Michael Pascoe: How Murdoch’s myrmidons murdered climate policy

Rupert Murdoch's far-reaching press power has consistently silenced climate change news, keeping the Coalition in a comfortable position, Michael Pascoe writes.

Rupert Murdoch's far-reaching press power has consistently silenced climate change news, keeping the Coalition in a comfortable position, Michael Pascoe writes. Photo: TND

“The Murdoch media, determined to remove the Labor government at any cost, mounted a savage war on the science of climate change and the structural reforms that needed to be undertaken,” wrote former Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan in a 2017 article and reprised this week on Twitter.

It’s an important insight as it suggests an answer to the mystery of the Murdoch media’s rabid climate denialism in Australia – a campaign by our biggest newspaper company that has both enabled and goaded the troglodyte end of the Coalition to make Australia a world leader in fighting carbon reduction, in worsening our changed climate.

Without the on-going Murdoch campaign promoting climate disinformation and sheer lunacy, it’s hard to imagine any government being able to persist with its cynical twisting of emissions policy, never mind outright lies.

If all major Australian media played the climate issue straight, a denialist government couldn’t survive.

But that has been the point of the Murdoch campaign – political power, not economics, not science, not even the pseudo-science it promotes.

Murdoch’s myrmidons have been exploiting climate denialism for so long, they’ve become trapped by it. Having mounted the denialist tiger to take down Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader and the federal Labor government, they dare not dismount.

And ride a tiger long enough – it’s 10 years since then-senator Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott used climate change scepticism to roll Malcolm Turnbull as Opposition Leader and officially weaponise climate policy – it’s unsurprising to start believing it’s the natural thing to do. It’s the nature of echo chambers to be self-reinforcing.

The tragedy of the Murdoch echo chamber is that it has come to ensnare its readership as well as its editors. Coalition members and voters are the core of that readership

Tell a lie long enough and loud enough, many people will believe it. The ABC’s Media Watch last year demonstrated the point.

When The Australian printed a surprisingly straight report of the latest consensus climate concerns, readers’ comments were strongly critical of the story, but readers’ comments after a whacky denialist rave were strongly supportive. Murdoch media have been captured by the monster they created.

Any corporate culture left to its own devices tends to be self-perpetuating, personnel self-selecting. Teams form and, unless there’s wise leadership, become self-reinforcing; their outlook narrows.

A decade of climate denialism has had its way on the Murdoch stable. Now, when the effects of changed climate scorch the land, the Murdoch papers can still delight in publishing nonsense commentary.

The past year has seen an extraordinary number of Murdoch workers self-deselecting – David Speers, Malcolm Farr, Jon Kudelka, Dennis Atkins, Rick Morton, Anthony Klan, Scott Murdoch, Stephen Fitzpatrick and Ben Butler among them.

As Crikey reported: “The last dregs of objectivity were tossed out during the recent federal election, alienating many current and former Oz journalists. Morton told a UTS journalism student podcast that ‘there [has been] a real kind of mood that something has gone wrong” at the paper, and that “some of the craziness has been dialled up’.

“We know what the empire is, we know what the papers do, but something has changed in the last six months. I don’t know what it is. Death rattles or loss of relevance? And journos pretty much spend all day talking about it,” Morton said.

Tony Koch, winner of multiple Walkley Awards, had left The Australian building earlier, but in May he threw rocks through the windows, announcing he had cancelled his subscription for the paper after getting it for more than 30 years.

“It grieves me to hear that The Australian has become little more than a laughing stock,” he wrote. “That was not the case in past years. I must say that I was never in my years instructed to write an article, or not write an article, because it suited a political bent of a particular editor.

“The journalists are not to blame. Many have been friends of mine for decades and they share my disgust. Probably the most blatant example of bias and low-grade coverage is the employment of most of the columnists who appear weekly. Their observations are, in the main, predictable, weak, unresearched and juvenile.”

Well, not all the journalists are to blame. Many happily play along as part of the cozy relationship they enjoy with the Coalition government, serving as cheer squad and attack dogs.

Wayne Swan’s article was penned days after Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, fessed up to the weaponisation of climate policy for purely political ends. Swan quoted Credlin’s Sky News words:

“It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics …”

“Brutal retail politics” – that means whatever it takes to win, abandon all principles and damn the collateral damage, in this case the economic, environmental and social costs of third-rate domestic climate policy.

The Murdoch media climbed aboard, using all the various shades of climate change scepticism and denialism to back Minchin/Abbott, attack Turnbull and Labor and support Scott Morrison.

The campaign has been highly successful, making Australia one of only two major countries where action to limit climate change is a left-versus-right issue. Internationally, Australia works with the likes of Saudi Arabia and Brazil to sabotage necessary emissions reductions.

That’s the cost of Murdoch’s myrmidons installing the political leaders and governments of their master’s choice.

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