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Murdoch's News Corp Plays Both Sides of the Green Game

While Fox News promotes climate-change deniers, parent company News Corporation tries to look like a green-energy good guy.

"Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats," Rupert Murdoch declared in a 2007 speech announcing News Corp.'s new climate initiative. "We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can't afford the risk of inaction."

"We can do something that's unique, different from just any other company," said Murdoch. "We can set an example, and we can reach our audiences. Our audience's carbon footprint is 10,000 times bigger than ours.

"That's the carbon footprint we want to conquer."

Four years later, News Corp. has achieved its goal of carbon neutrality. Yet no media outlet in the United States does more to aggressively undermine climate science than Fox News. The network regularly distorts data, fabricates controversies, and smears climate experts. One of Fox's top editors has even ordered reporters to cast doubt on the basic fact that the planet is warming. And Sean Hannity has used his Fox show to tell viewers that global warming "doesn't exist."

The contrast between what News Corp.'s chairman says and what its employees actually do is a stark illustration of the company's attempt to play both sides of the climate issue.

When Murdoch launched his company-wide initiative to radically reduce News Corp.'s carbon footprint and combat climate change, one business expert said that it "could be one of the most brilliant strategic moves I've ever heard of."

With Fox News, explained Joe Priester of the University of Southern California, News Corp. had secured a lucrative spot with conservative consumers but had alienated those at the opposite end of the political spectrum. By launching its climate initiative, the company could make a play for more liberal consumers too.

But now Murdoch's attempt to promote -- and profit from -- contradictory messages on climate change could put News Corp. on a collision course with its green-conscious advertisers, as environmental organizations that have partnered with the company start to speak out on the damage being done by Fox News.

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Both Murdoch and his son -- heir-apparent James Murdoch, who has cultivated an image as an environmentally-savvy businessman -- have heralded the financial benefits of News Corp.'s climate initiative. The company's focus on energy efficiency has, they say, saved it millions of dollars while simultaneously cutting carbon emissions.

But News Corp.'s climate program -- officially named the " Global Energy Initiative" -- boosts its bottom line in another important way: it's very appealing to advertisers.

During his 2007 launch speech, Murdoch said the initiative was, in part, about "how we develop relationships with advertisers," later adding, "Our advertisers are asking us for ways to reach audiences on this issue."

Three years after Murdoch's kickoff event, Liba Rubenstein, the director of the initiative, made a similar case at a conference hosted by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "[W]e see great opportunity in incremental revenue from various companies who want to promote their own green practices on our platforms, and so it's important for us to be a legitimate platform for that, if they're going to spend their dollars with us," she told attendees.

There's an undeniable disconnect between the climate-activist image News Corp. promotes at a corporate level and the skepticism Fox News dishes out to audiences on a regular basis.

Successfully profiting off of both, therefore, requires some serious spin from corporate representatives.

In News Corp.'s annual report, shareholders are told Fox News is an "unstoppable" profit machine, with ever-increasing affiliate and advertising revenues, and a reach that spans "over 98 million Nielsen households."