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Marlin Perkins, Abe Lincoln, and more...; Close-up on TV journalism; Media Unbound, by Stephan Lesher. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 285 pp. $13 .95.

Stephan Lesher likes metaphors. He describes TV news coverage as a ''combination of Gulliver in Lilliput with Godiva in Coventry.''

He likens journalism to an idealistic David who has grown up to be a Goliath.

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He compares the news media to the mythical Prometheus, who, after suffering for the benefit of humanity, eventually makes up with the hostile powers on Mt. Olympus.

His point is not that the quality of American journalism has declined, but that its intrinsic faults have become more glaring as its power has increased. And that TV news in particular has come to dominate - and distort - the public's perception of events.

In Lesher's words: ''Journalism has always been a disorderly, inexact olio of available information, opinion, and individual impression. It variously informs and misleads, educates and titillates, unearths abuses and is abusive.''

Most of his book is devoted to examples of shortcomings, from coverage of the Tet offensive and the invasion of Afghanistan to the Iran hostage crisis and Three Mile Island.

There is plenty of ammunition for media-haters here. But Lesher opposes any attempt to constrain the press ''by law or fiat.'' As a journalist himself, he simply wants to warn: Let the Viewer Beware.

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