Titillation sells, and the media have fully internalized the notion that that’s the only thing that reliably sells. Perhaps they always believed that, but I think not so — the New York Times earned the sobriquet “Gray Lady” from all the boring blocks of tiny type and piddling details that used to fill the front page.
The main categories of titillation are sex, scandal, and disaster, although the three can be mixed in almost any proportion. American readers and viewers tend to disapprove of blatant sex, so up to now it has been largely absent from newspapers and teevee news (British and Australian publications are less restrained). Scandal can be sex-based (the antics of celebrities) or political. Sex-based scandals are relegated to the tabloids due to consumer objections; that leaves political scandals, and it is here that “bias” becomes most apparent. Scandal, by definition, is damaging to the people shown to be involved, and the universal rule that Democrats must not be damaged if it can be avoided means that Republican scandals must be given wall-to-wall coverage, while Democratic Party scandals are to be minimized or omitted altogether. The problem with that is that Republicans are boring, so their peccadilloes can’t be blown up into a real scandal without a lot of work, and the flame often goes out despite vigorous fanning.
That leaves disasters, man-made (car crashes, industrial accidents) or natural (tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes). It’s possible, even reasonable, to criticize the consumers of disaster news for lascivious eagerness to see others hurt (see: NASCAR), but the Press is just doin’ what comes naturally from their eagerness to attract viewers and readers. Anthony and the commenters at WUWT take ironic note of that regarding Hurricane Earl, but the real poster child was Katrina, which had the delicious combination of an impending disaster that could be Viewed With Alarm as the storm got closer, genuine damage to people and property that could be described in suitably horrified tones (with pictures!), and a Republican administration whose bureaucratic blunders could be blown up into genuine scandal.
The interesting thing about the coverage of Hurricane Earl is that the coverage was almost as overblown as usual despite having a Democrat in the White House. It must have been frustrating for editors and publishers across the country to have a real, impending disaster to cover without a single Republican to be blamed; they compensated by emphasizing how prepared the threatened areas were, thanks to the competent and concerned people now in office, but (again interestingly) generally refrained from contrasting that to “Heckuva job, Brownie!” It’s a subtle but fascinating hint that perhaps, someday, the Wall might come down.