For Rupert Murdoch and Fox News, decades of climate denial aren’t nearly enough. With the planet rapidly warming and extreme weather events multiplying, Murdoch and Fox are set to launch Fox Weather, a new streaming platform aimed at competing with the Weather Channel and its digital offerings.
The topic area is ripe for a newcomer. Midway through the year, climate change is arguably the most important story of 2021; hurricane season is off to a record start, while temperatures in Portland, Oregon, hit 116 degrees only a week ago. “All the networks are ramping up for this,” Jay Sures, a TV executive at United Talent Agency told The New York Times. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that climate change and the environment will be the story of the next decade.” The network, per the Times, views weather coverage as “ripe for disruption” and is hoping to poach “a throng of meteorologists and weather data analysts.”
For Murdoch this is, as always, a business decision—albeit an unusually cynical one, given his media empire’s long history of propping up energy companies and climate-denying politicians. It’s also the latest example of Fox’s accelerating radicalization and destructive presence.
The role of Fox News in promoting climate denial has been well established for years. A 2019 Pew study found that “Republicans who watch Fox News are more than twice as likely to deny human-caused climate change than Republican non-viewers, and 62 percent of Republicans watch Fox News.” Pew’s data also “suggests that the presence of Fox News and other conservative media outlets may be the primary explanation for why climate denial is more prevalent in the United States than in other developed countries.” That data mirrored the findings of a 2013 study, which noted that consuming Fox News and Rush Limbaugh made Americans significantly less likely to trust scientists or believe in climate change.
The Murdoch empire’s coverage of climate change has played no small role in the fracturing of the Murdoch family. James Murdoch, Rupert’s younger son, resigned from News Corp’s board of directors; the split was believed to have been prompted by concerns about coverage of climate change, particularly in Australia, which had recently been devastated by wildfires. “Our board is open to any discussions, but James … he claimed that our papers had covered the bushfires in Australia without discussing climate change,” Rupert Murdoch told his company’s shareholders last fall. “We do not deny climate change, we’re not deniers.”
But Murdoch’s outlets, Fox very much included, regularly entertain climate deniers and constantly question climate science. Recently, Tucker Carlson suggested that climate scientists had an ulterior motive: shrinking your children. (Seriously!) Fox routinely suggests that journalists are overstating the danger of climate change, as it did in a recent segment about climate coverage on CNN. Fox News covers extreme weather events as weather—isolated, extreme examples—rather than as climate; it’s not hard to imagine how that myopic approach could influence its 24-hour weather coverage.
The silver lining is that Fox’s new network is relegated to streaming and will likely struggle to compete with the Weather Channel; Fox’s core demographic—old people—is, moreover, still locked to traditional TV. But the company’s decision to widen the scope of its weather coverage, even just on streaming platforms, could be bad for everyone. Fox News still drives much of the right-wing media ecosystem, and an increased focus on downplaying or denying climate change could broaden the spread of denialist rhetoric and misinformation within the conservative bubble and the Republican Party.
Fox’s decision to double down on weather coverage after years of climate denial is only the latest example of the network’s accelerating radicalism—a shift most apparent in its coverage of Covid-19 and Trump’s false voter-fraud claims. As Preston Padden, a former Murdoch executive, recently wrote in The Daily Beast, “things have gone badly off the tracks” at Fox News. “Fox News has caused many millions of Americans—most of them Republicans (as my wife and I were for 50 years)—to believe things that simply are not true,” Padden wrote.
Padden had, over the course of 2020, tried to persuade Murdoch to shift his flagship network’s coverage. “I am at a loss to understand why he will not change course,” he wrote. It’s not that hard to fathom, however: Fox is incredibly profitable; it has also faced—and seen off—real competition from its right for the first time over the past eight months. To remain in the black and prevent its audience from straying, it has adopted a simple course of action: grow more radical by the week. One can only hope its new weather platform fails to find an audience.