The Public, the Press and War Coverage. Latest Times Mirror-Sponsored Survey Shows Most Americans Give High Grades to Media Reporting; Say Military Censorship Is OK

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The public, the press and war coverage

Most Americans consider news coverage of the Persian Gulf war excellent or good, although a nearly equal majority support military restrictions on news reporting during the conflict.

The latest survey from the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press shows 45% of respondents rating coverage as excellent, while 38% graded it good.

Some 83% of respondents, however, said they viewed military restrictions on war news coverage as a good thing, a slight increase over the 79% response to that question in the poll taken in January.

"Since 1985, Times Mirror has periodically asked the American public to judge the relative importance of censorship for the sake of national security vs. the news media's ability to report stories [they feel are] in the national interest," the report explained. "Each time this question has been previously asked, the public was either evenly divided on the issue or came down clearly on the side of the media.

"The current survey finds a nearly two-to-one majority feeling that military censorship is more important than the media's ability to report important news."

Only 13% of respondents said they would have preferred less censorship and just 17% would have liked more. Most, 68%, said there was neither too little nor too much censorship.

When asked directly, however, respondents by a three-to-one majority, 71% to 22%, said they preferred neutral coverage to pro-American reporting of wars. Over half, 59%, said criticism of the military by American news media helps keep the nation prepared, rather than weakening defenses.

Confidence that the military was providing an accurate picture of how the war was proceeding increased from 29% in late January to 44% in the March survey, although 36% said they believed a lot of information was kept from the public and another 36% said at least some information was withheld.

Television proved to be the big winner among types of media, as respondents by a margin of 72% to 11% said tv reporters dug harder to get Gulf war news than did newspaper reporters, although newspapers showed a slight gain from mid-January, when the margin was 75% to 7% in favor of television.

In addition, 67% of those who read newspaper articles of Gulf events they had seen reported on tv the night before said the newspapers covered basically the same ground. …