‘Climate villain’: scientists say Rupert Murdoch wielded his media empire to sow confusion and doubt

Scientists have described the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch as a “climate villain” who has used his television and newspaper empire to promote climate science denial and delay action.

Murdoch’s outlets, including Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and The Australian, have long been known to promote doubts about the cause and consequences of the climate crisis. Scientists said this had caused lasting damage.

Following the news Murdoch is stepping down as chairman of News Corp and Fox Corp, Dr Joëlle Gergis, a climate scientist at Australian National University, said: “It’s hard to think of another person who has single-handedly done more to muddy the public’s understanding of climate change.

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“We have wasted decades debating the fundamental science in the media, when we really should have been focused on urgently implementing climate policies that will genuinely reduce emissions.

“Murdoch will be looked back on by historians as someone who used their media monopoly to influence the destabilisation of the Earth’s climate.”

Prof Lesley Hughes, a member of the Australian government’s independent advisory group the Climate Change Authority and of the not-for-profit Climate Council, said: “Rupert Murdoch has been extraordinarily damaging.

“He bears enormous responsibility for the world’s lack of necessary action on climate change. His outlets have actively promoted scepticism about climate science that has undermined the need to act.”

Prof Michael Mann, a climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, said Murdoch had been “one of the most destructive forces in modern history when it comes to climate action”.

“He has wielded his global media empire as a cudgel to sow confusion and doubt about the science and the solutions. He will go down in history as one of the greatest climate villains,” said Mann.

Dr Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said: “There’s no doubt that the Murdoch empire has played an important role in letting the public believe that there was any scientific doubt that the burning of fossil fuel causes the climate to warm and that it is detrimental for society and ecosystems. It is a terrible legacy he leaves, that many people paid for, and are paying for, with their lives and livelihoods.

“Climate protesters are widely portrayed as people trying to make life difficult for the average person, whereas of course in reality they try to make it better. I’m very doubtful this fight will be any easier with just Rupert Murdoch stepping down and nothing else changing. The damage his empire has done is incredibly large.”

Murdoch described himself in 2015 as a “sceptic not a denier” of climate change. During a News Corp annual meeting in 2019 he said there were “no climate change deniers” around his company.

Independent bodies have challenged this. UK thinktank the Institute for Strategic Dialogue described Murdoch’s Sky News Australia as a global hub for spreading climate change misinformation.

In a foreword to a 2022 company environment report, Murdoch wrote News Corp was “filled with people who are creative and collaborative, and possessing an abiding sense of curiosity about the world around us”. He said the company took its environment goals seriously, but did not mention climate change. News Corp has a corporate target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Fox Corporation announced on Friday that the former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, who has repeatedly said he does not accept mainstream climate science and whose government repealed carbon price legislation, had been nominated for a board position. Rupert Murdoch’s son Lachlan, who is set to become the sole chair of Fox and News Corp after his father’s retirement, said Abbott had “skills, experience and perspectives” that would benefit the company.

Dr John Cook, who researches climate science misinformation at the University of Melbourne, said under Rupert Murdoch’s leadership News Corp had been “a major source of climate misinformation”.

“The damage they’ve caused is real and has been quantified by scientists – watching Fox News reduces people’s acceptance of the reality of climate change compared to watching other outlets.”

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“Ironically, News Corp internally sought to take a leadership role on climate change by reducing their carbon footprint, while their media outlets have denied climate change and attacked the science. The hypocrisy is reminiscent of fossil fuel companies who internally recognised the reality of climate change while publicly casting doubt on the science.”

Dr Peter Gleick, a co-founder of the California-based Pacific Institute, said Murdoch was responsible for pushing “decades of dangerous climate misinformation and denial to millions of people”.

“His distortions have influenced policymakers and the public and wasted critical time that should have been spent slowing the climate crises we now see all around us.

“His influential outlets, from Fox to the Wall Street Journal, have been spewing and continue to sow deep climate disinformation, and they continue to support and promote biased, misleading opinion pieces and commentary from climate deniers and delayers.

“When our history is written, and the final roster of climate villains is posted, Murdoch will be at the top.”

Dr Andrew King, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne, said: “The world would be in a much better place if [Murdoch] had used [his media empire] to accurately convey the science on climate change.

“Instead, he has helped foster climate denialism in Australia, the UK and the US, allowing governments to slow climate action.”

The Guardian contacted News Corp for comment.