If you know just one thing about former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, who passed away this weekend at 92, it’s probably that he was known as the “Most Trusted Man in America.” It was practically his middle name (beats Leland, anyway). We don’t know how he got the title, but, amazingly, everyone kind of agreed with it. He was just that trusted. With Cronkite gone, though, it’s unclear who the honor of Most Trusted Person (these days we trust women as well) should fall to. Do people even trust other people anymore, or — in a time of increasingly partisan politics, an opinionated news media, cheating sports stars, and a reviled financial industry — is that like asking if anybody has seen a dodo bird recently? We’ve given it our best shot with the following list, but let us know who you think is America’s Most Trusted Person in the comments.
Oprah Winfrey: Whether it’s the book we should be reading, the foods we should be eating, the sex we should be having, or the cancers we should be fearing, the nation stands at the ready for Oprah’s latest sage advice.
Tom Hanks: Despite having almost no insight into Tom Hanks’s private life, America has come to revere the actor through his portrayal of the Everyman faced with life’s unpredictable obstacles: surviving on a tropical island, fighting Nazis, confronting persecution, overcoming mental disabilities, and romancing mermaids.
Colin Powell: Sure, he could have spoken out more against the war in Iraq, and some Republicans will never forgive him for endorsing Barack Obama last year. But the very reason that endorsement stung so much was because of the respect Powell commands as a military leader and moderate political thinker.
General David Petraeus: Speaking of Iraq, the man who led its transformation from intractable quagmire to tolerable powder keg is hands-down the country’s leading military hero, which is why Republicans salivate at the thought of him running for political office under their banner.
Jay Leno: Despite the opportunity to influence America’s Baby Boomers at their most vulnerable as they’re falling asleep Leno steered clear of using his Tonight Show platform to push his political views.
Warren Buffett: America trusts the billionaire’s take on the health of the economy perhaps more than any other person, and the markets can rise and fall based on a single transaction from the Oracle of Omaha. We also admire his willingness to donate away his vast fortune, since most of us would, you know, not do that.
Jon Stewart: Last year, the New York Times asked if the satirical comedian was America’s most trusted man. That might be easier to swallow if half the country didn’t oppose his politics, but still, Americans of all stripes can appreciate his ability to effortlessly skewer the hypocrisy of the country’s most prominent politicians and media personalities.
Michelle Obama: Yes, there is a contingent that sees the First Lady pretty much as the satirical New Yorker cover portrayed her last year. But she’s also a role model for women for her picture-perfect family, intelligence, and confidence.
Suze Orman: The financial futures of millions rest on the advice of the CNBC analyst and six-time best-selling author. She’s a comforting figure translating complicated economic ideas to a scared country in scary times.
Tom Brokaw: The death of Walter Cronkite made the absence of an equally venerated newsman these days that much more apparent. If anyone comes close, it’s probably NBC’s former Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw, whose experience, seriousness, and absence of scandal push him above his industry peers.