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‘Pandemic has brought out the worst in misinformation:’ Edelman CEO

Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, discuss the latest results of the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: A new global survey by Edelman finds that public trust in governments and the media is crumbling amid a perceived mishandling by leaders of the coronavirus pandemic and a widespread feeling among ordinary citizens that they are being misled.

Joining me now is the CEO of Edelman, Richard Edelman. Richard, it's good to see you. Lots to get here in this survey. It's pretty juicy.

And I want to start with a rather disheartening number. I know that you survey people in 28 countries, and you found 57% of people, 57% believe government leaders, business chiefs, and the media are spreading falsehoods. I'm curious, has it ever been this high in the two decades that you've been doing this survey?

RICHARD EDELMAN: Honestly, not even close. And the pandemic has really brought out the worst of misinformation. And the consequences of misinformation are unwillingness to get vaccinated and that terrible event of last Wednesday, where our hall of democracy was invaded by hooligans and-- based on false hopes. So what I will tell you is the leadership vacuum actually has to be filled by business.

Now, you say, well, how can business be, you know, on the one side expected to lead, on the other side this idea of false information? The answer is trust has gone local. And it's trust in my CEO, trust in my employer 75%, trust in information from my employer higher than that of media. So in fact, there's a necessity of talking to your employees.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I want to talk a little bit about this distrust in the media around the world. I know it fell further, but it seems as though people have a little more trust in traditional media than they do social media. But talk to me about how this sort of fell along political party lines.

RICHARD EDELMAN: Well, in the US, you see that Trump voters trust media only 34% and Biden voters 40 points more than that. And around the world what you see is that traditional media is down over two years from 65 to 53. And the sadness is that, in fact, traditional media is seen as biased, unethical, adopting a certain tone in order to get clicks. And so, in fact, I would say in the next phase, we have to get mainstream media, like Yahoo Finance, to have a better position of trust, where you're less opinion, more fact and more based on your own reporting, as opposed to following tweets or other social.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: What about-- let's switch gears and talk about how people feel about the vaccine, their trust in the vaccine. I understand just 33% of respondents said they would take the vaccine as soon as possible. That's pretty low, Richard.

RICHARD EDELMAN: It's a shocking finding, and it's all down to disinformation. I think we've not done a sufficient job of explaining who's in the clinical trials, why were we able to develop these drugs so quickly, and, even more so, that we've got a very small number of people who are going to have side effects. This anaphylactic shock and all the issues around that is small, tiny. And so, you know, one third right away, one third after a year, one third I won't get vaccinated. That's a catastrophe for the world, because we're never going to get out of this pandemic.

So we have got to, as business, inform our employees. And government has to do a much better job of who gets the vaccine first, why, where, and make sure that people understand-- leave aside the history, particularly with African Americans and Hispanics. We have a disinformation campaign by anti-vaxxers about the side effects. It's false, manifestly false. We've got to get success stories out there and the clinical trials.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Can you talk to us a little bit about, geographically speaking, where are people more distrustful of the vaccine? Because I know this survey is global. You look at 28 different countries.

RICHARD EDELMAN: What's fascinating is in those markets where there's bad information hygiene, where people just take one social post and say, oh, it must be so, you know, so we have the biggest problems in the UK, Spain, France, and the US, and the higher information hygiene places have much more willingness to get vaccinated. But under 50% of French ever will get vaccinated, according to our study.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: What about--

RICHARD EDELMAN: It's anti-elitism too, by the way. It's anti-elites, anti-experts, you know, I heard from my friend this, I have to not believe what the French minister of health says. That's bad.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, I would think so. These are not authorities when it comes to-- to your health and the vaccination. What about how people feel regarding business leaders? I mean, I know they're not super trustful of them, but are they more trustful of company CEOs than they are of government leadership?

RICHARD EDELMAN: Company CEOs have a very important moment here where they have to bring the country back together on systemic racism, on retraining and upskilling, on sustainability, even on education, safe transport. The whole idea of CEOs speaking up and being public figures is not the normal thing. It's maybe not what your predecessors did, but it's what's necessary at this moment in time.

We have a void of leadership in the country, and you are seen as deeply credible by your employees. So please take the chance to speak out and do what the companies did in the last 10 days about political contributions and also about who deserves to be on social platforms without, you know, saying names. I mean, those companies, Facebook, others, finally came to the game and did what they needed to do.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, lots for-- for CEOs, and government leaders, and us here in the media to learn from this Trust Barometer. Richard Edelman, always great to see you and to sift through your findings here. Thanks for joining us.

RICHARD EDELMAN: Thank you so much for having me.