How Serious is the Gap Between the Masses and the Media?

Thank you for the opinion-page articles ``The Split Between the Public and the Press'' and ``Media's New War Role,'' March 15. These articles clearly presented the ``big picture'' of the split between the public and the press that occurred in American society during the Gulf war. Not expressed were some of the reasons why this split occurred. For example, one evening I watched television as a US correspondent in Tel Aviv was repeatedly asked by the anchorman not to reveal the location of the landings of Scud missiles. The correspondent ignored these requests until told quite bluntly by the anchorman that the revelation of such information would endanger security. It makes one wonder why the correspondent couldn't have figured out the reason behind this request on his own.

The results of actions such as these seem to be that the American people began to view the news media as a body of individuals quite willing to endanger the security of our armed forces in exchange for the momentary reward of a scoop. During the height of such a conflict, these actions were viewed by a large part of the American public as selfish and even treasonous.

One would only hope that, this time around, the news media will have learned some valuable lessons and that it will emerge as an institution that is vitally concerned about both the welfare and security of our country and the process of reporting the news - hopefully in that order.

Marsha W. Fitzhugh, Ft. Meade, Md.

The article on the public-press split is based on the unwritten assumption that the opinions and feelings of journalists should somehow reflect those of the public as expressed in opinion-poll results reported. If journalists had to worry about pleasing their readers and deferring to their opinions, where would democracy end up? Today there is widespread confusion between fact and opinion, but this profound distinction is fundamental to journalism which must inform through facts in order to help readers form opinions based upon evidence - upon reality and truth.

Even if the opinions of a majority of journalists are ``liberal,'' it does not follow that their reporting is untrue or biased, although it might well indeed provoke ``a sour distaste for journalists'' with a public that mainly seeks confirmation of its opinions and attitudes.

The real danger to public enlightenment and informed judgment is the media's desire to please, flatter, and titillate rather than inform its readers and viewers. Recently the NBC top brass chose not to show pictures of devastating damage to Baghdad - unpleasant reminders of our ``success'' in bombing a third-world country. It is indeed disturbing to think that the American public must be sheltered from information that might puncture its complacent patriotism and provoke moral reflection.

The very ignorance of the general public about world events should be grounds for more facts, facts, facts, and fewer opinion polls.

Jean Leighton, Detroit

South African symbol of hope The front-page photograph of a South African woman, March 18, has the beauty of a Vermeer painting. The figure, cast in both shadow and light, is a symbol of hope despite the present violence in the townships.

Mimi Bentley, Madison, Wis.

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