By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News Online in Miami, Florida
Leading American television network CBS has recently found itself in an uncomfortable position: Instead of reporting the news, it has become the
In early September, it broadcast a report claiming that George W Bush had been the subject of criticism by the man who commanded him when the president was in
the National Guard 30 years ago.
Newsreader Dan Rather apologised for a mistake in judgment
Unfortunately for the network, the report was based on documents that appear not to have been authentic, forcing Dan Rather, the top CBS newsreader, to apologise.
Critics pounced, including the comic Jay Leno, who described Mr Rather as "the man who put the BS in CBS".
The American public split right down the middle over the scandal, with about 40% demanding that Mr Rather resign, and just over 40% saying the network had been duped and should not be held responsible.
The difference of opinion roughly mirrors political identification in the US, where about a third of people label themselves Republicans, a third Democrats and a third independent.
MOST TRUSTED CABLE NETWORKS
Fox News: 25%
Source: Pew Research Center for People and the Press
But it also reflects another truth: Americans of all stripes generally put pretty low trust in the media, with conservatives even more suspicious than liberals.
And research suggests that each group is increasingly seeking out media that reinforce its point of view.
Fox News, a cable news channel owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, has been the big beneficiary.
In 2000, 18% of Republicans and Democrats told the Pew Research Center for People and the Press that they tuned in to Fox regularly.
By this year, that number had risen to 35% among Republicans - but only 21% among Democrats.
Ann Whitlock, a 57-year-old nurse practitioner in Colorado Springs, Colorado, expresses a view common to many liberals.
"I choose not to listen to Fox because I know it's an arm of the Bush media," she says.
More than half of the network's audience now describes itself as conservative, a rise of more than 10 percentage points from four years ago, Pew Research suggests.
But even many conservatives dislike the feeling that they are not getting impartial news from the media.
John Rakolta is the CEO of a Detroit-based construction company. He describes himself as a strong Republican - but says he doesn't like bias, even if he agrees with the point of view being expressed.
"I'm conservative, but I'm tired of the conservative media, the liberal media, the New York Times. I trust only a couple of news organisations, like the Wall Street Journal. They go in depth, not just four lines and a cute little snippet."
The Wall Street Journal's editorial page is generally seen as conservative, while that of the New York Times is considered liberal.
Ted Terrazas, a small business owner in San Antonio, Texas, is also a Republican and also dislikes what he considers bias.
A fluent Spanish speaker who lives near the Mexican border, Mr Terrazas says that he watches Mexican television coverage of American politics.
"You get a straighter shot when you listen to the Mexican news - not Republican, not Democrat, but straight news - and I think that's what we need more of."
Gloria Andrade DeMarco, a conservative business consultant in San Antonio, says media bias makes her angry.
"Even the poorest of the poor has a TV, so there is a tremendous responsibility for the media to be accountable for what they put forth.
"What worries me is not so much that [the media] do it but why they do it. Present the news, but don't give your own views. Let there be two sides there," she says.
Republicans in general place lower trust in the media than Democrats do, Pew Research suggests.
That may explain why only slightly more Republicans than Democrats find Fox News - the cable network of choice for conservatives - to be highly credible.
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Kevin Anderson and Richard Greene travelled across the US to get to the heart of the issues in this year's election. They sent back regular in-depth reports telling us what they found
About 29% of Republicans trusted Fox, while about 26% of Democrats did. Those figures make it the most trusted news source for Republicans - but among the least trusted by Democrats.
Overall, CNN remains the most trusted cable network - but only 32% of Pew respondents found it "highly credible", down from nearly 40% in 2000.
Republican party activist Joe Solis of San Antonio says he detects bias in his local newspapers as well.
"There are many editors in South Texas who have definite beliefs about President Bush and they are finding small ways to make him look bad," he claims.
He says he reads the New York Times partly to keep an eye on the opposition - but also praises its news coverage.
"I try to mix up [my newspaper reading] because I want to know what the other side is thinking. I want to know how they are slamming us and painting us as these terrible people.
"The editorial page [of the New York Times] is very biased but believe it or not the news department is somewhat fair in their reporting compared to our local newspaper. They do a better job of presenting the two sides."
Gordon Rose, of Nashville, Tennessee, has a son serving in the marines in Iraq. A backer of George Bush, Mr Rose agrees with Mr Solis about the media's view of the president.
"I can tell the bias that they have on TV. The main media want to dump our president," he says, adding, "the real story is not being told" about US involvement in Iraq.
The media focus only on deaths, not on the positive developments he hears about from his son, he says.
"How many schools did we open? How many bridges did we repair?"
Opponents of President Bush, on the other hand, praise one of the highest-profile attacks on him this year - the Michael Moore film Fahrenheit 9/11.
Rowland Huddleston, a supporter of Democratic challenger John Kerry, says "his heart leaps every time I see the truth come out" in places like the film.
Fahrenheit 9/11 has split public opinion in the US
But he admits that it merely reinforced what he already thought. "I had these views long before I saw that movie," he says.
Anna Vasquez, on the other hand, is a political independent living in San Antonio, Texas, who says she refuses to see the film because it is "a totally slanted, one-sided view.
"I am not saying that George Bush is not guilty of some of the things that have been said in that movie. But it should not be touted as a documentary. It is one person's perspective of someone that he totally hates," she says.
She says she watches mostly CNN, but also Fox and international media in an effort to sift through bias.
Julie Van Ameyde, a Republican small business owner in Detroit, says that she does the same thing - and is frustrated that she feels she has to.
"There's a lot of spin. The media don't give the whole story - but their job is to tell the story and be neutral."