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March 8, 2011 

NewsCorp’s Environmental Hypocrisy

Statement by Kevin Knobloch

WASHINGTON (March 8, 2011) — Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote the following commentary regarding News Corp's hypocritical position on environmental protection and climate change:

NewsCorp owner Rupert Murdoch announced last week that his company reduced its global warming emissions to zero.

They did it by reducing some of their emissions and paying others to do so through “carbon offsets.”

But Murdoch’s calculations do not include another form of pollution: the constant stream of misinformation NewsCorp subsidiary Fox News routinely broadcasts about climate science to millions of viewers.

It may come as a surprise, but NewsCorp has an official policy to “engage our audiences and enable them to find ways to reduce carbon emissions in their own lives.”

Carbon neutral or not, NewsCorp is failing badly at that mission.

Take a typical episode of Sean Hannity’s program. During one show in 2009, Hannity erroneously claimed the year had been the “ninth coldest” on record.

In fact, according to NASA, 2009 was the second warmest year globally on average since reliable measurements began in the 1880s.

Hannity also has called global warming “a huge cover up.” Similarly, his colleague, Glenn Beck, has accused climate scientists of “fudging” numbers and “lying.”

Hannity’s and Beck’s statements are flat-out fabrications. The major conclusions of climate science have been vetted as thoroughly – if not more so -- than any other modern scientific field. That’s why the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and its counterpart institutions in other nations wrote in 2009 that “the need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable.”

Fox News’ failure to accurately communicate the truth about climate change also extends to its “news” programs.

Last December, for example, Media Matters released an email from Fox News Washington Managing Editor Bill Sammon in which he urged news staff to highlight criticisms of climate science whenever they mention it.

Similarly, “Fox & Friends” anchor Steve Doocy did an interview this winter in which he sarcastically talked about climate change outside Fox’s New York City studio following a snow storm. Doocy interviewed an author with a conspiracy theory view of climate science rather than an actual scientist. Then a person wearing a polar bear costume wandered behind Doocy, presumably to add some color to Fox’s “news production.”

It’s worth pointing out that there have been some uncharacteristic bright spots in Fox News’ climate coverage.

In July 2009, for example, Bill O’Reilly forcefully corrected commentator Laura Ingraham when she claimed the Earth is cooling.

“That’s not what the temperatures say, but okay,” O’Reilly said.

O’Reilly is no environmentalist. But unlike some of his fellow commentators at Fox, he understands the distinction between climate change science and climate change policies.

Confusing the public about the reality of climate change not only undermines attempts to implement policies that would give us a fighting chance to prevent the worst consequences of climate change; it also undermines the nation’s ability to adapt to future climate change. The science is clear that climate change is threatens our economy, public health and well-being. No amount of denial will stop rising seas, increasing droughts and extreme precipitation events or more severe wildfires.

But Fox News’ misinformation seems to work. While scientists have conclusively shown that human activities are driving climate change, 30 percent of regular Fox News viewers surveyed in a University of Maryland / WorldPublicOpinion.org poll thought that scientists have concluded exactly the opposite. Meanwhile, only 12 percent of the general public polled in that survey shares that inaccurate view.

It’s admirable that Rupert Murdoch sees the value of limiting and offsetting his own company’s carbon emissions. But that effort is an empty gesture if he fails to take action to stem the efforts of  his flagship U.S. news organization to mislead the American public about a critical scientific and policy issue. Imagine what a difference it could make if Fox News chose instead to provide its viewers with accurate information.

If “carbon neutrality” is good for NewsCorp, why isn’t Fox News pointing out why that’s good for the for the rest of us, too?

The good news is we still have the opportunity to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Any responsible debate about climate change should be over how we can most cost-effectively reduce carbon emissions and reap the benefits of switching to cleaner energy sources. Burning less fossil fuel will mean cleaner air, a more resilient economy, and a stronger nation.

Because we are already feeling the effects of too much carbon, however, we must also figure out what we should do to adapt to ongoing changes. When Fox News argues about whether or not human activity is driving climate change, it is wasting valuable time. 

With the help of my organization, more than 35,000 Americans have sent Murdoch letters asking him to curb Fox News’ noise pollution. He has yet to respond.

Future generations probably won’t remember that Murdoch made NewsCorp carbon neutral. But if Fox News continues to deceive the public about the overwhelming evidence that human activity is causing climate change, future generations will almost certainly know that his company’s policy of “distract, deny and delay” helped block action on climate change at a critical moment. 

 

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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