(I'm flirting with starting a running "people don't understand..." theme on the blog, considering the endless supply of topics it supplies.)
There is a general public awareness, at least in the United States, that there exists this thing called "The Liberal Media". To a certain extent, that label can be justified. Journalism, as a profession, does tend to be populated by people who identify as liberals much more than conservatives. Unfortunately, that isn't how the term is usually used. People aren't claiming there are liberals in the media... they're claiming the content of the media is deliberately and blatantly biased towards liberal ideology.
Now here's the problem. The people making this claim have a definition of "biased" that is... well... let's call it "divorced from reality". You see, bias in journalism is when instead of reporting the plain facts of the matter at hand, you distort them to say something else that suits your own agenda. In the minds of the people who rant and rave about "The Liberal Media" however bias is when you report a bad thing about someone they like, and don't immediately follow it with either a good thing about someone they like, or a bad thing about someone they don't like. Because see... you have to be "balanced".
Now I may be crazy, but I always thought the job of the news was to report the facts, not to play reality referee and dishonestly manipulate the reporting of the facts so it looks like both sides of any ideological dispute were perfectly equal. I'm pretty sure in fact that THAT would be displaying bias.
For an example of what we're talking about, this startlingly insightful individual (you'll encounter their like a lot if you spend any amount of time in political discussion forums) has concluded that Fox News provided the fairest news coverage in the country of the 2008 elections.
Yeah, you're reading the title of the link right. Fox. When you click on that link you'll find the study they cite to back up this entertaining claim is one done by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism which... counted how many positive and negative things different networks said about the candidates. Seriously.
"Well... they said this many nice things about one side... but only this many nice things about the other side... BIAS!"
Yes, the only possible way that could happen is biased reporting. As opposed to... just possibly... there actually being in real life more positive or negative aspects to report about one side than the other. (But nah... it's clear McCain ran exactly as effective a political campaign as Obama did, right? I mean Obama ran what is widely regarded as one of the most effective campaign operations in modern political history... and McCain told the nation that Sarah Palin was the most qualified person in America to run the country after him. That's got to balance out, right?)
You know, there are days when it's really hard to be optimistic about the future of the species.
Let's apply these brilliant criteria for unbiased journalism to a hypothetical test case. We're going to travel back in time and cover, say, one of the trials of Charles Manson. On the one hand, we have the coverage by GNN (Generic New Network). On the other hand, we have the coverage by Faux News.
GNN: Every story they write is talking about this guy being accused of murdering people! They mention he's a repeat offending ex-convict! It's all negativity all the time!They never say anything nice about the guy!!!
Faux: They put up some stories about him being accused of murdering people. But they also put up just as many stories about how he considers himself a dedicated family man.
GNN is, therefore, 100% horribly horribly biased. Faux News on the other hand is what journalism is meant to be. They're balanced. And that's fair.
And that's what's really important in journalism. Right?