Skip to main content

Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Whom to believe?

Trust is hard to come by, easy to lose

Whom to believe?

(Krieg Barrie)

“Trust,” said Ronald Reagan, “but verify.”

The three-word bit of wisdom has been widely—if casually—reported as coming from Reagan’s mind as well as his mouth. But it isn’t so. Some reporter somewhere was too quick to trust and too slow to verify. Others followed.

The proverb in fact finds its origins in Russia (Доверяй, но проверяй). The phrase became well-known in English only when Reagan jovially quoted it to Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, during nuclear disarmament talks in 1986. Dozens of TV cameras seemed to authenticate his authorship.

But wait! In just the preceding two paragraphs, I’ve managed to affirm or deny half a dozen salient facts having to do with a brief adage. Maybe you believed what I’ve told you—or maybe not. Did you, for example, used to think Ronald Reagan was the original source of the “trust but verify” phrase? Did my reporting to you help change your mind? Was my assertion even more persuasive when I threw in those Russian characters?

If you can’t believe your eyes, when you’re reading or watching the news, what possible benefit have you achieved?

Believability. When I’m talking with friends, I like to ask them what they like most about WORLD Magazine. And that’s the word I hear most often in response.

If you can’t believe your eyes, when you’re reading or watching the news, what possible benefit have you achieved?

But much as I like the sound of the word, I have to tell you how it makes me quiver and shake. Believability takes a long time to achieve and only an instant to lose. I am still learning that lesson after hearing from a WORLD member in Pennsylvania this past summer. Where, he wondered, was the source I claimed in one of my columns? Could I verify my claim? This careful reader challenged me to cite chapter and verse—which after a couple of hours I found I couldn’t do. I had overstated my case, using strong words I should have edited down.

I was, and still am, embarrassed. For 32 years, since this magazine’s founding, I’ve been able to say that we’ve never had to retract a story. Would I now have to change my tune? I hadn’t remembered Ronald Reagan’s challenge. I hadn’t verified my source.

All that brings me back to this important point: WORLD operates on a platform of trust with its readers. The WORLD member in Pennsylvania who challenged me last July assures me now that he still trusts us. Our readiness to admit our mistakes, he says, increases his trust. Just don’t let it happen too often, he says—and only partly in jest!

WORLD members tell us, again and again, how they value our pages—and how they trust us to pursue our role as truth-tellers. Getting casual and careless about that truth-telling assignment has left the major news media in free fall these days. Once-powerful news magazines, daily newspapers, and national newscasts on radio and television have joined hands in a politically correct rejection of the traditional and historic foundations of our culture. In doing so, they’ve lost—and keep on losing—the trust of former customers.

You WORLD members have actually moved the other direction. Instead of backing off in protest, some 20 percent of you go well beyond your initial membership commitment. To that, you have generously added a further expression of trust with your charitable gifts.

You’ve trusted us, and then our magazines and podcasts along the way have helped you verify that trust. Some of you have chosen to give regularly (like $25 monthly, for example), while others have become involved with heavy-duty gifts. One elderly friend is so eager to extend WORLD’s influence that her total giving over the last few years is now in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ready to express your own trust in WORLD? Ready to assume a role as a helper of thoughtful people who want to understand the day’s news more clearly? I urge you to give today by using the envelope in our printed issue—or by giving securely online at And remember that WORLD is a fully deductible, nonprofit organization.

Finally, a special request. Almost every year, since WORLD’s first appearance, I’ve asked whether there might be a handful of folks out there willing to commit to a gift of $5,000 per year for the next three years. And to my delight, every year more and more people have rallied to the cause. Would you consider joining them?


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Wed, 11/14/2018 12:33 am

    Who to believe?  C.S. Lewis said, “I never read the papers. Why does anyone? ... They’re nearly all lies."  He was right.  However, it helps to know the bias and intent and then to apply filters. 

    If I read the Wall Street Journal, I put on my pro-capitalism filter.  If the New York Times, I apply the progressive filter.  With World I put on my pro-Covenant Theology filter and sometimes the anti-Trump filter.  With Fox it's the pro-Trump filter.

    But C.S. Lewis went further, and I believe for good reason.  It has to do with intent.  An article may be true, but misleading.  It might leave out important facts which go against the author's case.  Worse, many publications deliberately deceive with the webs they weave.  When the filter is applied, almost nothing gets through.

  • RC
    Posted: Wed, 11/14/2018 09:23 am

    Most People will not take the time and put in the effort to investigate a news story properly - especially one of importance. My Business Law professor said it so well: " Read for the right, the center, and left - then draw you on conclusion with the mind God gave you." Ronald Reagan's quote sums it up perfectly.