When Trust is Lost – Reflections on the Bank of America, and Fareed Zakaria’s Plagiarism

“I have a strong feeling that a young reporter is entitled to one mistake and to have the holy bejeezus scared out of her to never do it again.”
Nina Totenberg, reflecting on the time she was fired for plagiarism as a 28-year-old reporter

(Quoted by King Kaufman, who concluded with this:
If it’s a cardinal sin, after all, one strike is plenty. We talked recently around here about how, as a journalist, your credibility is a finite resource. Once you’ve squandered it, it’s gone for good.)


I think it’s time for some bank leaders, and writers, and others to have “the holy bejeezus scared out of them…”

Here’s the thing. The world works best when we can trust each other. When we can’t, the world does not quite work in the right way.

Every day, people have to assume that they can trust the people they deal with.

I put gasoline into my car, and trust that what goes into my car is the mix that should go in my car. People ask another human being to cut them open – yes, to cut their bodies open – for their own good. These surgical incisions are to be made by a trained surgeon. You don’t ask a guy on the street to cut you open. You trust that the surgeon has in fact been adequately trained, and wants the best for you. Surgeons cut to help, not cut to harm. And, you trust them enough to let them perform their surgery on your body.

Trust matters!

Speed of TrustIn the Stephen M. R. Covey book The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything (Karl Krayer presented his synopsis of this book at our First Friday Book Synopsis), we learn that when trust is high – close to “total trust” – then business can be done much more quickly, with great confidence in the trustworthiness of all parties involved. The absence of trust slows eveything down. Yes, it does indeed.

We even trust our systems of regulations to keep us all trustworthy – worthy of trust. To keep us honest. There are weights and measures, and examinations, and tests, and degrees, all saying “you can trust this product; and, you can trust that this person was trained, and passed the tests to indicate that in fact he/she has been adequately trained.” I can eat meat with confidence that the meat is safe to eat, partly because our government inspects the meat we eat.

(Question: for those who want a pure market economy, with no regulations; no inspections. Would you like to eat hamburgers in a world with no meat inspectors conducting their inspections? Or, would you like to gather in buildings in a world with no building inspections?)…

But, I’m having a little trouble trusting these days.

Some of the biggest banks are paying out billions of dollars because what they did was a violation of the trust we placed in them. They have been found out. And, now, why should I trust them moving forward?

That is the question, isn’t it?

Expectations of trust permeate all of our society, and when it is violated, the entire foundation of our society is in jeopardy.

So, what prompted this post, at this time? I guess these two items, this week.

Bank of America has been hit with a $16.65 billion settlement for its… its… dishonesty, its behavior that was utterly untrustworthy. (Read about this here).

And, though far less visible, and with fewer negative consequences, this item. Fareed Zakaria apparently plagiarized a chunk of his book The Post-American World: Release 2.0. ( I read the frist version of this book, and presented my synopsis at our monthly event. Read about the plagiarism accusations here).

I’ve been an appreciative reader and viewer af Fareed Zakaria for years — and I am bummed; actually just a little angry; and feeling very let down by this news. I’ve read the article, with its tangible, specific examples of his plagiarism. It looks pretty damning.

(And, this is not the first time this accusation has hit Mr. Zakaria. He had already acknowledged earlier charges, with an “explanation.” I should have doubted his integrity more strongly then; now, with this further example… well, as I said, I’m pretty bummed about this).

Here’s the thing. I read books; I present synopses of books; I quote books. I always give credit to authors – I always identify my sources. (Just peruse my blog posts, and I think you will see this).

But when I read a book, there is an unspoken “given.” The author is saying, “I wrote this book. These are my words. You can trust my integrity.” If that has been violated, then trust is pretty much destroyed.

We need people, and companies, and banks, and authors to be trustworthy. I don’t have time to conduct all of my own inspections. I want to trust that people are trustworthy.

Aristotle referred to ethos (in persuasion). Ethos has to do with credibility. It’s as though every audience member says to every speaker, “Can I trust you?” And, the speaker says “yes!” And that yes is true; reliable – that speaker can be trusted. (Read this post: Does Your Audience Find You Trustworthy? – 4 Components of Ethos).

Quintilian once defined the rhetorician as “the good man speaking well.” That’s the kind of world we all want to live in. Every bank, every product, every service is provided by a good man or woman doing their job well — honestly. We know that we can trust them.

The loss of trust, and the subsequent lack of trust, can be utterly devastating to a society.

And, I really think we have to blame the leaders of our banks, our companies. Somebody at Bank of America closed their eyes (“willful blindness”). So, why should we trust them now?


An illustration of the speed of trust:

Just how “fast” is the speed of trust? I spend some time deciding which books I will actually purchase, and read fully. But, if the right person says “this is a must read,” I simply buy it and get started. Sometimes, that person may not be a person I know personally, but I know enough about them that I know I can trust their recommendation.

So, when I read that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both recommended Business Adventures by John Brooks (Mr. Buffet called it the best business book he had ever read), I bought it, started reading it, and will present my synopsis of the book at the September 5 First Friday Book Synopsis. It is a very good book!

Read my post about this: Bill Gates asked Warren Buffett What His Favorite Business Book Was; Mr. Buffett Had an Answer – Do You Have an Answer to that Question?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s