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A climate-conscious Fox Weather could leave audiences confused

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

It should come as no surprise that Rupert Murdoch likes to disrupt the media establishment. Think about how Fox brands have taken on CNN, CNBC and ESPN. Well, starting Monday, watch out, Weather Channel.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Fox Weather is coming.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox Weather promises mobile 3D radar and a bunch of other fancy tools.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: From the name that changed the way we watch news and sports comes the team taking weather coverage to the next level.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox also promises to rely on science and technology. But the team and the name give real pause to people who are experts in climate science. That's because Fox Weather is an offshoot of Fox News Media, and Fox News has a long history of dismissing, discrediting and discounting the threat of climate change. Behind the scenes, however, the Murdoch family, the controlling owners of Fox Corporation and its sister company, News Corp., have not only acknowledged the real-life impacts of climate change, but have adjusted their business practices in direct response, even becoming carbon neutral a decade ago in 2011.

Geoff Dembicki is an investigative climate reporter who wrote about this for Vice News recently, and he joins us now to discuss further. Geoff, thanks for being here.

GEOFF DEMBICKI: Yeah, thanks for having me on the show.

FOLKENFLIK: Geoff, full disclosure for our listeners, I've done a fair amount of reporting on the Murdochs, myself. And you and I have spoken precisely once before when you interviewed me for your piece in Vice News in which you broke real news about how things work behind the scenes. Having said that, the Murdoch media empire is vast, and it includes major news outlets like Fox News, the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal, as well as major media outlets in the U.K. and Australia. What's its record in covering climate change?

DEMBICKI: I mean, you could say charitably that it hasn't covered climate change in a very constructive way. And, in fact, to this day, outlets like Fox News continue to give an absolutely massive media platform to people who sometimes say that climate change is not real; it's not happening. Or it might give a platform to people who say the climate emergency is something we should be paying attention to, but extreme weather events such as hurricanes and wildfires are definitely not related to climate change.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox says it will follow the facts in the news when it comes to weather on Fox Weather, this new streaming service. Its executives acknowledge that climate change helps to shape extreme weather. From what you've learned, how credible is that promise?

DEMBICKI: I think that is credible. And the important thing to realize about Murdoch's media empire is that they not only acknowledge climate change at a corporate level, but they're really seen as industry leaders in it. And they've been tracking the company's carbon footprint for over 15 years. They've quantified the damages that extreme weather has done with some of their media properties. And they've taken big efforts to transition to things like renewable energy or even thought about how to relocate their offices away from areas that are exposed to climate risk. And so when Fox Weather says it's going to be taking the issue seriously and reporting on it in a fact-based way, I think that's a credible promise because that's the companywide level, that's exactly what they've been doing for well over a decade.

FOLKENFLIK: So why wouldn't they infuse that more into the news coverage that you see on Fox News, in the opinions that you see in the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, some of their big Australian papers?

DEMBICKI: I think, like, from a distance, it all seems pretty contradictory. But there's kind of like a simple, coherent strategy behind all of this, and that is, the company seems to do whatever will make it the most money in a given situation. And so, for example, when Fox News hosts climate denial, that's a business model. That helps attract viewers, and it's part of a range of opinions that have made Fox shows some of the highest watched on cable news. Then behind the scenes, switching to renewable energy just makes financial sense, and the company has said that that has saved the company tens of millions of dollars.

FOLKENFLIK: Your piece really reflects a Jekyll-and-Hyde dynamic in some ways. Tell us a couple of things that you learned that perhaps surprised you about the steps they had taken behind the scenes, whether to do better by the environment or, as you say, also to save significant money.

DEMBICKI: Yeah. And I should speak for a second about how I was able to find out some of this stuff. So when Rupert Murdoch announced in 2006 that he saw climate change as a serious issue, his company, News Corp., began filing disclosures about climate risks that it faces and what it's doing to fight climate change to an organization known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, or CDP, as it's known now. So News Corp. has been filing these reports - hundreds of pages each year - and the stuff that's in the reports, like you say, presents a very different picture than what viewers of its media outlets might see around climate change.

And so to just give you one example that really jumped out at me, around the time of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, there were Murdoch-owned media outlets that were running opinion pieces saying, there is absolutely no way that this hurricane is linked to climate change. People shouldn't be making that connection. It just doesn't make scientific sense. But in the disclosures that News Corp. was filing at this very time, the company was actually quantifying the financial damage that Sandy had caused to it in terms of delays and disruptions to its supply chain. And at the same time, these disclosures explicitly acknowledge that Sandy and other extreme weather events like that were linked to climate change.

FOLKENFLIK: We invited on top Fox Weather and Fox News executives to talk about this new venture, to talk about their approach. They said they were too busy as they prepare for Monday's launch, as did a few of their new top weather anchors and hosts. How have they reconciled this gap between their corporate positions and what their stars say publicly?

DEMBICKI: I don't think they've really reconciled it at all, to be honest. And when I was doing my reporting for Vice, I reached out to all sorts of different media outlets in the Murdoch empire, and I asked them this very question. And I didn't get a response to any of that. So I would be very fascinated to listen in on some of the conversations they're having internally, trying to reconcile all of these things.

FOLKENFLIK: We've been hearing from Geoff Dembicki. He's an investigative climate reporter who's a contributor to Vice News. His latest piece, titled "Rupert Murdoch Has Known We've Been In A Climate Emergency Since 2006, Documents Show." Geoff, thanks so much for joining us.

DEMBICKI: Yeah, thanks for having me on to discuss this. I really appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.