WASHINGTON -- The American public seems less interested than usual in the news lately and has failed to absorb even basic facts of many recent stories, a new Times Mirror poll released today has found.
While most Americans know that Nelson Mandela was elected (( president in South Africa and that the late President Nixon resigned in the Watergate scandal, only 39 percent know that the stock market has been in decline in recent months. Only 22 percent can identify Vincent W. Foster, the White House aide who committed suicide last year.
Those are a few of the results of the Times Mirror News Interest Index, a continuing study of public response to the news. Times Mirror is the parent company of the Los Angeles Times and owner of other newspaper and communications companies, including the Baltimore Sun, publisher of The Sun and The Evening Sun.
The recent charges of sexual misconduct involving President Clinton also have not riveted the public, the poll found. Only 15 percent of those polled said that they are paying very close attention to the lawsuit by former Arkansas state employee Paula Corbin Jones, who alleges that Mr. Clinton sexually harassed her while he was governor.
And a majority of those polled, 54 percent to 23 percent, said Mr. Clinton was far more believable than Ms. Jones. The poll said Mr. Clinton's approval rating was 46 percent.
While Washington scandals generally do not generate wide fascination, even by these standards the Jones story is not registering. Nearly twice as many people, for instance, said that they followed closely charges that former President Bush's chief of staff misused military airplanes for personal use.
The news media did not fare well in the survey. Only 53 percent of those questioned said that they thought the news media were being fair to the president, 15 to 30 percentage points lower than the rating during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
The poll, which surveyed 1,206 adults between May 12 and 15, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, and the results could be subject to further error because of the wording of questions.
A majority of Americans are oblivious to most major foreign events, the poll suggests. Only 33 percent know that the leading presidential candidate in Mexico was recently assassinated, while 29 percent know that the slaughter in Rwanda has reached hundreds of thousands.
Only one in five of those polled said they know that North Korea again has raised the specter of nuclear war by threatening to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and about the same number know that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has used air strikes against the Serbs in Bosnia.