May 22, 1995 in Nation/World

Public More Cynical Than Media, Poll Finds Many Americans Are Distrustful Of Politicians, The Military, Business Executives, Religious Leaders And Journalists

Holly E. Stepp Chicago Tribune

The American public is more cynical and distrustful of elected officials than journalists are, according to a poll to be released today.

The poll, by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press, a media research group, also found that people who pay less attention to the news are more cynical and distrustful than those who do.

Only 18 percent of those polled gave Washington officials high marks on honesty and integrity, compared with 53 percent of national news publishers, producers, editors and reporters.

According to Andrew Kohut, director of the Times Mirror Center, Americans who came of age in the Watergate-Vietnam era tended to be far more cynical than younger or older generations, a trend also reflected within the media.

And the public’s distrust is not limited to elected officials. People are more distrustful of business executives, the military and religious leaders than are journalists, the poll showed.

Fifty-five percent of the public gave religious leaders high ratings for honesty and integrity, compared with 76 percent of the national press.

Only talk-show hosts equaled the public in terms of personal cynicism.

Kohut said it is difficult to explain why the general public is more cynical than the media.

“There are a lot of factors involved,” Kohut said. “You have to look at the types of movies we see and the books that are in the market, as well as education levels and lifestyles.”

The poll also indicated that while the news media think they do a good job of being the watchdog of government, not many other Americans share that view.

Americans think the media are too negative and adversarial, focusing on wrongdoing and personal failures of public figures, according to the poll.

Two-thirds of the elected officials, community leaders and business people polled believe the media go beyond a watchdog role. But media representatives almost equally said they do not.

Other major complaints lodged by the public about the media included too much sensationalism, biased coverage and too much negative news.

Two out of every three of the 1,819 adults polled in the general-public sample had nothing good or nothing at all to say about the media.

The journalists polled, however, rejected most of the charges cited by the public, including those of inaccuracy, with almost 65 percent of the national press saying the complaint is not valid.

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