Australia fires Fox News prime time
Ceci Freed / Media Matters

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Fox News prime-time avoided covering Australian bushfires until a Murdoch paper minimized the role of climate change

Instead of engaging with the reality of climate change, Fox hosts latched on to a false narrative about arson

  • According to a Media Matters review Fox News prime-time hosts completely ignored the devastating bushfires raging across Australia during the first three months of the crisis. It was only after a Rupert Murdoch-owned Australian newspaper started pushing a misleading talking point about arson that Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham picked up the story to distract from the role of climate change in accelerating the crisis. 

    Carlson has hosted one segment about the fires, referring to arson in Australia as “beyond” disgusting without mentioning the climate connection. Sean Hannity has not discussed the fires on air, but he tweeted a link to his own website pushing the false claim that nearly 200 people had been arrested for arson. And Laura Ingraham hosted two separate segments on arson in Australia. 

    The bushfires have taken the lives of at least 30 people, are threatening to push certain endangered species of animals into extinction, and have destroyed millions of acres of forest and residential areas. The link between climate change and the severity of the bushfires has been described as “scientifically undisputable.” In response, climate deniers have perpetuated a counter-narrative, casting arson as the primary culprit of the catastrophic fires. In reality, experts say “arson alone cannot explain the unprecedented blazes,” with one estimating “that only a handful of the hundreds of massive fires that have broken out in Australia since September were due to arson,” as NBC reported. That handful of fires were likely deliberately lit by a few dozen people -- 24 people are currently facing criminal charges -- and not a result of widespread arson, the red herring that climate deniers have intentionally spread.

    Dale Dominey-Howes, a professor of hazard and disaster risk sciences at the University of Sydney, told HuffPost, “The majority of these bushfires have been generated by lightning strikes associated with weather and climate effects.” The fires then spread and burn more intensely due to conditions made possible by climate change.

    Despite the evidence, Carlson, Hannity, and Ingraham have intentionally misled their audiences and Twitter followers by ignoring the climate connections and hyping the anecdotes about arson. This effort fits with the broader pattern of climate denial that has been prolific across Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, and it bolsters recent criticism about climate change coverage lobbed by his son James.

  • Tucker Carlson

  • Video file

    Citation From the January 8, 2020, edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight

  • On January 8, Tucker Carlson hosted former Fox personality Anna Kooiman, reporting from the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, to discuss the impact of the bushfires on wildlife in the country. The segment irresponsibly did not mention climate change, but Kooiman did highlight arson arrests in New South Wales, which Carlson referred to as “beyond” disgusting.

  • Sean Hannity

    Sean Hannity has not covered the fires in Australia on his show. However, he did tweet an article published to his own website titled “AUSTRALIA BURNING: Officials Charge Nearly 200 with Arson, Looting as Wildfires Rage.”

  • Laura Ingraham

  • Video file

    Citation From the January 6, 2020, edition of The Ingraham Angle

  • Laura Ingraham has repeatedly pushed the arson talking point on her show. On January 6, she closed the program by claiming of the fires: “It was arson, perhaps not climate change.” Earlier in the program, frequent Ingraham guest Raymond Arroyo was upset about celebrities at the Golden Globes talking about climate change and the fires, and he noted that police had “arrested 12 people in Australia for those fires; they were blaming it on climate change -- wrong again.”

  • Video file

    Citation From the January 8, 2020, edition of The Ingraham Angle:

  • On January 8, Arroyo again misled viewers when he called commentary on the role of climate change in accelerating fires “incomplete reporting,” saying, “It’s not correct to say climate change caused these wildfires. The New [South] Wales Police Force in Australia report they’ve taken legal action against 180 people who lit fires or discarded a match on land. There’s a complicated story here -- the media only wants to report one half of it.”

  • Methodology

    Media Matters searched the Nexis database for television transcripts with any of the terms “bushfires,” “blaze,” or “fires” within transcripts that contained the term “Australia” from September 1 through January 20 on Fox News. We analyzed Fox News’ prime-time programming (8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time), which includes The Ingraham Angle, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Hannity

    We reviewed transcripts for any mention of “arson” or arrests for arson. We counted a segment as discussion of the Australia fires if it included significant discussion of the topic, weather reports that mention the fires, or news briefs that reported on the fires. We excluded topic teasers, defined as a short blip from the host that mentions a segment coming later in the broadcast.