Supreme Court Justices Rank Highest in Credibility, Index Says: Talk Show Hosts, Athletes, Entertainers near the Bottom

Article excerpt

Reliability, plausibility, integrity: These are the traits that political strategists and marketing mavens dream of.

Combined, such virtues spell credibility, at least according to the National Credibility Index, which was released with little fanfare last month by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Based on several thousand in-depth interviews, this bold but quirky index rates a spectrum of public figures. Whom do we trust?

Supreme Court justices rank No. 1.

Amazingly, the index placed "famous athletes" near the bottom, surely a blow to General Mills, Nike and other companies that employ them as spokesmen.

And woe to those groups that use the wrong spokesman. Credibility fluctuates, the survey warned, and successful communication may be "due less to key messages than to the proper choice of the information source."

The athletes, however, outranked such public personas as political party leaders, PR specialists, entertainers and TV-radio talk show hosts, who ranked last.

"Measuring this reflects the dynamics of public opinion - that it is not captive to media pressure," said social scientist Ronald Hinckley, who supervised the survey.

His research team, which spent five years on the survey, found that credibility was rife with intangibles - a complex "amalgam" of issues, demographics, attitudes, peer influence, life experience, ideology and civic involvement.

The study listed 44 types of public figures; results were broken down along racial divides and according to issues like Social Security, race or foreign relations. The researchers gathered some 5,000 pages of material.

Little was dumbed down. There were no famous names mentioned in the study, only categories

The cachet of "celebrity" was missing, which perhaps explains why there was "little media follow-through," according to a PRSA spokesman Richard George, though many media organizations contacted the group last month.

"Some thought it was just too esoteric," he added.

The news media fared well in the survey, however, with reporters and news anchors outranking governors, senators, congressmen, mayors, the president, vice president and Cabinet members.

Overall, the survey found Americans to be inclined to give public figures "the benefit of the doubt." Americans also favor local rather than national figures.

But there is no such thing as a "universal authority" anymore. We pick and choose.

"Depending on the issue, Americans look to different people for guidance and information," said Joseph Curley, president of PRSA. …