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Fox News Misleads Viewers on Climate Change

• September 25, 2012 • 11:34 AM

A study of two Rupert Murdoch outlets shows broad bias.

Is the climate changing, and are humans responsible for this troubling phenomenon? There’s virtually no debate in the scientific world that the answer to both questions is yes, but public opinion is confused and conflicted.

There are various reasons for this. It’s difficult to wrap our minds around issues involving gradual, big-picture change, and we’re disinclined to believe anything that would necessitate curbing our cherished lifestyles.

But there’s also another explanation: simple misinformation, which continues to spread not only via emails and neighbor-to-neighbor chatter, but also through mainstream news organizations.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has just released a study entitled “Is News Corp. Failing Science?” It looks at climate change coverage in two of the most influential arms of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire: the Fox News Channel and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.

“Over a recent six-month period, 93 percent of Fox News Channel’s representations of climate change were misleading (37 out of 40 instances),” the report states. “Similarly, over the past year, 81 percent of the representations of climate science in the WSJ’s opinion section were misleading (39 out of 48 instances).”

Specifically, the researchers noted a disturbing pattern on the Fox News Channel in which hosts and guests would “broadly dismiss the scientific conclusion that climate change is occurring or human-induced.” They found many instances of “disparaging and mocking climate science,” and pointed to 10 instances “in which a panel member expressed acceptance of climate science findings but was drowned out by hosts or other panel members who responded with multiple misleading claims.”

“News Corp. needs to help its staff to differentiate between opinions about climate change and scientific facts,” the report concludes. “It is entirely appropriate to disagree with specific actions or policies aimed at addressing climate change while accepting the clearly established findings of climate science. And while it is appropriate to question new science as it emerges, it is misleading to reject or sow doubt about established science.”

To be fair, it’s important to note that the study looked at the Wall Street Journal’s extremely conservative editorial page, as opposed to its news pages. It’d be interesting to compare those two sections of the paper; I’d wager that the news coverage is weighted more toward credible climate change coverage.

That doesn’t excuse the lapses of the editorial page, of course, but it does make the Fox News Channel statistics a bigger concern. Ignorant bluster is one thing, but it’s really troubling when there’s no counterbalancing voice presenting, you know, actual facts.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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