Political activists on the right and left increasingly scream "media bias" when they don't like what's reported. I read Bernard Goldberg's Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News and was not convinced that "the media" is biased against conservatives or for liberals. I read Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media?, and thought he made a compelling case that counteracts the charge of a liberal media bias.
The Republican National Committee is producing press releases attacking specific journalists and TV anchors as biased in favor of Democrats. For example, "Hardball's" Chris Matthews, the RNC claims, is a Democrat, because he once worked for Tip O'Neill, and it shows up in his coverage and commentary. But Matthews was one of the harshest critics of President Clinton on television, and in his columns. It seems to me he's equally brash and critical of everyone in his professional role.
Instead of labeling certain journalists as "Democrats" or "Republicans," "liberals" or "conservatives," a far better measure is their work, specific articles or commentaries. I know from personal experience as a newspaper reporter, sometimes I bent over backwards to compensate for my own biases. When I covered Senator Jesse Helms, for example -- a man I personally disagreed with strongly -- to my horror and amusement, I was accused by some "progressives" of being "in his pocket" because I didn't excoriate and demonize him in every article, and even wrote some things about him that cast him in a favorable light. Some of Helms' fans assumed I was one of them.
Then I'd write a piece casting Helms in a negative light and I'd receive letters attacking me as a "biased liberal." And when I sometimes wrote articles on politicians I personally agreed with, but tried to balance my reports with facts that did not support the politician's position(s), I'd inevitably be accused of bias because I did not portray them in the best light.
Eric Sevareid wrote years ago that intentional bias was far less of a factor in journalists' flawed accounts than HASTE -- they were under the gun to get the story out, to beat the competition, under pressure to go on to the next thing, and so they may have cut corners, written, reported or broadcast things said awkwardly, ungracefully, unfairly.
I've reflected on The Myth of Completely Objective Journalism. Dismissing certain journalists because they are perceived as "liberal" or "conservative" I don't think is fair. Instead, address their specific articles or broadcasts on an individual basis. It may be fair to assert that a specific article or broadcast omitted or included certain facts or quotes that places public figures or issues in a certain light. But one or two or a dozen stories or broadcasts you perceive as "slanted" does not mean the journalists who produced them are inherently unfair and unable to understand your point of view.
Any journalist worth his or her salt should be able to listen to, report on, and fairly explain a political point of view he doesn't agree with without always having to cast a certain ideological spin on it.
I think it's fair to label Fox News generally conservative, at least by current definitions, and National Public Radio generally liberal or progressive, but that doesn't mean every reporter for those outlets must toe to a specific ideological line in every broadcast. Indeed, news outlets that do the unexpected, that report things that don't fit into a pre-ordained ideological box are more interesting and more credible.
Life doesn't fit neatly into a liberal or conservative paradigm, and news shouldn't either. Just ask anyone to define "liberal" or "conservative." My guess is that they'll have trouble. A good argument could be made that John Kerry was the more cautious and conservative (stodgy?) candidate in 2004, and George Bush was the bold (reckless?), liberal one on issues like Iraq, social security "reform," and the deficit.