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.


Does the timing of these shifting opinions represent the tinkering of Murdoch’s less-than-invisible hand? He and News Corp. have vociferously denied such allegations to all reporters who have dared to ask. At any rate, it is not clear what the editorial repercussions of Murdoch’s new mindset will be. “There does appear to have been at least some shift in how climate change is being covered in Murdoch-owned publications, but it is not uniform,” wrote Matthew Ricketson in The Age, a Melbourne-based daily this is not owned by News Corp. In the same op-ed he refers to Murdoch’s reputation as the “Dark Lord of Media.” But indeed, some pundits say that the chairman’s recent change of heart is revealing positive things about Australian media. On November 9, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Media Report hosted environmental advocate Denise Boyd. Referring to disparate reactions among News Corp. publications to the boss’s leftward shift, she said, “Perhaps that’s a good thing, perhaps there is more editorial independence in the Australian press than we think there is.” Certainly, not all editors will mindlessly follow their leader.


On November 9, an article in the Melbourne-based Herald-Sun raised some eyebrows with the headline, “Act Now or it’s Catastrophe - Experts.” It surveyed 10 of the country’s leading climate scientists for their opinions about the consequences of unabated global warming. But one week earlier, even before Murdoch’s comments in Tokyo, the paper’s conservative columnist Andrew Bolt was defending his right to disagree with that consensus. An avowed climate-change skeptic, he wrote on November 1, “Now, critics who once scoffed that I merely wrote on Murdoch’s alleged orders are demanding to know why this time I have not.” It was one of the most fascinating pieces of writing to come out of the recent fray. Referring to the Stern review and making good use of sarcasm, he implores, “God help me. Even now I have that self-destructive urge to point out something odd about the report that generated many of these latest headlines.” Fortunately for Bolt and News Corp.’s many other right-wing journalists, such comments, though they are now contrary to the boss’s position, are unlikely to end any careers.

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