Two recent corruption stories in a seemingly never-ending stream: NBC anchor Brian Williams’ exposure as a “misrememberer” (read, liar) about his Iraq war experiences, and the discovery that nutritional supplements at some of the US’s largest retailers do not contain any of the stated nutrients.
The real danger in each story of corruption is that, taken together, they all contribute to an accumulating gestalt of mistrust that eventually leads (as it already has) to a generalized mistrust of authority and expertise. So while one can accept that there will always be isolated incidents of corruption in almost all areas of human activity (think Madoff, Wall Street, pedophile priests, and even Brian Williams), without throwing entire categories under the bus, nevertheless, once mistrust crosses a threshold, it inevitably leads to larger consequences.
A good example of this is the anti-vaccination movement, where recent research has shown that no amount of data from reliable sources can change their minds because there are no “reliable” sources in their worldview.
The same goes for why the economies of entire countries are in peril once people believe that corruption is so widespread that no one is willing to pay taxes because they know the money will be stolen (think Greece). None of this will change without swift and aggressive action against wrongdoers. Justice must be seen to be done, and let’s face it, it rarely is.