I can't say whether the accusation of liberal bias which is sometimes leveled against mainstream, non-Fox media outlets is accurate or not. When I read the New York Times or watch NBC News or read the Washington post or Newsweek, I don't see bias, but perhaps that's because, being relatively liberal myself, their coverage seems reasonably balanced to me when, in fact, it's not. And -- reporters who lose their cool and their objectivity (and, in my opinion, who should probably lose their jobs as well; I'm thinking about this) -- aside, CNN's coverage seems reasonably balanced to me as well. I can't really speak to whether MSNBC's coverage of the news has a liberal bias or not because I don't watch its day-to-day news coverage; I watch the prime-time opinion shows sometimes (Olbermann, Maddow, Matthews), which most certainly have an unapologetically liberal bias (and which I find myself watching less and less), but these shows don't purport to be reporting straight news any more than, say, the Fox opinion-based shows do. (Although: an important caveat regarding MSNBC is here, regarding Olbermann/Matthews anchoring political-convention coverage: not a journalistic high-point for MSNBC.)
(A small aside: anyone who wants to accuse the mainstream media of liberal bias must consider why, with a few exceptions, these supposedly extremely left-leaning outlets -- by their own after-the-fact admission, in some cases -- didn't do much in the way of questioning the Bush administration's claims of credible intelligence regarding WMDs during the lead-up to the Iraq war. If I were pointing the finger at mainstream news outlets for having such an obvious bias, I'd have a little trouble fitting that piece into the rest of my puzzle.)
One thing I think I can say with almost absolute certainty, though, is that Fox News covers the news with a bias which is of a different character than the liberal biases, if they exist at all, among the other mainstream news outlets. It seems to me that if a liberal bias informs the way, say, the Times or CNN covers the news, such biases manifest themselves largely in these organizations' decisions about what stories to cover and what not to cover, as well, sometimes, as in a given story'd "angle." With Fox, though, there's often what seems to me to be a pretty clear bias in the way stories themselves are written: there's frequently overt opinion intermingled with fact.
For example, President Obama recently attended the Summit of the Americas. There, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega delivered a speech which detailed, for almost an hour, all of the ways in which he believes the United States has been an aggressive, expansionist, terroristic neighbor for the past one-and-a-half centuries. Obama listened to this speech with little emotion, and refused to comment much on it to the press afterward, except to say, "It was fifty minutes long; that's what I thought of it." Secretary Clinton, too, dodged questions about Ortega's speech.
So, the devil is in the details with the way Fox reported this story. It's reported, mostly, straight: the first several paragraphs relate details of the speech, and of Obama's and Clinton's unwillingness to comment much on it, in what I'd describe as an objective tone. But then there's this:
"Droned on?" "Dredging up?" It's difficult to imagine reading the phrase "droned on" in a New York Times news article (or in one in the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal, or Time, or CNN.com, or CBSNews.com) describing a speech by anyone. Likewise, it's difficult to imagine that phrase coming out of the mouths of Brian Williams or Wolf Blitzer or Katie Couric. There's opinion in the phrase "droned on," which is why I wouldn't be surprised to read it in a Maureen Dowd or David Brooks or George Will or Eugene Robinson column, or to hear it from Keith Olbermann or Rush Limbaugh or Lou Dobbs or from any number of panelists on cable- or network-news broadcasts. In most settings, there's nothing wrong with describing a public speaker as "droning on," because in most settings, it's expected that the speaker will pepper a description of an event with his or her opinion of it, even if he or she describes it in a mostly straight and objective way. But in a straight-news piece, the convention, and therefore the reader's expectation, is that opinion will not presented as fact. And to report that someone gave a speech in which he "droned on" is not a statement of fact; it's a statement of opinion.
Just as it's not a fact that Ortega "dredged up" American support for Somoza. The fact is that he mentioned it. Whether or not this mentioning constitutes "dredging up" (with its connotations of bring up something which is irrelevant because it happened so long ago, and/or which nobody cares about) is a matter of opinion. (I explicitly remember learning the difference between fact and opinion when I was in seventh grade.) Nitpicking? I don't think so. Good journalism is, among other things, about getting the details right. And getting the details right includes ensuring that you're not interjecting opinion -- overt opinion, in this case -- into your description of those details.
I have little doubt, btw, that Ortega droned on in his speech (according to Fox, he went as far back as 1855 in detailing the many ways in which he believes that the United States sucks). And this forum here -- a blog post -- is an appropriate forum in which to say so; most forums would be appropriate places to say so. A news story is not an appropriate forum, though, which is why, it seems to me, you'd be unlikely to hear such a phrase from most mainstream media sources.
Or, actually, from most non-tabloid media sources. Such editorializing is somewhat common in tabloid-newspaper reporting. In reporting stories of any type (not just ones in which a reporter's or publication's political bias might influence his or her reoprting), tabloids frequently interject opinion in straight-news stories. Criminals become "creeps" and "thugs" frequently in both of the New York tabloids, for example.
Perhaps Fox News strives for a tabloid tone in their reporting. That'd be a bit odd, though: "tabloid" isn't something most news organizations particularly want to be called. Especially, I'd think, ones which pride themselves on presenting the news in a "Fair and Bal..." Well, you know.
Last week, Fox News was accused frequently of promoting rather than reporting on the April 15th "tea parties"; other news outlets, on the other hand, were accused of under-reporting these events. I don't have a strong opinion about whether Fox crossed a line by devoting as much air time as they did to protests which seemed, to some people, like they were largely the creation of Fox (and others) in the first place. I could make a pretty good argument, I think, that Fox didn't cross any line at all (I could make the opposing argument pretty well too). What I can also say, though, is that you have crossed a line when, in a news story, you use phrases like "droned on" and "dredged up" to describe someone's words. You've crossed the line that separates news organizations which at least try to keep bias out of their reporting from ones which don't bother.