The state of the climate debate in Australia under News Ltd
Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited, which controls 70% of the Australian print media, are without doubt doing the Australian public a great disservice with their constant stream of climate disinformation.
It is not enough for News Limited to shape the narrative as “believers versus sceptics”, thus creating a sense of false balance. They take it a step further by willfully distorting the public’s perception about the causes of climate change while simultaneously undermining their trust in the scientific community.
Recent evidence of this can be seen across News Limited publications and websites these past two days.
Nearly every organ of Murdoch’s Australian media empire has been actively pushing the discredited theory that CFCs are to blame for warming (not CO2). Here is the audit trail:
- The story first appeared in The Australian by Graham Lloyd on Monday 3 June (see here)
- It then made it onto Andrew Bolt’s blog on 7:27pm the same day (see here)
- A reference was made on Piers Ackerman’s blog on 4 June at 12:45 am (see at the end of the article)
- Reference to it was published in the Cut and Paste section of The Australian today.
Note how the same message is weaved into different articles across multiple platforms?
Clearly the intent is to hit the broadest number of readers across all demographics: from the tabloid pages of the Herald Sun to the faux-paper-of-note pretensions of The Australian aimed at a more “elite” audience. Note they all appear within a day of each other.
Note also that in last night’s Q&A program, Senator Cory Bernardi referenced this News Limited generated fiction.
Cause and effect clearly demonstrated on national television.
Based on the uniformity of the message, tone and content it is clear the voice of the independent journalist is irrelevant at News Limited.
What matters is the message and broadcasting it on all frequencies to a mass audience. The resurrection of the “CFCs not CO2” myth is but a single example of propagating misinformation over a broad spectrum (News Limited papers and web platforms).
And the message is simple.
Climate change isn’t happening, don’t trust the scientists.
I’m not going to address the science, but simply direct readers to the refutation at Climate Science Watch. I also note Crikey have picked up on the errors contained in Graham Lloyd’s article as well (pay wall sorry).
However, upon reflection something has been missing in both my comments and Crikey’s analysis.
And it is not about focussing on the minutia of the debate, which this whole episode is merely another tedious example.
It’s time to consider the bigger picture.
The desperate last phases of the climate debate: throwing sand in our faces
When somebody is losing a fight, and they feel the tide of victory flowing against them they’ll resort to increasingly desperate tactics.
Consider the final moment of many films where the hero and villain square off to fight. Shots, punches and kicks are exchanged as the fortunes of both protagonists ebb and flow.
But there comes a moment when both protagonists and the audience recognise the villain is in the throes of their final and inevitable defeat.
What does the villain do?
They grab a handful of sand or dirt and throw it into the face of their opponent.
It’s a sign of desperation, a feint intended to stem defeat by distracting and irritating their opponent. Sometimes it works, but generally it signals they have nothing left to fight with but dirty tricks. The message to the audience is clear: “They are deceitful, even in their last moments”.
It’s a trope used countless times. In fact, my daughter’s favourite film The Lion King contains it. In the final confrontation between Scar, who has usurped the throne and Simba (the rightful heir to the title of Lion King) the villain scatters burning ash in latter’s eyes in a final act of defiance.
Which is exactly what News Limited is doing, they are throwing sand in the face of the public and scientists in desperation.
Welcome to this new phase in the climate debate.
In raising long discredited “zombie” climate myths News Limited is reaching for sand to throw in all our eyes.
One can see why this would be the case. Public acceptance of the science is overwhelming; most accept humanity has changed the planet. Did we forget to mention 97% of climate scientists accept the science?
Everyone but the climate sceptics recognise their increasing irrelevance and what is clearly the death throes of their movement.
But they have one more trick to play, one last desperate gamble…
They’re clutching for a handful of sand to cast into the faces of their opponents.
Lose the debate and lose the kingdom: for Murdoch the climate debate is about one thing, can you guess?
For the owner of News Limited and his army of minions the trajectory of public opinion must be troubling. So they are throwing everything at it.
Misinformation and zombie climate myths are their sand. But why? That is a question worth asking.
Murdoch is desperate to continue setting the political and social agenda within Australia and the English-speaking world. News Corporation is the agency of his will; they are his legions of flying monkeys.
Here is something we may not have considered in speculating over News Limited’s role in the climate debate.
Why is it that Fox News, The Australian, The Wall Street Journal and all other organs of the Murdoch empire are unanimous in their contempt for the science? Consider this…
The climate debate, from Murdoch’s perspective, is as much about forestalling action as it is about Rupert Murdoch.
It is about Murdoch’s king making and opinion making abilities. It’s about his power. It is about how much he has, and how effectively he can wield it.
It is about how media power shapes the conversations we have in political debates, around the proverbial water cooler and over the BBQ on a Sunday afternoon.
How much does it say about the power of Murdoch and News Limited (which fervently believes it can shape the tone of all political conversation within our nation) that it can no longer control the debate or public perception on climate?
What does it mean when public opinion slips from the control of the opinion makers?
Lose the ability to shape the debate, and you lose the kingdom.
All empires are fictions and all power is perceived.
This is especially the case today with the internet reshaping the media, rendering the traditional gatekeepers less relevant than they once were.
A king-maker who has built his empire on public perception, mass entertainment and sports broadcasting understands this intuitively.
From the Tampa Affair, the denial of the Stolen Generations and the climate debate, Murdoch has sought to shape our nation and values for decades.
Does it come as a surprise that public respect for the media in Australia is at all-time low? This is not a coincidence, nor some chance correlation.
News Limited’s reporting on climate change is at odds with people’s everyday experiences of a changing planet. Should you believe Andrew Bolt or the evidence of your home burning to the ground over Australia’s “Angry Summer”?
Remember how the Carbon Tax was going to be the ruin of us all?
The disconnect between what News Limited wants the public to believe, and what the public experiences is growing further apart. A crisis of credibility is engulfing News Limited, and they’ve failed to recognise it.
And their response to this growing disconnect?
The recycling of this old zombie climate myth (CFCs not CO2), a desperate attempt to throw sand in our faces. The whole CFC meme of the past few days is merely to distract the public with an irrelevant fact, while also enraging activists and scientists with its stupidity.
It is as if Murdoch has thrown sand in our eyes and is screaming in our faces: “See, see! I still set the agenda!”
How much time and energy will we expand on countering the “CFC not CO2” zombie myth one more time?
Stop focussing on the sand in your eyes, irritating as that may be.
Look at who is throwing the sand.
Advice to the scientific community: well, not that “you” asked
At the heart of scientific practice is error reduction: detecting, and correcting errors. Both your own and that of your peers. It is a valid means to ensure research results support theories; that theories reflect the actual state of the world.
However, in the climate debate a focus on error reduction – for example correcting people or journalists on the “CFCs not CO2” issue – is counter productive.
We will forever be chasing down errors, and attempting to correct people’s misconceptions. It is a rabbit hole we have spent too much time dwelling in – chasing down a misconception here and another piece of disinformation there.
We are Red Queens, forever running as fast as we can in a vain attempt to merely stay in the same place.
Yes, we can catch one error and force a correction printed in the pages of The Australian. We can get the Australian Press Council to issue a statement against the likes of Andrew Bolt. But in that time, ten thousand errors have flown from the pages and blogs of News Limited.
We catch an error and declare it victory. Time to consider the bigger picture.
Think of the climate debate like this…
Until recently we thought the universe was the solar system with the Earth at its centre. Then we thought the universe was no more than our home galaxy, The Milky Way.
Our perception was stunted, limited to the local.
Then Hubble took his famous images of red shifted objects…
… and the Universe exploded into view, revealing its immensity and majesty. Our view of the universe and ourselves was profoundly changed.
We need to think about the climate debate in this manner: broader, deeper and more sophisticated.
No more error correction please: turn your big brains to more profound questions.
Back to Murdoch, the King Lear of the Anthropocene.
The King Lear of our time: Murdoch
To return to the film The Lion King (no really!) you may be surprised to learn it is loosely based upon Hamlet. Shakespeare’s tale is a cautionary one about those who usurp thrones and marriage beds, and the tragic consequences of those actions.
But I’m reminded of another of Shakespeare’s plays when I consider Murdoch and his need to control the climate debate in our politics and in our private conversations.
King Lear, the dying king who divides his kingdom among his ambitious children. It is a decision that begins a chain reaction of events ending in ruin.
Murdoch is that monarch whose time is coming to an end; he is the king who divides the state among his children. Like Lear, it is his selfish, ego driven decisions that precipitates the ruin of all.
King Murdoch – the Lear of the early twenty-first century – would rather let our planet burn then admit he no longer sets the agenda on the climate debate, nor countenance being wrong.
Rub the sand from your eyes, ask why it has been thrown.
[A few errors in first draft got through, fixed]