Grist interviews Green Murdoch


question You’re known for making business-savvy decisions. What’s your bottom-line argument for your climate program?

answer Whatever it costs will be minimal compared to our overall revenues, and we’ll get that back many times over, by running a more efficient company and by growing morale among our employees. This program is a huge morale builder.

question What’s the business logic of weaving the climate issue into your content?

answer From what we see within our own company and from reading polls, the younger generation gets the issue of climate change completely. I think it will grow our appeal to younger audiences and bond our programming to them.

question What opportunities does it present from an advertising perspective?

answer There will be a lot of national and international marketers who will want to take advantage of the public mood around climate change. Car manufacturers are going to want to compete on fuel economy, for instance. It may not be the main thrust of their marketing, but we are certainly hearing from advertisers that they want to reach audiences on this issue.

question Can you give some examples of how you’ll infuse this issue into your programming?

answer Oh, the opportunities are endless. We own SPEED [a cable channel focused on cars and motor sports], for example — that’s got 60 or 70 million homes it goes into. We can get a lot of green programming in there. We’re going to encourage this effort among the writers on all of our entertainment programming, whether it’s sitcoms or movies or reality shows. Then there’s the online arena, where we have MySpace, where we’ve already launched a channel dedicated to climate change. MySpace has got 175 million profiles on it, and that represents huge reach among the grassroots.

question Do you worry that it will seem awkward to wedge the climate issue into your programming?

answer No, we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen that way. There’s got to be a certain degree of gradualism — it has to feel natural, it has to make sense. Can a hero drive a hybrid car? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But what about a biodiesel SUV?

question In your speech, you said, "We want to inspire people to change their behavior." Would you characterize this climate campaign as "activist media"?

answer There certainly is an activism element to it.

question Might that complicate expectations of journalistic objectivity?

answer We’re known for saying what we think in our newspapers. But this will in no way compromise journalistic independence. We’re not a monolithic organization. We have on all our media outlets lots of columns representing many different sides.

question But do you see Fox News and your newspaper outlets covering the climate issue differently as a result of this program?

answer Well, certainly giving it more attention. There will be more articles, more references, but the same broad range of opinions.

question You said in your speech, "The debate is shifting from whether climate change is really happening to how to solve it." Doesn’t that mean that the nature of the coverage would be changing, too?

answer Yes. I think when people see that 99 percent of scientists agree about the serious extent of global warming, it’s going to become a fact of life.

question Some of the commentators on Fox News have expressed skeptical views about climate science — take Sean Hannity, for instance, or Bill O’Reilly. Have you heard any reaction from them to this program, or any backlash within News Corp.?

answer I haven’t discussed it with them yet. And, no, I haven’t heard any talk about it. Probably Sean’s first reaction will be that this is some liberal cause or something, you know? But he’s a very reasonable, very intelligent man. He’ll see, he’ll understand it. As will Bill — he just likes to get debate going between people. And that has its benefits — someone says "No there isn’t," someone says "Yes there is," and they have it out for 10 minutes and it’s entertaining and creates more consciousness.

question You’ve been a longtime supporter of President Bush. What do you think of his climate strategy?

answer I’ve been a supporter and a critic of President Bush. I certainly supported his election. If you want my opinion, I think he’s a greenie at heart, but they keep having committees and talking about what they should do, in some cases instead of doing it. I think he’s a bad communicator; he should be getting out in front on this issue publicly.

But I think they’re doing a lot behind the scenes, with ethanol and corn, for instance. This administration has put a huge amount of funding going toward climate research, and doesn’t get any credit for it. It’s typical of Bush — I mean, he’s tripled or quadrupled the money going to Africa for AIDS, and you never hear him talk about it.

question Will you support, going forward, politicians who are trying to block action on climate change?

answer No. I think that that would be a litmus test, almost. If you had someone who is totally opposed to doing anything about climate change, I would oppose them.

question Would you want them to support a mandatory cap on carbon emissions?

answer I would agree with that, to an extent. We have to be careful not to make this country totally noncompetitive, because it would just throw tens of millions of people out of work. Or worse, cause us to have to write a lot of tariffs, which would throw tens of millions of people out of work in other countries.

question Do you have a favorite in the 2008 race?

answer I don’t know who’s sailing.

question No, I mean the presidential race.

answer Ah! I thought you were talking about the America’s Cup! [Laughs.] No, frankly I have fairly skeptical feelings about all of the candidates at the moment.

question What are you doing on a personal level to reduce your carbon footprint?

answer Well, I got a hybrid car, which is a Lexus. It’s a great car, but, I confess, I haven’t learned how to read the dashboard yet!

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