Well, it is of course neither. The actual ideological bent of the mainstream media is populism. What drives this populism? Ratings and profit. At times, depending on the news source, they do actually inform, but they also exist to entertain and make a profit.
My argument would be that this ideology is far worse than a one-sided news organization, and we should not confuse this with neutrality. For the most part, their reporting reflects what they believe our attitudes are toward a certain subject. Instead of challenging us, they look to surfeit us. I see this in the case of the growing public cynicism of the two major parties. "Both sides do it," they tell us. We like to hear that, and so they like to tell us this. It's safe and avoids controversy--no complaints from Fox News about not being "fair and balanced" . And what they tell us may be absolutely true, or it may be sort of true.
A quick hypothetical: An intern for a Democratic Senator is arrested and is found guilty of shoplifting some Twinkies. On the same day, a group of Senate Republicans knock over Fort Knox.
"Sort of true" would mean that yes, it is correct that both sides steal, but should they be tried for the same crime? I'll admit that there are times that, because of pervasive corporate influence, both sides are equally guilty of robbing the public blind. Not always, but sometimes both sides do do it.
Also, it should be pointed out that as money-making entities, they may have an interest in keeping the election close even though this may not reflect the reality. They also try to make Romney out to be a legitimate candidate when, in my educated judgement, he stands for nothing in particular. Worse is when these news outlets and even fact-checkers blame Obama for not getting his facts straight on Romney's platform, when in reality Obama's trying to bulls-eye a dart board on the side of a fast-moving car. Paul Krugman gives us another example of Reporting that Makes you Stupid :
"Worse yet, some reporting tells readers things the reporters have to know aren’t true. How many stories have you seen declaring that 'both sides think they’re winning'? No, they don’t: the Romney campaign is visibly flailing, trying desperately to find new fronts on which to attack Obama. They clearly know that it will take a miracle — sorry, a last-minute surge — to prevail on Tuesday. It’s OK, I guess, to report campaign spin; but surely it’s not OK to report campaign spin as the truth, which is what these stories are doing."*
Yes, he is a liberal. His blog is called, "The Conscience of a Liberal". If you haven't heard of him it might be because the so-called "liberal" media usually doesn't book him to appear on a show or try to interview him. Anne Coulter, however, enjoys a little more airtime, even when it appears that she has nothing to add to the conversation but bigotry and obnoxiousness. So when the news media discusses the need for "austerity" and the debt, who will they call? Surely it is more profitable to bring on a train-wreck-in-progress than an actual voice of reason and a voice of opposition to the beltway zeitgeist of massive spending cuts (then again what does Krugman know about money? He only won the Nobel Prize in Economics). That doesn't always guarantee that he is always right and Coulter's always wrong, but when someone wins a prestigious honor for a paper on stimulus spending, he should be included as one voice in a conversation in economics, and a political hack who disparages opponents any chance she can get should not. Can Krugman be nasty? Yes, he can. But his substance outweighs this possible nastiness, and that is also why you need a host or a moderator to keep things civil and to the point.
And what could make this lamestream media possibly be worse? Oh. Did I mention that cable and network news are corporate owned and can in small ways reflect the corporation's interests and biases? This may not always be the case, but let's not be naive and think they are always looking out for our interests. Back in the early 2000's, media outlets like Viacom (CBS), and Newscorp (Fox) drastically under reported an FCC ruling that would allow cross ownership of various forms of media--a complete consolidation of power by the wealthy few who could use it to better control the information they give you. Both CBS and Fox reported this as a non-controversial issue. Does this look like a non-controversial issue?
So don't trust anything the lamestream media tells you, right?
Of course not. I don't believe that nor am I trying to argue that. My main point is to be careful in what you read, hear, and see. Even though I am liberal and therefore biased, I try my best to remain neutral with the facts (not my fault facts have a liberal bias). Of course it's always easier to spew vitriol than to have a nuanced discussion where nothing can easily be pigeonholed (though, I too can be nasty at times). I try to go that extra mile and achieve a nuanced and fair argument every time I argue with someone or write this blog. What I'm trying to write here is that everyone should watch the news with a grain of salt. Be smart and know who owns the station you are watching and look out for what stories could be a conflict of interest.
The best possible answer to the lamestream media is a free market solution: to have a better press you need a better educated populace. You must know better to demand better! In the age of the internet you can comparative shop. Let others challenge you instead of tell you what they think you want to hear. Unfortunately, it falls on you to tell the mainstream media to not be so lame.