Who do you trust? A Logical Dilemma

By S. Leon Felkins
December 3, 2001

Last night while getting my hit of propaganda on a television "news" show (Fox News, actually), I heard one of the commentators, Fred Barnes, dismiss the criticism that has surfaced of late against the Administration's repressions of civil liberties (see "The Press and the USA Patriot Act: Where Were They When It Counted?") as just so much blathering of the liberal press and university professors. Since I will have to admit to having been a professor at one time in an earlier life, I will have to say, quoting Curly, "I resemble that remark!"

Actually I am a little puzzled at the logic behind this accusation and the implied triviality of the views of university professors. I seem to recall a poll of a few years back that showed that the professors are actually highly regarded by the public, at least relative to politicians and used-car salesmen. A quick search of the web revealed that there is such a poll, it gets updated annually, and the results are on the web at the Gallup site.

While there is much more detail at the Gallup site, I will reproduce the chart here for convenience. Trust by profession

You will note that professors, at 59%, are way up on the scale compared to TV "Talking Heads", at 21%. Or, even more insulting to the media wonks is they are no more respected than politicians, in fact presently tied with Congressmen. Not exactly something you would want to brag to Grandma about!

So, here is the logical confusion we find ourselves in. Both politicians and media wonks have been bad mouthing the professors and civil libertarians with the implication that anything we say can be readily dismissed. They say these things with the air that this is something that they have the full support of the public on. Yet, these polls do not support that. Then, why do they think so? I suspect it is because they are so caught up in their own self importance that they are simply unaware of the results of these polls.

Gallop has apparently been conducting this survey for many years and has on display at their site the last eight. There are some trends worth looking at. While many professions have remained at about the same level of respect for theses eight years, some are definitely trending up or down. In particular, the Congressmen have risen from 14% to 21% while the media wonks have declined from about 27% to 21% -- the worst deterioration of any profession on the chart. Further, the TV talking heads should notice before they make further condescending remarks about professors, that professors have in fact trended up from 52% to 59%.

The Christian Science Monitor, in its review of the latest poll, suggests that the data poses some dilemmas:
Polls such as these also reflect ambivalence. Lawyers, for instance, are consistently rated among the top five professions for prestige, but near the bottom for ethics and honesty. They come out fifth worst in this year's poll, just below real estate agents, reflecting perhaps the sentiments once expressed in a poem by Carl Sandburg: "Why does a hearse horse snicker hauling a lawyer away."
I would suggest that there are even more puzzlements:

S. Leon Felkins, Major, US Army (Ret)

Mr. Felkins is a retired former military officer, college professor, and computer systems engineer. He is now an activist in the fight for the reform of the forfeiture laws now plaguing the US and the world. He is presently serving as the Executive Director of F.E.A.R., the forfeiture reform group. In addition, he maintains a web page on Political Philosophy, "A Rational Life" and another on the history of politics, "The Political Almanac". Email is welcome.