Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Trust and politicians' ability to leave things be

As a sideline, I've been reading about trust in governing institutions. Does the political independence of broadcasters depend on whether politicians trust the broadcasters to report truthfully or accurately? If so, might existing low levels of trust prevent an improvement in the relationship?

Working through one wonderful article on LBJ's psychology, I came across the term 'sinister attribution error': "the tendency for individuals to overattribute hostile intentions and malevolent motives to others' actions". It struck me as a perfect description of Italian politicians' attitude towards television coverage, as essentially motivated by the grinding of partisan axes.

Unfortunately, the literature on trust suggests that phenomena like sinister attribution error are difficult to eradicate. As Diego Gambetta has written, low trust "prevents people from engaging in the appropriate kind of social experiment" necessary to invalidate false beliefs about the objects of distrust. So, LBJ was unable to check whether Bobby Kennedy though himself a threat to LBJ (he didn't) precisely because he thought Bobby Kennedy was a threat to LBJ.


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