"Never Trust a Politician": Whom Do We Trust 2019


SEPTEMBER 21, 2019 - ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

For the second day of the Track Two and Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University Whom Do We Trust 2019 conference, the group of fresh-faced college students and crusty elders tackled two less-than-fun topics: nuclear proliferation and cyber threats. As designed by Track Two’s gifted Virginia Thomson, the fifty-or-so participants listened to experts in these fields, then split into groups of 6 or 7 and came up with solutions to these thorny problems.

Well let’s be realistic. We are not likely to go out and launch a giant rock concert or write a nationwide school curriculum – not yet anyway. Given the caliber of the young people involved, though, taking time to think about these issues could pay off in the long run. And one great benefit for this moment, is Russians and Americans getting the experience of really working together.

Photo: London Sunday Times

Still, the highlight of the day was the keynote speech, delivered by Russia’s beloved newsman and television host, Vladimir Pozner. Pozner, a unique blend of Russian and American, as well as wise and funny, is a long-time friend of Track Two and was kind enough to take a break from his busy schedule in Moscow to join the group in St. Petersburg.

Surprisingly, Pozner began by quoting the “farewell speech” of U.S. President Eisenhower, who served throughout the 1950’s after World War II. In his famous speech, quoted in part below, Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the “military-industrial complex,” formed during the war and quickly becoming a permanent feature of the United States.

Photo: AP

“We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions…In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” (U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961)

"Never trust a politician"

Pozner’s comment, quoted above, “Never trust a politician,” had one caveat: unless the politician is leaving office. Thus, his faith in Eisenhower’s warning.

Soon, Pozner was on to a more expected topic: the media. But his message was the same. “Do not trust the media,” the veteran newsman warned, explaining that most people feel they are independent thinkers, and rarely do they recognize the profound influence media has on their thoughts and opinions.

As a former propagandist and a current journalist, Pozner knows what he speaks of when he says that he thinks studying journalism is a waste of time. “You have it or you don’t,” he declared, undoubtedly disappointing a number of people in the room.

Pozner considers both American and Russian media to be held hostage by powerful forces that are working against the people’s interest: state control of Russian media, and corporate control of American media, distort both.

Finally he told the young Russians in the room that they are different than their parents. They can read and travel, and when they come to power, “this will be a different country.”

Evelyn Messinger is an advisor to Track Two and Executive Director of CitizensChannel. Today she is engaged in the development of a television feature series on climate change and energy alternatives, This Planet.

Read more of Evelyn's reflections on her work with Track Two here.

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