There are countless individuals and organizations dedicated to tirelessly monitoring all forms of media, breathlessly posting the latest bias infraction, another brick in their bombproof case for the liberal media bias. Not confined to conservatives, indeed not even to politics, forward sentries on the internet are vigilant for bias in everything from breastfeeding to UFO activity.
There are plenty of surveys, formal or otherwise, that show there is little disagreement that MSM bias is real. That said, it turns out that this bias is a bit like pornography – we all know it when we see but there is little agreement on a common definition. So this raises a question: If there is no consensus on what constitutes bias or how it swings, does the charge of systemic liberal bias in the MSM have a leg on which to to stand?
Without doubt, there are credible instances of bias that show up in the media. Mindful of this, the many watchdog organizations, whether liberal or conservative, do provide a truly valuable service to consumers of news in a cyclonic industry. The edit of George Zimmerman's 911 call really did alter an interpretation of the conversation. And while I support the assertion that the Trayvon Martin tragedy highlights the reality of ongoing social challenges, I still don't like being lied to; especially if I might unwittingly use that lie to support my sympathies.
The Zimmerman 911 edit is a demonstrably credible instance (or sample) of media bias. Unfortunately, most news items rarely have such a clean empirical test for the alleged bias. Most often, they drift without moorings in a subjective, and very crowded harbor. Let's say I wake up one morning to hear a story on the radio that Action News X's Special Investigative Team (SpIT) report that authorities believe that the numerous recent UFO sightings were most likely a weather balloon.
If I believe with the conviction of fact that the weather balloon was indeed an alien spacecraft I would, in turn, have every reason to believe that the integrity of SpIT's reporting was corrupted. If a story violates my beliefs, then how meaningful is it when I label the story as biased? This is only one example of how sample collection can be flawed. Researchers have yet to produce a broadly accepted method to rate news items quantitatively for bias; therefore, these studies will continue to be dogged with perfectly credible accusations of some sort of bias in sampling.