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“News Corp: overwhelmingly misleading” – the damning indictment of Murdoch’s media empire

[Hat tip Media Matters]

“Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.” George Orwell

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UOCS) has just published a damning study of the incredibly distorted character of News Corporation’s (News Corp.) climate science reporting.   

Analysing the accuracy of how the science is reported within the pages of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and on Fox News during a recent six month period, UOCS found overwhelming evidence of a persistent and systematic campaign of deception:

Instances of denigration go beyond inaccurate claims, to express a lack of trust in scientists, scientific institutions, and their conclusions, or to characterize the acceptance or rejection of climate change as an ideological (as opposed to a scientific) issue. Our team found clear examples of denigrating climate science in both the media outlets examined.

Titled “Is News Corp. Failing Science? Representations of Climate Science on Fox News Channel and in the Wall Street Journal Opinion Pages” (A. Huertas and D. Adler) this 30 page report provides further understanding on how Rupert Murdoch and his media empire have distorted the public’s understanding of climate change.

Indeed, this “war on science” waged by News Corp. prompted one scientist to state it has cost humanity several decades mitigation efforts. So prevalent is climate change scepticism within News Corp. it lead Rolling Stone magazine to name Murdoch as one of the chief architects of organised denial:

“Murdoch’s entire media empire, it would seem, is set up to deny, deny, deny. The Wall Street Journal routinely dismisses climate change as “an apocalyptic scare,” and Fox News helped gin up a fake controversy by relentlessly hyping the “climategate” scandal — even though independent investigations showed that nothing in the e-mails stolen from British climate researchers undercut scientific conclusions about global warming.”

With this in mind, let’s turn to the methodology of the study and its results.

Fair and balanced? Study methodology

The writers of the study took a “snapshot” of content from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal

“This snapshot analysis examined six months of Fox News Channel content and one year of representations in the Wall Street Journal opinion section based on keyword searches for the terms “climate change” and “global warming.” Our team examined transcripts and articles to determine whether these media outlets mentioned climate science, action on climate change (personal action or government policies), both, or neither.”

The results are not surprising to those familiar with News Corporation’s contempt for facts and the almost missionary zeal in which this media company has set out to cast doubt on the science.  

Indeed, one can make the argument – as David McKnight does in his excellent book – that this can be attributed to the barely concealed ideological prejudices of Rupert Murdoch.

Fox News: 93% of 40 representations of climate science misleading

More often than not, a picture can say more than 1000 words:

 

Yes, the graph is correct: only three incidents of accurate reporting. What more can be said about the “fair and balanced” nature of Fox News?

News Corps. pattern of behaviour: misleading, cherry picking and mocking

The study categorised the type of misrepresentations into five broad categories. For those of us intimately familiar with how News Corp. frames climate science it comes as no surprise:

  • Broad dismissal of the scientific evidence
  • Disparaging climate scientists
  • Disparaging or mocking climate science as a body of knowledge
  • Cherry picking individual facts or findings of question overall consensus
  • Debates or conversations where misleading claims drown out accurate ones

And while this pattern of mischaracterisation and deception were attributed to editorials in the WSJ and on Fox news, one can easily apply the same to News Corps. Australian holdings: The Herald Sun; The Australian; The Daily Telegraph.

Within the pages of these newspapers the “war on science” has been relentless, unceasing and equally deceptive.

Industrial scale misinformation: the legacy of Rupert Murdoch and News Corp.

The authors of the report end with a call for News Corp. to “reform” their reporting of the science and the reality of climate change:

“Representations of climate science on the Fox News Channel and in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal should be informed by an honest assessment of how cultural worldviews about the role of government affects people’s perception of scientific expertise and evidence on a range of issues, including nuclear waste, mandatory vaccination, and climate change (Kahan, Jenkins-Smith, and Braman 2010). These cultural biases in processing scientific information ought to be understood and examined, especially by media figures with strong ideological identifications and opinions who take their responsibilities to the public seriously.

The reasons for this are vital:

A great many politicians, columnists, and other public figures from across the ideological spectrum accurately convey climate science to audiences and understand the difference between science and policy. Their voices should be amplified, not ignored…”

While a worthy call, I see it as naïve: News Corp has “dug own it’s grave” on the climate change issue.

In order to “reform” it would need to remove or censor the dozens, if not hundreds of journalists, editors and other staff engaged in what can only be called “industrial scale misinformation”.

Such is the reach – and extent – of this $32 billion media company that it seems almost wistful to ask it to simply “report the facts”.

To start “truth telling” would also entail the management of News Corp. both publically and privately acknowledge error and the attendant accountability that implies.

This act of accepting responsibility seems antithetical to the very nature of this company, its management and culture.

Conclusion

Some months ago I wrote a piece on Murdoch and his empire in response to the hacking scandals and the issue of climate change:

“Murdoch’s legacy will not simply be the broken and dysfunctional culture of News Corporation.

His most lasting legacy will be the damaged climate and a world of 2 degrees plus. For decades, News Corporation has waged a pitiless and deceitful campaign against scientists and the public understanding of the climate change.

Murdoch charged News Corporation with a missionary zeal to spread his free-market ideology. The doctrine was preached by his army of journalists and television presenters. Across the globe the likes of Andrew Bolt, Terry McCrann, Chris Mitchell and Glenn Beck spread the Word of Murdoch.

And the Word was: the market cannot fail.

We should remember that when super-charged bush fires burn our forests to ash and devastate small communities across Australia.

Remember the role News Corp. played in misleading and deceiving the public over the coming Australian summers.

When ever increasing numbers of people begin to ask “Why weren’t we told?” point them to the pages of News Corporation’s newspapers. Climate change is real – and yet for decades News Corp. has reported it as a hoax, a fad or the product of shadowy cabals.

And what is the price of this wilful denial, conscious deception and disparagement of the science and scientists?

Look at the tens of thousands of record high temperatures, the warming oceans and rapidly disappearing Arctic sea ice: this is the Murdoch legacy writ large.

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