In recent years, public trust on government officials as well as business, media and NGOs institutions in the United States has steadily declined, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.
The Department of Public Administration at CSUSB conducted “The Abdication of Truth and the Decline of Public Trust” forum at the Santos Manuel Student Union Theater with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Lowell Bergman as a guest speaker.
The discussion focused on why the public has grown tolerant to accepting false statements from government officials which has increased the distrust the public has on the government.
Bergman has been recognized for exposing the truth to the public in many of his stories, which include his investigation of the tobacco industry. Bergman’s story on the Tobacco Industry proved to be one of his most successful stories by sparking regulations on tobacco. By exposing the harmful health effects of nicotine, Bergman got the government to act on the issue by creating legislation to protect young Americans.
Thomas McWeeney, a professor in the Jack Brown College’s Department of Public Administration, served as the event’s host. McWeeney set the theme of the event by quoting then U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden who spoke at a public administration conference in Washington, D.C.: “If it is not the governance of public administration to address this issue, whose is it?”
Nevertheless, McWeeney began the forum by outlining the ethical characteristics of a great leader which included commitment, accountability, trust, doing the right thing, and moral courage. He then stated that an ideal leader should have all these characteristics to properly represent the interests of its followers. However, McWeeney stated that most individuals only possess three or less of these characteristics. He commended Lowell Bergman for exhibiting these characteristics when reporting on controversial topics such as farm worker’s rights.
“We are lucky that we live in a country where we have the freedom to pursue stories like these, without serious consequences,” said Bergman.
During the forum, there were video clips like the Frontline story, “Rape in the Fields” where Bergman investigated sexual assault on female agricultural workers from their supervisors in California.
Here Bergman exposed how dysfunctional government agencies like the FBI were in capturing the perpetrators and punishing their employers. It also raised the issue of whether employers should be responsible for the acts of their employees. This put pressure on California government officials to create legislation to protect the rights of farm workers.
“Every government agency we went to told us they could not find the location of the perpetrators, we found them on Facebook,” said Bergman, who was unsatisfied with the lack of efforts by agencies like the FBI and ICE.
During the video, we saw Bergman interview public officials on what they had done to address this issue. The District attorney assigned to the case did not find enough evidence to bring charges. Meanwhile, agencies like the FBI stated that it was not involving itself any further. Which raises the question, can we really depend on these public protection agencies and individuals to uphold Americans’ rights?
“You have to be emotionally involved when reporting on stories like this, when you interview victims it can be hard for them to recall these terrible events,” said Bergman.
Furthermore, the forum changed its focus towards the presidency, and how President Donald J. Trump represents a failed oligarch according to Bergman. A short clip was presented where it shows President Trump stating he never said Mexico would directly pay for the border wall, when in fact he had previously stated that all it would take was a one-time payment of $5 to 10 billion dollars.
Bergman discussed how the media has sensationalized President Trump’s numerous false statements, which has had an impact on the spread of lies to the American public and obscuring the truth.
[su_quote cite=”Lowell Bergman”]President Donald Trump has become a celebrity with the aid of the news media, It doesn’t matter if he makes incoherent statements. Since his presidency, news outlets like the New York Times have benefited from the increase in readership from its consumers.[/su_quote]
With public trust in the decline, there’s still much left to improve the transparency of the United States government.
Bergman is pushing to educate the leaders and journalists of the future. His mission is to create a positive impact on the lives of Americans and uphold ethical standards in journalism. With the creation of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkely and chairman of its new nonprofit production company, Investigative Studios.
He seeks to give emerging journalists the necessary tools to conduct investigations that will bring the truth to light.
The forum concluded with the Department of Public Administration in the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration in conjunction with Pi Alpha Alpha Honor Society, which awarded Bergman the Pi Alpha Alpha award for Ethical Leadership.