Recommitting to trust: Trust Barometer creator Richard Edelman opens week by exploring national trends



When global communications firm Edelman released findings from the annual Trust Barometer survey in January, the company’s CEO Richard Edelman noted with the report that “this is the era of information bankruptcy.”

Findings were bleak: the COVID-19 pandemic had put trust to the test, with drops in trust in the world’s two largest economies (China and the United States) and in those countries’ governments. The firm found drops in trust scores among all the societal leaders it tracks — from government heads, CEOs, journalists and even religious leaders. A “global infodemic” had fed mistrust, and only 53% of respondents had demonstrated trust in traditional media.

But the firm also offered some steps forward in its annual report, writing that “in times of turbulence and volatility, trust is what holds society together and where growth rebuilds and rebounds. Every institution must play its part in restoring society and emerging from information bankruptcy.”

And at 10:30 a.m. Monday, July 12 in the Amphitheater, Edelman will deliver a lecture titled “Recommitting to Trust” to launch the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week Three theme of “Trust, Society and Democracy.”

Edelman leads the global communications firm of the same name, which was founded in 1952 by his father. 

He is the creator of the Edelman Trust Barometer — an annual survey and leading standard of trust and credibility of the world’s four major institutions: government, business, media and NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Edelman himself has become one of the foremost authorities on trust in these fields.

It’s Edelman’s expertise that makes him an ideal fit to frame the week, said Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt.

“Having established the Trust Barometer as an annual study of trust of institutions more than 20 years ago, he provides a foundation for our week of conversation on the state of trust as it shapes and impacts society and democracy,” Ewalt said. “To look at the state of trust at this moment is particularly important, as we consider the traumatic impact of COVID-19, from anxiety and related mental health concerns to growing inequality and political polarization.”

The release of the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer came just six days after the storming of the U.S. Capitol, throwing its findings into stark relief.

“This is the era of information bankruptcy,” Edelman said with the release of the report. “We’ve been lied to by those in charge, and media sources are seen as politicized and biased. The result is a lack of quality information and increased divisiveness. Fifty-seven percent of Americans find the political and ideological polarization so extreme that they believe the U.S. is in the midst of a cold civil war. The violent storming of the U.S. Capitol last week and the fact that only one-third of people are willing to get a COVID vaccine as soon as possible crystallizes the dangers of misinformation.”

Edelman expanded on this idea of “information bankruptcy” in a Feb. 25, 2021, conversation with New York University’s School of Professional Studies’ Department of Integrated Marketing and Communications Department. 

“Fundamental to this is a battle for truth,” he said then. “People have gone into thought bubbles — those on the right see Fox, those on left do the The New York Times, and never the twain shall meet. There’s not an agreed set of facts, and into this void goes misinformation. The key finding for this year’s study is the information bankruptcy, the idea that we cannot get to truth.”

Tags : morning lectureMorning Lecture PreviewRichard Edelmantrust barometerTrust Society and DemocracyWeek Three

The author Sara Toth

Sara Toth is entering her fifth summer as editor of The Chautauquan Daily and works year-round in Chautauqua Institution’s Department of Education. Previously, she served four years as the Daily’s assistant and then managing editor. An alum of the Daily internship program, she is a native of Pittsburgh(ish), attended Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, and worked for nearly four years as a reporter in the Baltimore Sun Media Group. She lives in Jamestown with her husband, a photographer, and her Lilac, a cat.