By: Debra Gersh Times Mirror poll shows most people felt the conflict between Koresh clan and federal agents outside Waco was overcovered THE STANDOFF BETWEEN cult members and federal agents outside Waco, Texas, was the most closely followed news story of the past month, yet most people felt it received too much coverage. Half of all respondents to the Times Mirror News Interest Index for May 1993 said they very closely followed events in Waco ? 39% said it was the one story they followed most closely ? but 42% thought it received too much coverage. Further, only 16% said coverage was excellent. More than half (52%) rated it as good, 21% said it was only fair, and 8% believed it was poor, according to the survey by the Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press in Washington, D.C. People were split whether the press has been too critical of the Clinton administration for its handling of events in Waco (40%) or whether the amount of criticism has been about right (42%). Opinion about criticism of the FBI also was closely divided, with 43% saying the press has been too critical and 37% saying the amount of criticism has been about right. With 50% of the people following it very closely, the standoff in Waco was the second most closely followed news story in 1993. The first was the deployment of U.S. forces to Somalia, which was very closely watched by 52% of the public in January. The second Rodney King trial in Los Angeles was the next most watched news story for May. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they followed coverage of that event very closely. By comparison, the first trial and its violent aftermath was very closely followed by 70% of the public, making it the third most closely followed story since the index began in 1986. Yet, not unlike the Waco story, just over a quarter of the respondents (26%) said the second trial received too much coverage, and few (17%) rated coverage as excellent. Most of the respondents (41%) said media coverage of the latest King trial and verdict was good, while just under a third (30%) said it was only fair. Eight percent rated it poor. Interestingly, of the 34% who believe coverage of the second King trial was one-sided, 20% said the media favored the prosecution; 54% said it was unbiased. Among those who detected a press bias, three times more whites and Hispanics believed it favored the prosecution, while more than twice as many blacks thought it favored the policemen, according to the report. Almost half of all respondents (47%) said they believed the media did as much as they could to avoid creating a tense atmosphere in Los Angeles during the second trial. When asked about last year's trial, however, 56% of respondents said the nature of the coverage encouraged people to go out and join the post-verdict rioting. In addition, 44% of respondents said news organizations made it seem as though most black residents condoned the 1992 riots. Showing its lowest level of public concern in 18 months, news about the U.S. economy was followed very closely by only 37% of the public, a drop from 49% in February. That 37% is the lowest score for interest in economic news since October 1991, when it was 36%. After the economy, news about the White House task force on health care reform was of interest, with 30% of the public watching that story very closely. The administration's decision to allow women to serve in naval and air combat roles and the Republican opposition to the president's stimulus package each were followed very closely by 27% of the public. News from Bosnia finally made an impact on public interest, albeit slight. Nearly a quarter (24%) said they followed the debate very closely over whether to use U.S. air strikes against the Serb forces in Bosnia, and a similar number (23%) said they followed news about the civil war there very closely. By comparison, in both January and February of this year, only 15% of the public said they followed news about the civil war in Bosnia very closely. The gay rights march in Washington, D.C., was very closely followed by only 16% of the public ? 15% said it got too much coverage ? and nearly a third (31%) said they followed the event not at all closely. Of least interest to the American public last month was the voter referendum in Russia, which was very closely followed by only 10% of the respondents, although 20% said they followed it fairly closely and 36% not too closely. Thirty-two percent did not follow that event at all closely. When asked only if they had heard a great deal, something or nothing about other events, the report found that 57% of the public had never heard of a survey declaring that only 1% of men are homosexual and 43% never heard about the parasite in Milwaukee's drinking water that made residents sick. News events most people had heard something about included the document from Russia that allegedly showed there were more U.S. prisoners of war held in Vietnam than were freed in 1974 (54%); the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., (40%); and the gang of teen-age boys in California who made a sport of their sexual conquests (36%).nE&P ?Reuters/Bettmann photo ?The fire that destroyed the cult compound was the termination of the nearly two-month-long seige outside Waco, Texas. ?People were split whether the press has been too critical of the Clinton administration for its handling of events in Waco (40%) or whether the amount of criticism has been about right (42%).