It was like the sun rising in the west. For over a decade, Rupert Murdoch had disputed the science of climate change. Then, at a Tokyo press conference last week, the conservative media mogul announced that he is now in favor of an international treaty to halt the progress of global warming. Immediately, pundits began to wonder what effect his conversion would have within News Corporation, his vast media empire.


Now, Murdoch is unpopular with many different people for many different reasons. Just last week, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann gave him the “Worst Person in the World” award. It was for another comment that Murdoch had made in Japan, about the United States’ 2,839 deaths in Iraq being “quite minute.” But most of the enmity for Murdoch comes from his well-documented reputation as an agenda pusher who breaks journalistic sacraments. In an article from October 16, former New York City mayor Ed Koch told the New Yorker’s John Cassidy that upon receiving news of an intended endorsement from the New York Post in 1977, he told Murdoch, “Rupert, you’ve just elected me.” Critics often accuse the News Corp. chairman of throwing his weight around like that. They accuse his editors of promoting his conservative political and economic agendas. It is no mystery - angry liberals do not even sue as much they used to.


So it was strange, and certainly conspicuous, when Murdoch began, not to turn exactly, but to bear left on a few issues. Cassidy’s 8,000-word feature was centered on a fundraiser that Murdoch held for Hillary Clinton at News Corp.’s Manhattan offices, which house the Post and Fox News. Both organizations had spent the better part of the 1990s lambasting the Clinton administration, and had opposed Hillary’s run for the Senate in 2000. Cassidy also reports that Murdoch has donated over half a million dollars to the Clinton Foundation’s Climate Initiative, and that he has declared his intention to make News Corp. a “carbon neutral” company. In Australia, the company’s native turf, The Sydney Morning Herald wrote that, “The significance of Murdoch’s views is that, unlike almost all modern media proprietors, his views are the company’s views. If he is concerned about global warming, then newspapers in the U.S., Britain and Australia are, too.” Three days later, Murdoch’s announcement of his support for an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol delivered more grist for the mill.


His statements were brief and cautious. He reaffirmed many of his uncertainties about the causes and consequences of global warming, but said, “The planet deserves the benefit of the doubt.” He also said that any new climate treaty would have to include the U.S., which has not ratified Kyoto, and China and India, which are exempt. The announcement got little play in the U.S., however. Most of the debate and speculation was confined to the UK and Australia. In both places, there was some evidence that News Corp. publications were following the boss’s lead. The most egregious example is The Sun in London. While it is heartening to see a once skeptical newspaper change its color, it has launched into a borderline obnoxious campaign for the environment. For a week-long series on eco-friendly living that began September 11, its Web site flew a garish banner that urged readers to “Go green for with The Sun.” An editorial pronounced, “Too many of us have spent too long in denial over the threat from global warming.” The Times of London, another News Corp. paper, has remained more aloof to Murdoch’s changing opinions. The editors have always taken a moderate position on climate change, arguing for renewable energy sources over carbon taxes or trading schemes. But when Sir Nicholas Stern delivered his review on the Economics of Climate Change to the British government on October 30, it called for exactly those measures, and the Times’ editors supported it whole-heartedly. Interestingly, their editorial finished with the exact same phrase that Murdoch used last week: “the planet deserves the benefit of the doubt.” Down under, during the last two months, the Daily Telegraph in Sydney has published at least five editorials that variously affirm the reality of global warming, praise the Stern report, and criticize the Australian government for being weak on climate issues. Such opinions were completely absent from its pages in past years.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.