Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal is using the victory of conservative Tony Abbott in Australia's recent race for prime minister as a cautionary tale, warning American politicians to “beware the faddish politics of climate change.” The warning, issued by an editorial board with a long history of misinforming the public on climate policy, comes on the heels of accusations that Abbott's victory was influenced by severe attacks on his opponent lobbed in the pages of Murdoch's Australian press empire.
Over the weekend, Australians elected Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott -- a man who has been compared to former American President George W. Bush -- to serve as the nation's 28th prime minister. Among other initiatives, Abbott intends to dismantle the country's fight against climate change, arguing that the science behind the phenomenon is “absolute crap.”
In an editorial September 9, The Wall Street Journal attributed former PM Kevin Rudd's loss, and the overall defeat of the center-left Labor Party, to the party's push for a tax on carbon emissions and other “anticarbon policies.” The Journal argued that Abbott successfully made the carbon tax a “political liability,” and the editorial board used the opportunity to warn Republicans in the United States against going along with attempts to curb carbon emissions:
A carbon tax is one of those ideas that economists love to propose but that turn out to be lousy politics. If Republicans want to toy with the idea, they had better be prepared to eliminate the income or payroll tax along with it. Otherwise voters will figure out that the politicians are merely looking for one more way to tap into their incomes, in this case by raising their electricity and other energy bills.
Despite The Wall Street Journal's claim, voters were probably not sending a message about carbon policy. Only 37 percent of Australians support eliminating the carbon tax and replacing it with the policies of Abbott and the Coalition. The tax didn't even break voters' top three concerns, with those spots going to concerns about the economy, asylum seekers, and health care. In fact, most Australians think the country's climate policies should remain the same or stronger.
Instead, voter antipathy toward the center-left government may be rooted in an aversion to political hypocrisy and broken promises. Leaders of the Labor Party, including former PM Julia Gillard, previously promised there would be no carbon tax, then flipped on the issue and instated one any way. A reporter for The Guardian's Australian edition noted that the Labor Party was thrown out of power because for voters, it “became an issue of her [former PM's] credibility really rather than carbon pricing.” The Journal did not see fit to include this important context in its editorial.
Abbott's loss wasn't just attributable to political inconsistency, either. Throughout the campaign, Murdoch-owned newspapers, which make up some 70 percent of the local media market in Australia, attacked Abbott's opponent repeatedly and personally. Among other attacks, Murdoch media depicted Labor Party Prime Minister Kevin Rudd “as a Nazi, as Col. Klink from Hogan's Heroes and as Mr. Rude from the Mr. Men kids books.”
Murdoch's manipulation of Australian politics was so brazen, the head of the Australian Press Council publicly commented on the blurring lines between news and opinion. Council chair Julian Disney issued a statement saying, "[T]he Council believes that it is essential that a clear distinction be drawn between reporting the facts and stating opinion. A paper's editorial viewpoints and its advocacy of them must be kept separate from its news columns."
On the other side of the Pacific, Murdoch's Wall Street Journal settled for ignoring context and information to push the canard that carbon controls are a political bogeyman. The tactic is unsurprising given the record of inaccurate climate reporting rampant among Murdoch's American media empire (the WSJ and Fox News, to name a few). The Fox News campaign to demonize attempts to pass climate legislation has been so successful that a sitting U.S. Senator was terrified to negotiate on a climate bill for fear of facing the network's wrath.