, 3. Movie Stars, 4. Philanthropists, and 5. Spiritual Leaders. Not surprisingly, Business Leaders and Financial Experts were ranked 11th  and 12th, respectively, just ahead of Politicians and Political Pundits.
  • Only 6 active business leaders made the Top 100 list, and all near the tail end, led by Warren Buffett (#71), Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (#78), Alex Gorsky of J&J (#86), Ken Powell of General Mills (#93), Steve Balmer of Microsoft (#94) and Steve Forbes of Forbes Media (#97).

Celebrity publicists will likely use these ranking to justify image overhauls for their low-scoring clients. But Reader’s Digest’s “Top 100 Most Trusted People” ranking really only validates America’s low-brow pop culture, and does not fairly reflect the integrity or character of any one of the 200 people on its arbitrary list.

In addition to “integrity and character,” Reader’s Digest asked its poll takers to rank the trust levels of its 200 candidates in terms of “exceptional talent and drive, internal moral compass, message, honesty and leadership.” But it’s an impossible task to rank someone on any of those criteria, unless you have first-hand experience with that individual over a long period of time.

Here are some the criteria this writer uses to measure trustworthiness of people, regardless of their profession or position of authority:

  1. DO THEY WALK THE TALK? I trust people who make good on their promises. And if they can’t deliver, they’re pro-active about explaining why they failed to meet your expectations.
  2. ARE THEY TRANSPARENT? Trustworthy people have no hidden agendas. Yes means yes, and no means no…which translates into no unpleasant surprises.
  3. DO THEY FOLLOW THE GOLDEN RULE? I trust people who treat a waiter in a restaurant, or the person cutting their lawn, with the same level of courtesy and respect they would display with their boss, or a prospective client.
  4. ARE THEY FAIR? Trustworthy people always explain the rules of the game, don’t play favorites, and base recognition and rewards on a meritocracy.

What are some of the criteria you apply to determine if an individual (or an organization) is worthy of your trust?

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