For example, consider religious suicide bombers. One could accurately characterize them as homicidal zealots. One could also characterize them as patriotic freedom fighters. The prevalent characterization among the respected figures in the society in which people decide to become suicide bombers can greatly affect people's decisions, and indeed their lives.
It's disingenuous for people, and in particular for the American news media which typically claims unbiased reporting, to claim honesty in reporting while ignoring honesty in characterizations. Moreover, there's a long-term large risk involved in deceiving the public with repeated misleading characterizations, to the point where people think they are supporting one thing, but end up supporting the exact opposite, just because of inaccurate characterizations.
Take, for example, a current topic: the housing bailout bill recently passed by the senate. Per CNN's characterization, the bill would:
limit foreclosures [and] create affordable housing...
The bill, in actuality, is a bailout for speculators and irresponsible lenders. It gives money to people who were financially irresponsible, and helps them stay in houses they should not have been able to purchase, thus making houses less affordable. It does nothing to limit foreclosures, although it does shift some liability for bad loans from the lenders to the taxpayers.
...a voluntary initiative at no estimated cost to taxpayers which will help Americans keep their homes.
Again, disingenuous at best to take the no-cost claim at face value, when the bill explicitly provides $300 billion dollars of taxpayer-backed loans for at-risk borrowers who are likely to default. That's 10x the amount shouldered to bail out Bear Sterns, and 2x the amount of the stimulus package, which was an explicit spending program of future tax revenue. How can you plan to give away twice as much money and claim no cost to taxpayers? I tell you how: by lying.
The news media has (or should have) a social responsibility to be accurate in their reporting, and this is an example of the worst kind of inaccuracy: systemic, subtle, intentional, and fraudulent mis-characterization done intentionally do distort, mislead, and deceive the public. This kind of "reporting" is so far over the line, it really should be criminal to call it news.