In a long-simmering rift between factions of the Murdoch family over climate change, Rupert’s younger son, James, and his activist wife, Kathryn, are attacking the climate denialism promoted by News Corporation, the global media group, and also by the Fox News Channel overseen by James’ older brother, Lachlan.
“Kathryn and James’ views on climate are well established and their frustration with some of the News Corp and Fox coverage of the topic is also well known,” a spokesperson for the couple exclusively told The Daily Beast as wildfires rage in Australia.
“They are particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence to the contrary.”
The extraordinary public rebuke from Kathryn and James—who is the CEO of Lupa Systems, a private investment company he founded—comes as Australia has been ravaged by the worst fires seen in decades. The blazes have claimed 27 lives and destroyed thousands of properties across multiple states, with an estimated 1 billion animals feared dead. News Corp Australia dominates the country’s media landscape, publishing more than 140 newspapers and employing 3,000 journalists in print, broadcast, and online.
One longtime News Corp executive, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, described the comments by James, who continues to sit on the board of News Corporation, and Kathryn as an intentional attack on Lachlan and Rupert. “They are pissing inside the tent and that’s unusual. It’s evidence of how high tensions are within the family over climate change. The majority of people who work here agree with James. We are hoping this may be the tipping point,” the exec said.
Critics say Murdoch’s Australian newspapers and his television networks have continued to publish stories and opinion pieces that dismiss widely accepted science about climate change.
On Nov. 24, as fires were already burning in Australia, News Corp columnist Chris Kenny wrote in The Australian newspaper, “Hysterical efforts to blame the fires on climate change continue, even though we have always faced this threat and always will.”
A day later, News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt wrote in The Herald Sun: “Let’s assume you’re silly enough to think global warming is causing worse bushfires around the world. (In fact a recent NASA study found that the area burned by fire has dropped 24 percent over 18 years.)… True, the world has warmed slightly as it rebounds from the little ice age that stretched from 1300 to around 1870, but can we cool it on this panic? In that time of warming, life expectancy has shot up, world grain crops have set new records, and the death rate from extreme weather has been slashed by 99 percent.”
On Jan. 6 on Fox News, contributor Raymond Arroyo—speaking on The Ingraham Angle about Golden Globes winners warning about climate following the Australian fires—said, “They just arrested 12 people in Australia for those fires and they were blaming it on climate change. Wrong again!”
Two nights later, host Laura Ingraham referred to it as a “climate-change flameout” and said that “celebrities in the media have been pressing the narrative that the wildfires in Australia are caused by climate change” while again hosting Arroyo, who added: “This is incomplete reporting, Laura. Though Australia has had the highest temperatures on record—the driest season ever—it’s not correct to say climate change caused these wildfires.”
Other Murdoch family members were less forthcoming to share their views of News Corp’s coverage of climate change. When contacted by The Daily Beast, Elisabeth Murdoch hung up after being quizzed on the issue. In 2011, News Corp bought Elisabeth’s TV production company, Shine Group, for $673 million.
Wendi Deng, the mother of Murdoch’s two youngest daughters, Chloe and Grace—and who divorced Rupert in 2013—told The Daily Beast, “I can’t talk about this,” when reached by phone. Prudence Murdoch, Rupert’s first child, who resides in Australia, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
On Wednesday, The Daily Beast contacted a representative for Lachlan and Rupert requesting comment on James’ statement and asked about both men’s position on climate change but received no response. The Beast followed up with a query asking if Lachlan or Rupert planned on donating money to bushfire relief efforts.
Late Thursday, it was announced Lachlan and his wife, Sarah, had pledged $1.4 million (A$2 million) to bushfire recovery efforts.
Lachlan and Sarah recently splashed out $150 million on a mansion in Bel Air, California, the second most expensive residential property sale in the United States.
On Monday, News Corp announced that it will donate $3.5 million (A$5 million) to bushfire relief. Rupert, whose net worth is estimated by Bloomberg News to be in excess of $7 billion, and his wife, Jerry Hall, pledged $1.4 million (A$2 million).
“It is clear that confronting the bushfire disaster in Australia requires both an immediate response and an ongoing investment in rebuilding the lives and livelihoods of those most affected by the fires across the country,” Rupert said in a statement.
James and Kathryn have long been passionate about the environment and have both spoken publicly in the past about the dangers of climate change. In 2008, Kathryn joined the Clinton Climate Initiative and later served on the board of the Environmental Defense Fund. In 2014, the couple founded the Quadrivium Foundation, an organization that invests in a range of programs tackling issues that include electoral interference and climate change. “There hasn’t been a Republican answer on climate change,” Kathryn told The New York Times. “There’s just been denial and walking away from the problem. There needs to be one.”
After 21st Century Fox was sold to Disney for $71 billion last year, James used his $2 billion windfall from the sale to found Lupa Systems, a tech and media investment company that has thus far acquired stakes in Vice Media, the Tribeca Film Festival, and a comic-book publisher. Last year he told The New Yorker, “There are views I really disagree with on Fox.”
His father was forced to address the climate issue at News Corp’s annual general meeting in New York in November, following a question delivered via proxy from Australian shareholder activist Stephen Mayne.
The questioner asked, “What do you believe is the global role of News Corp in the geopolitical climate? If you do believe in climate change, Mr. Mayne is interested to hear why News Corp gives climate deniers like Andrew Bolt and Terry McCrann so much airtime in Australia?”
“There are no climate-change deniers around, I can assure you,” Murdoch Senior responded while also touting that the company had “reduced our global carbon footprint by 25 percent, six years ahead of schedule.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Mayne, a longtime Murdoch critic, said there were numerous examples of News Corp journalists and commentators who promote climate denialism in print and on air.
“Within the Australian division, there are individuals who are obsessed with climate-change denialism such as Andrew Bolt and Terry McCrann, both of whom are 30-year veterans of the company and are close to Rupert and Lachlan. The failure here is a failure to intervene to withdraw the green light for unhinged denialism within the Australian division,” he said.
“It entirely comes down to Rupert and Lachlan. They are equally conservative and fully on board with everything from Fox News to climate-change denialism.”
According to an account published by The New York Times, Lachlan was impressed by the way Bolt aggressively questioned Al Gore after he presented a slideshow on climate change at a News Corp retreat in California in 2006.
“Clearly, James was the one who persuaded his father in 2007 to embrace climate-change action, but his father doesn’t actually believe it and nor does Lachlan,” Mayne added.
“There’s been a long-term rivalry and disagreements between Lachlan and James, and Lachlan has won in a sense as he’s stayed and he’s a chip off the old block like his climate-denying dad,” he said.
Last week, a News Corp staffer based in Australia, Emily Townsend, sent a damning all-staff email addressed to News Corp Australia Executive Chairman Michael Miller.
“I have been severely impacted by the coverage of News Corp publications in relation to the fires, in particular the misinformation campaign that has tried to divert attention away from the real issue which is climate change to rather focus on arson (including misrepresenting facts),” she wrote.
“I find it unconscionable to continue working for this company, knowing I am contributing to the spread of climate-change denial and lies. The reporting I have witnessed in The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, and Herald Sun is not only irresponsible, but dangerous and damaging to our communities and beautiful planet that needs us more than ever to acknowledge the destruction we have caused and start doing something about it.” The email was quickly deleted from News Corp employees’ inboxes.
In response, Miller defended the companies’ coverage.
“News Corp stands by its coverage of the bushfires. The dedication and professionalism of our journalists and photographers have kept the community—particularly those Australians affected directly—informed and supported.
“We respect Ms. Townsend’s right to hold her views, but we do not agree with them.
“Our coverage has recognized that Australia is having a serious conversation about climate change and how to respond to it. However, it has also reflected there are a variety of views and opinions about the current fire crisis.”
A rep for News Corp didn’t respond to James and Kathryn’s remarks. A rep for Fox News declined to comment.
Mayne believes News Corp stands at a moment of reckoning, but it may be too late to correct course.
“We haven’t had this situation before of a massive disaster with the company being internationally slammed for climate denialism and a key family member calling out the appalling coverage in Australia,” he said.
“They are so all into a ‘do nothing’ position that they will look stupid if they pivot. It ultimately comes down to the family—it’s an internal dispute within the family. Rupert hates giving in to the left.”
On Saturday, The Australian, the company’s national masthead, printed an editorial defending the paper’s coverage and lashing out at competitors who have questioned its editorial stance.
“In our coverage, The Australian’s journalists report facts about how to tackle bushfires and about how to deal with the impact of climate change. Second, we host debates reflecting the political division that exists in Australia about how to address climate change without destroying our economy,” the editorial stated.
“However, our factual account of bushfires, climate change, and the remedies, as well as our editorial commentary on these issues, have been willfully and ineptly misrepresented by The New York Times and Guardian Australia as climate denial.”
—with additional reporting by Justin Baragona