The fantastic hypocrisy behind News Corp.’s net-zero editorial campaign
Ahead of the UN's COP26 climate talks, Fox and WSJ are still pushing dangerous climate misinformation
Last week, the Murdochs’ media conglomerate News Corp. launched Mission Zero, an editorial campaign aimed at promoting a net-zero future. The campaign “aims to promote” articles on the “benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and risks of climate change.” This series comes after years of climate denial from Murdoch’s media empire, and it has already been criticized for merely “shifting from denying climate change to delaying climate action with nonsolutions and unaccountable long-term targets.”
Although the campaign is running only in Australia, The New York Times reports that, “if sustained, it could also put pressure on Fox News and other Murdoch-owned outlets in the United States and Britain that have been hostile to climate science.” However, an early look into the News Corp's. U.S. coverage shows that this certainly isn’t happening yet.
The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal is currently using discredited climate contrarian Bjorn Lomborg to promote an alternative reality in the lead-up to next month’s crucial United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). Meanwhile, the Murdochs’ flagship cable news network, Fox News, shows no signs of easing its relentless attacks on efforts to pass meaningful climate policy in the U.S.
Bjorn Lomborg is once again peddling soft climate denial on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal
Running concurrently with News Corp.’s net-zero effort in Australia is a Wall Street Journal editorial campaign that features Bjorn Lomborg writing about climate issues. Since early September, Lomborg has been writing a series of op-eds for the Journal that are accompanied by this editor’s note:
As November’s global climate conference in Glasgow draws near, important facts about climate change don’t always make it into the dominant media coverage. We’re here to help. Each Thursday contributor Bjorn Lomborg will provide some important background so readers can have a better understanding of the true effects of climate change and the real costs of climate policy.
Lomborg is a climate contrarian who promotes falsehoods about climate change, despite repeatedly getting corrected by actual climate experts. The False Alarm author is beloved by climate deniers and Murdoch media outlets; he’s been a staple of Fox News, The New York Post, and The Wall Street Journal for years. It’s no surprise that the latter outlet has been using him recently to promote an alternative agenda regarding climate change and COP26. In his recent series of articles for the Wall Street Journal, Lomborg continues to misrepresent data, cherry-pick facts, and criticize calls for urgent climate action.
For example, in his September 16 op-ed titled “Climate Change Saves More Lives Than You’d Think,” Lomborg misleadingly claims that “Global warming now prevents more than 166,000 temperature-related fatalities annually.” Lomborg peddled this same idea in an August 2021 article for the New York Post and also on the August 14 edition of Fox News’ The Journal Editorial Report. Climate Feedback, a collection of climate scientists who review dubious climate claims in various media outlets, responded to his New York Post piece, writing that “Lomborg’s claims are based on a misinterpretation of a scientific study and wrong interpretation of data.” The entry on Lomborg’s claim continues:
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) data cited [by Lomborg] on mortality and cold exposure show that rates of cold deaths have fallen but those from heat have remained roughly the same between 1990 and 2019. However, neither these rates nor the cited papers in the Lancet are directly concerned with mortality risk from climate change.
The issue with Lomborg’s argument is that he is using cherry-picked data that may be compelling in isolation, but belies a firm grasp of the science, which makes clear that unmitigated climate change is a disaster for human health and welfare, even if we may, in the near term, see reductions in cold deaths.
Other examples abound. In his September 15 op-ed in the Journal, “Hurricane Ida Isn’t the Whole Story on Climate,” Lomborg downplays climate’s impact on hurricanes by making the deceptive claim that “Atlantic hurricanes are not becoming more frequent.” Atmospheric research scientist James Kossin takes issue with this statement, noting:
Concentrating on the continental U.S. landfall frequency record has become a bit of a cottage industry for anyone who wants to claim that hurricanes are not linked to climate change. We're not sure that there will be more storms that form, and there may even be fewer that form, but when they do form, they are more likely to be very dangerous: stronger winds, higher storm surge, more rain and freshwater flooding, slower moving and more likely to stall.
Indeed, the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report affirms this: Without rapid emissions cuts, climate change will lead to more severe storms, wetter and windier storms, and more storms that intensify rapidly.
In another op-ed, Lomborg uses spurious economics in order to trivialize the expected financial damage of climate change. He also fails to note that the cost of inaction on climate change far outweighs the cost of action on the issue. And in his most recent op-ed -- published on October 14 -- he essentially calls for minimized action on climate change from an American perspective because “it’d have little impact on rising temperatures.”
Despite being proved wrong on climate issues time and time again, Lomborg is useful for the Journal because of the underlying message in all of his op-eds -- climate action is too expensive, and we’re better off doing something else. For the Journal, climate action hurts the bottom line of the wealthy elite. As Jake Bittle recently wrote about Lomborg for The New Republic:
Whatever the argumentative merits of [Lomborg’s] articles, their rhetorical purpose is clear. For conservatives at The Wall Street Journal no less than those at Breitbart, climate change is dangerous not because it threatens to mangle the planet but because it opens the door to progressive policies. The right would rather see the world fall apart than see governments enact major transformations to rein in fossil fuels. Thus the hardening consensus on the climate issue has come to resemble the conservative line on the coronavirus: The danger is not in the disease, but in the cure.
Murdoch’s media empire knew about and prepared for the impacts of climate change for years. At the same time, it allowed its anchors to spew climate denial
Aside from the seemingly contradictory climate campaigns that News Corp. is running in Australia and the U.S., what makes News Corp.’s net-zero campaign even more insincere is the fact that the company spent years quietly accepting climate science while allowing its anchors to spew climate denial to the public.
As Geoff Dembicki reported recently for Vice, News Corp. “spent the past 15 years mitigating its own climate risk while giving media outlets like Fox News carte blanche to deny climate change altogether.” Vice reviewed hundreds of publicly available documents and found that News Corp. “meticulously documented its own carbon footprint since 2006 and sought to ‘take a leadership role on the issue of climate change’ by reducing it.”
All of this, despite the fact that Fox News is one of the worst purveyors of climate denial in the U.S. For example, one Public Citizen analysis found that during the first half of 2019, denial constituted 86% of Fox’s climate segments. Even in 2021, as its Australian counterparts run with the Mission Zero campaign, Fox’s denial machine shows no sign of stopping. The network is still lying about the Green New Deal. It’s still denying climate change’s role in worsening extreme weather disasters. It’s still inviting industry-funded shills on their programs to downplay the importance of U.N. climate reports. It’s also, amusingly enough, citing Lomborg in climate denial segments (Lomborg himself has appeared on Fox programs at least seven times this year). The list goes on and on.
In addition to coming way too late, the Australian net-zero campaign is just an exercise in greenwashing for News Corp. It’s also being derided by some of News Corp.’s most prominent Australian employees -- climate-denying Sky News Australia anchor Andrew Bolt recently called it “rubbish” and has continued doing climate denial segments in the weeks leading up to the campaign. Additionally, an executive from Sky News Australia (which is owned by News Corp.) is downplaying the entire campaign. Don’t believe the credulous coverage by various news outlets on how the campaign may be a turning point for Murdoch media and climate change. These outlets are still doing what they’ve always done.