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Public, More Than Press, Doubts Politicians' Ethics

THE public is far more cynical about the honesty and integrity of public figures than journalists are, according to a survey released yesterday.

The Washington-based Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press found that only 18 percent of the general public surveyed says that Washington politicians have a high level of honesty and ethical standards. But more than half of national journalists and one-third of local media people rate politicians' integrity highly.

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''There is a dramatic gulf that's the largest it's been in the 10 years we've been measuring,'' says Don Kellermann, senior fellow at the Times Mirror Center, which conducted the poll in March and April. ''The general public is strangely far more cynical than the press.... There is a jaundiced view of what drives public policy that permeates the public response to news events and everything else.''

The survey found that 66 percent of the public surveyed says the press is too adversarial and focuses too much on politicians' personal shortcomings and character flaws. But only 29 percent of journalists surveyed agreed. ''The public is more distrusting of business executives, the military, and even religious leaders than are news people,'' the study says.

Nor do journalists and the public agree on who reports the news best. Of those surveyed, 67 percent said local television news did the best job, while 56 percent said network TV news and only 36 percent said local newspapers. Journalists thought national newspapers and network TV news do a better job. Media people agreed with public perceptions that they don't report enough good news, and almost half said that the national press has not done enough reporting on the Clinton administration's accomplishments.

The biggest gulf between press and public is in religion and ''family values.'' While 40 percent or more of the general public attends church on a given Sunday, only 20 percent of journalists do, Mr. Kellermann says. Among national journalists surveyed, 83 percent thought that homosexuality should be accepted by society, while only 41 percent of the public agreed.

The poll surveyed 248 national journalists, 267 local journalists, and 1,819 members of the general public.

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