Public's view of the press grows more unflattering

The sigh of "not again" was almost audible as a scandal-weary America got wind of new allegations of old sexual misconduct by President Clinton.

From the office water cooler to Internet chat rooms, many Americans say they've heard enough about Mr. Clinton's personal life. They want the press to go back to reporting on the nation's business.

"The public has such a bad taste in its mouth about the Lewinsky scandal coverage, this will only make it worse," says Andy Kohut of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

In a poll released yesterday, Mr. Kohut found that the public gives the news media an unflattering "C" grade for the scandal coverage. But now it also believes the media are more immoral, unprofessional, and unpatriotic than ever before.

In 1985, 54 percent of Americans said the media were moral, and 13 percent said they were immoral. Today, only 40 percent feel the press is moral, and a whopping 38 percent say it's not - a tripling of the negative factor in fewer than 15 years.

Moreover, three times as many people now believe the press is unprofessional than did in 1985, when only 11 percent said it was slipshod. And the belief that the press protects democracy has eroded - 45 percent now say the media protect democracy and 38 percent say they hurt it.

Vinnie Roos, a computer expert in New York, believes much of the scandal reporting is simply unnecessary. As for Juanita Broaddrick's allegations, Mr. Roos asks, "If you've kept it quiet for so long, why work it out in public now?"

But media analyst Larry Grossman says that even if people are tired of depressing or distressing stories, the media must continue to cover them. "The trick is to do it in a responsible, reasoned, and dispassionate way, not a hyped-up way," he says.

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