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.
In the U.S., it is unclear how far the New York Post and Fox News will follow Murdoch if he continues listing left. As Cassidy wrote in the New Yorker, if Murdoch decided to support Hillary’s Clinton’s bid for reelection to the Senate, “he would meet resistance from his editors, starting with Col Allan.” Allan, the Post’s truculent editor, ended up voting with Murdoch and the paper’s editorial-page editor to endorse Clinton, who kept her seat in last week’s election. He told The Sydney Morning Herald that Murdoch invites his staff to freely express their opinions, “but at the end of the day, he’s the one paying the bills, he makes the call. I don’t have a beef with that.” But that does not mean the Post has abandoned its conservative perspective, or that it will refrain from inveighing against Clinton should she disappoint in office. As for Fox News, Cassidy wrote, “It is virtually inconceivable that Murdoch would risk alienating the conservative viewers who enable the channel to make an annual profit of hundreds of millions of dollars, but there are steps he could take…” Cassidy reports that The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, on the other hand, “has a written guarantee of editorial independence.” But all such threats assume that Murdoch will continue his leftward migration.
Even if he does, liberals might not be willing to receive him. On the Huffington Post, David Horton writes, “He has spent the last ten years catapulting the propaganda of climate change denial so effectively that if you had to choose one person who is most responsible for the failure of governments, particularly the American and Australian governments, to act over the last critical ten years, Rupert Murdoch is your man.”
Regardless of such lingering animosities, however, he might be the man to undo long-rooted skepticism. Mere days after Murdoch’s pro-treaty announcement in Tokyo, Australian Prime Minister John Howard declared that he too had changed his opinion. After years of standing closely by the Bush administration, playing down the threat of greenhouse gas emissions, and refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the PM now favors an international carbon trading system. A causal link between Murdoch’s change of heart and Howard’s new position is, of course, impossible to establish. But few could call it improbable. In media and in politics, the world will simply have to wait and see what the consequence of Murdoch’s mood swing will be, and whether or not it amounts to a genuine new direction for News Corp.