(This is a long rant. Ignore it unless you're bored)
As a former media person (I still make my living off the First Amendment, I just switched clauses), I've usually felt those claims of "media bias" have less to do with politics than they do with a bias towards conflict and other things that you can actually write stories about. When nothing happens, there ain't no story.
I also whip out my salt-shaker when various media outlets suggest they are acting objectively and setting their own bias, whatever it may be, aside. I'm less convinced every day that pure objectivity is possible anywhere outside of math. One group of media folks denounces Fox News as rabidly right wing and claims they are practicing traditional objective journalism. The Fox folks say, no, we're being objective and it only looks right wing because you all have been skewing so far left for so long. That message seems to prick more ears; Fox ratings are often higher than the other 24-hour news channels.
A little look in the newspaper The Independent might suggest why. On April 1, the London-based paper ran a story on the U.S. economy. In it, reporter David Usborne noted that the number of Americans receiving food stamp aid is higher than it was during the 1990s, suggesting that an economic depression may be coming. Other people pointed out that the raw numbers are higher but the percentage is lower. Either side can make its point with the data; they just have to pick which numbers they want to talk about.
Notice the picture with the story, and its cutline: "Disadvantaged Americans queue for aid in New York." The picture is from a company called Getty Images that supplies photos to newspapers and other media outlets. You can find it here. With the photographer's original cutline, about people lining up to get free coats from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2005. The art has zero to do with the central fact of the story, which focuses on increased food stamp use as a sign of an economic depression that may be about to happen in 2008.
The image use isn't technically dishonest, although we don't know if these New Yorkers were actually "disadvantaged." I've bought coats at thrift stores before and I've never been in the disadvantaged class, so I don't know that getting a free coat qualifies you to wear that label. In any event, these New Yorkers did in fact "queue up to receive aid." But they didn't receive the kind of aid the story focuses on and they received this particular aid three years ago, which pushes the whole thing into the area of manipulative presentation even though it isn't an outright lie. I personally think the photo use stemmed more from sloppiness than from pushing an agenda, but it still eats away at credibility.
And thus, a news organization that says, "We report, you decide" and contrasts itself with that kind of sloppy or even in some cases deliberately manipulative presentation draws legions of fans and viewers. When I've watched Fox News, I've found their news coverage may skew a little right of center. Their opinion folks, of course are different. They skew right (Sean Hannity), extra-terrestrial (Alan Colmes), blowhard (Bill O'Reilly) and constantly milking the disappearance of pretty blondes (Greta Van Susteren).
Some of their news folks are openly conservative, like Brit Hume, or maybe better seen as moderate, like Chris Wallace. I don't mind that, just like I don't mind knowing Charles Gibson of ABC is probably pretty liberal. In fact, I like knowing it. If I know I'm wearing red safety glasses, for example, I know my eyes are telling me my truck is a color that it really isn't. Knowing whether or not a reporter or writer sees himself or herself as liberal or conservative or Klingon helps me correct my vision when I read or hear what they say (Klingon reporter says: "The forecast calls for rain." Klingon reporter really means: "It is a good day to die.")
Paying attention to or ignoring a particular news source simply because it the reporter obviously demonstrates some kind of bias is not a responsible choice. The Independent's story highlighted some real economic issues, even though its photo choice stunk. Fox News gets some good stories. We should all be grown-up enough to admit there's some shoe polish in amongst all the stuff we don't like and we should work to make sure we know the difference.