Here’s a question (one I don’t know the answer to, I’m genuinely asking). Is the standard of news coverage in America actually lower than Britain? I mean everyone can get behind making fun of Fox News, but I’ve certainly also made fun of ITV news, The Sun (the most commonly read newspaper in the UK by the way), The News of The World etc etc. The only bits of American media we tend to get are the bits where they make an utter hash of it, so I’m wondering if that’s not a fair representation. They clearly have lots of other stations and newspapers, so is the overall standard actually any better than ours?We obviously read / watch the news sources we like, and ignore all the ones we don’t (in terms of British news), so I’m wondering if this biases our view when we look at American media.Tomsk responded to this whilst I was writing my own reply (raising an excellent point regarding OFCOM), but I think it's worth going over this in detail.
First of all, it's important to note that comparing FOX News to ITV isn't necessarily helpful because it's comparing outlier to outlier. I mean, on it's worse day it would be an intolerant insult to suggest ITV resembled FOX News in any way, but that's besides the point. One of the major problems regarding FOX is that, in addition to being a right-wing noise machine that should be wiped from existence and history with all possible speed, it does things so badly, so objectionably, and with such glorious disregard for objectivity, that it colours the entire discussion. Any time a conversation starts on the quality of American news media, you have to wade through people saying "Well, sure, there's FOX, but we know they're crazy." It's as if FOX's blatant worthlessness means everything else looks better by comparison, and that if anyone raises an objection to how the US handles news, it must be based on what we've seen from O' Reilly, Beck, and a bunch of Barbie Dolls (I'm not being sexist; I mean it literally).
So let's not talk outliers. Let's talk about the average state of the American media. The average state is: it's fucked.
There are a number of reasons why this is the case, some of which are across the board, and others of which are specific to TV. Firstly, Tomsk is entirely right when he points at the fact that American news sources don't need to avoid bias, and it's worth following through on that a little. If you don't need to avoid bias, and you don't need to admit bias, then the end result is that the news itself becomes nothing more than he-said, she-said argument. This would be damaging enough on its own, but at some point the right managed to persuade enough of the population that the media was biased to the left for the idea to become "conventional wisdom" (read "an idea so commonly believed no-one need ever provide any proof for it") and once that happened there was no way out. No-one could point out the accusation was unsound, because that was proof they were on the left in any case (it's unfair to blame Americans for the "if you attempt to debunk lies about X, you must be X" formulation, but they've taken it to dizzying new heights; there are still people out there who think McCarthy's biggest flaw was that he eventually gave up, and that those who brought that about were Commie traitors). At this point, most of the major news outlets are under constant pressure to prove they aren't biased to the left, which they can only do by becoming biased to the right, or at least becoming over-representative of the right (both in terms of hosts and guests), which isn't exactly the same thing but is still legitimate cause for concern.
The next problem is in the difference between news shows and news channels. We have individual news shows that need to consider ratings, of course, but in America the competition between channels is so dogged and desperate that their shows are under far more pressure to come up with the goods. And what the goods turn out to be is sensationalism and scandal. Not the sort of scandal that comes from having broken the law and the Geneva Convention for years whilst President, of course, the scandal that comes from having had some blow-jobs whilst President. 
The Drudge Report has a lot to do with this; a vicious, low-brow partisan site which manages a massively high update rate (an advantage available only to those who ignore such details as fact checking and critical thought) and which specialises in the grubby sort of story that people claim to dislike but in reality gobble up in droves. The success of Drudge has led to almost every major news outlet to one degree or anther beginning (or continuing, or concluding, depending on who we're talking about) the slide into becoming nothing more than squalid gutter-press peddlers of smut. Often this is embarrassing, but it can spill into rather worse forms. Take Lou Dobbs' show on CNN, for example, on which he repeatedly expresses his belief that Obama was not born in the US, and is thus an illegitimate president. CNN itself has declared this rumor discredited, but Dobbs won't stop banging on about it, and CNN don't dare muzzle him for whatever reason, despite the rather ugly racial undertones that he's dragging in with all the crazy. 
This is another problem with the ratings wars, it has thrown up news personalities. These people attempt to make the news more interesting, but as a result the actual facts get mixed up in the editorialising, because you're not watching the news, you're watching Dave Randomname's take on the news. You have O'Reilly and Beck on the right, Maddow and (to a lesser extent) Olbermann on the left, and various people in the centre (which usually actually means the right to all intents and purposes). Now, Maddow doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as O'Reilly and Beck in terms of quality and intellectual honesty, but the problem of battle lines remains. Once you decided on which personality to tune in to, you run the risk of seeing the world through their eyes. The stratification of news into "liberal" and "conservative" shows also means that the focus rapidly becomes the combatants themselves, and not the causes, which makes for good ratings, but shitty, shitty news (it's the severity of the problem and of the battles that makes the difference between these people and, say, Paxman over here).
Jon Stewart mentioned something along the above lines when he visited Crossfire, as a matter of fact. I mention this because the video of that encounter is kind of revealing, in that Tucker Carlson responded by trying to claim The Daily Show isn't a perfect example of news reporting either. He was attempting to defend his own low journalistic standards by comparing himself to a comedy show (a comedy show that actually does a better job informing the public than so-called "serious" news shows, but that's beside the point). The constant refusal of media personalities and journalists to hold themselves accountable for their own standards has become endemic in America. Perhaps most famously, MSNBC reporter David Gregory argued, apparently with a straight face, that it is not the responsibility of journalists to tell the public when they are being lied to. This is the case even when the lie is transparently easy to detect; just last week psychotic GOP members told the country there is language in the healthcare bill that will lead to the euthanising of old people, and I read a column that stated "Democrats state that this provision is not in the bill." You know what? Check the bill! This is your goddamn job! 
Once you combine the left-right war (which I think the media is probably more responsible for than the actual parties, which makes Gregory's suggestion that its the public that has to do its own damn fact checking all the more egregiously offensive), the sensationalist quest for ratings, the desire to titillate rather than educate, seemingly an entire generation of journalists who don't think they need to do anything more than spell-check press releases , and an associated problem that American politics reporters don't actually seem to like politics , and you have the mess US news is in right now.
Finally, on the topic of more general media, consider the Washington Post, which is supposedly one of the best newspapers in America (only the NYT and arguably the LA Times could be considered better, or so I'm told) but which regularly runs editorials by some of the most embarrassingly ill-informed people. Remember when George Will used that "no global warming in your adult life-time" bit? That was in the Post. Bill Kristol was also there for a while, which has to rank as one of the worst journalistic decision in the last ten years. Most of their editorials are written by conservatives, which again is an attempt to dispel the "liberal media" myth, but what baffles intelligent observers is how transparently false so many of the claims made within those editorials are.
The Post was also recently was discovered to be selling tickets to "informal" dinners where various high-influence people could buddy up to Post underwriters. My point is that this is (or was) one of the most highly influential papers in America, and it's become reduced to letting idiots give its opinions, and requesting money in exchange for making friends of its underwriters.
Again, this is one of the top three newspapers in a country of 300 million people.
So, yeah. Spielbergo's original point that we might only hear the worst of American news, whilst observing the entire range in our own country (or its Crown Dependencies) is a fair one, but once you spend some time immersed in this stuff, it actually ends up looking worse, rather than better.
 One hundred years from now, assuming this planet hasn't become a ball of radioactive dust ruled over by giant cockroaches who worship the few nukes that didn't go off, history scholars are going to have to explain to their students why Clinton avoided impeachment by one vote, and the idea of impeaching Bush was laughed at by almost everyone, and the poor kids will all lose their faith in humanity and become Republicans, or worse, French.
 Another issue in all of this is that American libel laws work in such a way that you can't sue someone unless you can prove what they said was false, which is pretty hard (an unfortunate consequence of valuing free speech above not having your name dragged through the mud for no fucking reason), so media personalities have almost no fear of the law (though the FCC will slap them for saying naughty words, or accidentally losing pieces of their clothing) . Why their bosses don't slap them down for this kind of stuff isn't clear, though a desire for sensationalism would seem the most likely conclusion.
 Bob Somerby spends a lot of his time cataloguing the reasons why Gore lost in 2000 (or to be more specific, why the count was so close that it was possible to steal the election from him in Florida); and he pretty much blames the media throughout, which is pretty fair. For now, though, I'm just going to highlight the second debate, in which Bush lied about his tax policy, and then told the room and the public that Gore was lying when the Vice President corrected him. You know how I know it was Bush who was lying? From reading a breakdown of his tax proposal. Wouldn't you expect the journalists covering the debate to check who was in the right? Well, tough luck, I'm afraid; they told the public "Bush and Gore claim the other is lying", and then went onto whether Gore was "too boring". I seem to remember someone saying correcting Bush made Gore look "arrogant" as well, which surely must put us at the nadir of journalism, not only will they not tell the public when they're being lied to, they'll also complain when other people do.
 This joke stolen from Stephen Colbert.
 First noticed, as far as I'm aware, by Digby (who lives here), who noted that sports journalists like to talk about sports, and entertainment journalists like to talk about entertainment, but politics journalists like to talk about blow-jobs and barbeques. Just this week we've heard journalists complaining that Obama seems to be too invested in the details of the problems America faces, and how to solve them.