The Fox News Effect

Anne H. Ehrlich, Paul R. Ehrlich | September 12, 2018 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Fox News in lights

Join Paul and Anne Ehrlich on Thursday, September 20th at 5pm PT/8pm ET for a Live Webinar to discuss The Fox News Effect and its significant impact on discourse and politics worldwide.  Register for the webinar here.

“One of the most remarkable threats to watercourses in the United States are concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). For example, thousands of swine are often confined in a small area and their feces collected in big ponds. Fermentation can lead to geysers in the mess, and occasionally retaining dams will break. In 1995 a CAFO caused what was up until then the largest environmental spill in the history of the nation—more than twice that of the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill. A North Carolina hog manure lagoon ruptured and released nearly 100 million liters (26 million gallons) of effluvium into the New River. It killed every living creature in the river, including fish by the millions. The feces also breed microbes that produce neurotoxins that can disorient people exposed to the floods of pig feces—a phenomenon known technically as the “Fox News Effect.[1]”.

Fox News’s stream of lies and misinformation flows not from a literal hog toilet but from its political equivalent.  Its source is Rupert Murdoch’s ignorant right-wing propaganda complex which includes newspaper outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, The Australian, The New York Post, many cable channels, Twentieth Century Fox films, Dow Jones, and on and on.  Fox “News” television is the loathsome standard-bearer of the far right’s global crime family and a center of systematic lying[2] as well as sexual harassment[3]. Murdoch’s single greatest win in the right’s war on civilization was the election of Donald J. Trump and the empowerment of Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions, Ryan Zinke, Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos, and other incompetents who stocked the Republican kakistocracy now working hard to convert the United States to a polity where corporate money overrides everything – even the survival of civilization.

In this time of existential threats, this is especially clear in Trump’s policy of expunging scientific information and advice from the U.S. government and strong campaigns against environmental and public health regulations, pushed by the Murdoch gang, to make those threats ever stronger. Murdoch himself played a huge role in stopping Australia from taking needed action on climate disruption.[4]

Rolling Stone said Murdoch and his NewsCorp empire of falsehoods “have become the nation’s leading source of disinformation about climate change.” That may not do justice to the man whose media empire is also Australia’s leading source of climate disinformation and a top source of disinformation in England. A 2014 survey of public opinions on climate change in 20 countries found the top three countries with the most climate denial were, in order, the United States, Great Britain and Australia. Quelle coïncidence!” [5]

Especially depressing examples of the Fox News Effect are the Murdochian screeds now being produced that shamelessly attempt to fool people into thinking there is no population-consumption problem; the evidence in extensive comments on those screeds shows that much of the public is so uneducated and unfamiliar with math that they are easily conned.  A recent example attacking the idea that population growth is an important element in the environmental crisis was penned by one William McGurn, an editorial writer for Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.  McGurn was ignorant enough to base much of his commentary on the claims of a specialist in mail-order marketing, Julian Simon.

Simon’s “expertise” can be judged by anyone who can do arithmetic from his statement: “We now have in our hands—in our libraries, really—the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next 7 billion years.”[6] In 1994 when Simon made that statement, the world population was about 5.6 billion and increasing by about 1.6 percent per year. A bit of arithmetic reveals that at such a population growth rate it would take only 774 years (not 7 billion) for the world population to increase to a size where there were ten human beings for each square meter of ice-free land on the planet. At the 1994 growth rate, in only 1900 years the mass of the human population would be equal to the mass of the Earth; and after 6000 years (not 7 billion), the mass of the human population would equal the mass of the universe.  Simon was a great pioneer of the “alternative facts” that emanate from Fox “News.”

The Fox News Effect streaming from the Wall Street Journal on population-environment issues was attested to by its neurotoxic influence on many of the hundreds who commented on the McGurn nonsense.  But that effect was recently more than equaled from Murdoch’s right-wing rag in Oz, The Australian.  There, Caroline Overington, a journalist, fiction writer (where her talents clearly lie), and associate editor, wrote an attack on us with the interesting title, “If the world’s not perfect it comes pretty close”[7].  Like most anti-environmentalists, Overington is not long on facts or research.  She claimed that “the world population has increased from three billion people when Ehrlich wrote his book to 7.5 billion now, and we’re feeding pretty much all of them.” Pretty much all of them?

That’s not what the FAO says.  “In 2016 the number of chronically undernourished people in the world is estimated to have increased to 815 million, up from 777 million in 2015 although still down from about 900 million in 2000. After a prolonged decline, this recent increase could signal a reversal of trends. The food security situation has worsened in particular in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, South-Eastern Asia and Western Asia, and deteriorations have been observed most notably in situations of conflict and conflict combined with droughts or floods.  The apparent halt to declining hunger numbers is not yet reflected in the prevalence of child stunting, which continues to fall, though the pace of improvement is slower in some regions.” [8] Contrary to the Fox News Effect more than twice as many people as live in the U.S. are hungry. But that’s not all.  “More than 2 billion people in the world today may be affected by micronutrient malnutrition. Vitamin A deficiency, iron deficiency anemia and iodine deficiency disorders are its most common types, and they are found globally although people in poor nations suffer the most severe problems.”[9]

But aside from her tendency to minimize the suffering of a few billion people, overall Overington’s unseemly flood is basically the hackneyed old denier and “new optimist” [Pinker, 2018 #10699] claim: because life expectancies have increased as have conventional measures of standard of living, all is well.  No consideration is given to how much longer life expectancies and how much greater human well-being might be if there were only two billion people on the planet; no calculation is offered of the depletion of humanity’s natural capital.  She does not mention the costs future generations likely will pay because of that depletion to service today’s gigantic population and the overwhelming consumption by a minor rich portion of humanity.  Of course, Overington doesn’t discuss whether length of life necessarily is a good measure of quality of life, or of the impacts of great inequity on that quality.  She gives no consideration of the clear fact that today’s material super-prosperity for a minority of human beings has been built on humanity’s wrecking of its own life-support systems, a destruction mainly fashioned on a one-time bonanza of fossil fuels (to say nothing of slavery).  Is Overington taking the results of a one-time resource bonanza as indicative of a long-term trend, despite the insane growth mania at the center of today’s civilization?  Will human lives get ever better as there are more and more people each consuming ever more?

A quarter of a century ago, more than 1700 independent scientists “proclaimed that fundamental changes were urgently needed to avoid the consequences our present course would bring.” The authors of the 1992 declara­tion feared that humanity was pushing Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capac­ity to support the web of life. They described how we are fast approach­ing many of the limits of what the biosphere can tolerate without substantial and irreversible harm. The scientists pleaded that we stabi­lize the human population, describing how our large numbers—swelled by another 2 billion people since 1992, a 35 percent increase—exert stresses on Earth that can overwhelm other efforts to realize a sustainable future. They implored that we cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emis­sions and phase out fossil fuels, reduce deforestation, and reverse the trend of collapsing biodiversity.”

Twenty-five years later, more than 15,000 scientist reevaluated the situation and concluded  “By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.”[10]  Is it possible that more than 15,000 other scientists know things that have somehow escaped Ms. Overington’s notice?

Perhaps even more important, Overington doesn’t consider the socio-political costs now appearing in her “near perfect world.”  She ignores, for example, Trump’s Nazification of U.S. politics, and his successful wars on women, African Americans, Hispanics, science, and the environment.  Rupert Murdoch enables her, Trump, and the other generators of the Fox News Effect.  If civilization survives his name will live in infamy.


Can anything be done to improve the chances of survival?  If there is, now’s the time.  The government of the United States, the most powerful nation, is pushing humanity down a suicidal path.  In this election year there may be the last chance to change its course.  I won’t go through here all the obvious necessary changes to avert environmental and/or socio-economic catastrophe.  We must focus on the first step – removing from power the madmen now in charge.  The efforts of civil society must be focused on the immediate, critical goal of taking back the Congress in the 2018 elections– not just the House but the Senate too.  Trump’s infesting of the judiciary with far-right ideologues has already gone much too far.  The fate of the United States and, we are afraid, of civilization truly now rests with the people.

The MAHB will be hosting a live webinar with Paul and Anne Ehrlich on Thursday, September 20th at 5pm PT/8pm ET. Join us in discussing the significant effects from this phenomenon and its potential impact on future elections. Register for the webinar here.  


The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to

[1] Bradshaw C, Ehrlich PR. 2015. Killing the Koala and Poisoning the Prairie: Australia, America, and the Environment. University of Chicago Press.





[6]  Ehrlich PR, Ehrlich AH. 1996. Betrayal of Science and Reason: How  Anti-Environmental Rhetoric Threatens Our Future. Island Press.

[7] Overington C. 2018. If the world’s not perfect it comes pretty close•         The Australian

[8] FAO I, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. . 2017. The state of food security and nutrition in the world: 2017.


[10]  Ripple WJ, Wolf C, Newsome TM, Galetti M, Alamgir M, Crist E, Mahmoud MI, Laurance WF. 2017. World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. BioScience 67:1026-1028.

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The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.
  • Mike Hanauer

    I’m not a fan of Fox, but if your (our) thing is to ever see discussion of authentic sustainability on a global, national or local scale, the media in general is not our friend — liberal or conservative. The only possible exception I have seen is The Guardian.

  • Penman

    In the late 1990s Mr. Murdoch was given an award by Pope John Paul II, soon to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, if he already hasn’t.

    I say this to suggest that issues with science, especially science associated with climate change and population control, go much deeper into our “civilization” than a Murdoch owned news station. It took 300 years for the Church to apologize for its prosecution of Galileo. But it still refuses to apologies for the murder of Giordano Bruno, whose crime was believing that the sun was the center of the solar system, which includes multiple worlds. For opposition to science in general, population control, or climate change, we need look no further than the conservative dogmas of local neighborhood churches — a general problem for our civilization that goes beyond a simplistic criticism of a news station.

    I know the authors of this piece are renowned and revered. But the argument in this piece is too simplistic and selective.

    At present, the best place to get news about what’s going on in America is Fox News at Noon, 3pm, and 8pm, Pacific Standard Time. Other stations are simply unwatchable. Trump Derangement Syndrome is all-too-rampant in the country, obstructing all reasonable and rational discussion of policy issues. The fact that it is becoming more evident that the National Security State essentially participated in an effort to get a duly elected president impeached by illegal means poses ipso facto an existential threat to our great Democracy.

    I reject those on Fox News who oppose birth control and abortion — noting that nearly all those are committed Roman Catholics with access to a microphone and a television camera. As a student of astrophysics, I think that there is a lot more to climate change than human causation, though we must control our pollution that contributes to it. Indeed, the USA has done more to control harmful omissions than any other country, whereas a country like China is the absolute worse contributor to pollutions. (By the way, I would be the rupture of the hog manure lagoon probably occurred during a hurricane or tropical storm. By happenstance, we face similar threat this weekend, with the arrival of Hurricane Florence to the Carolinas, where there are a lot of inland hog farms.)

    Now I know reader may not like reading this. Well, I’ve been a Democrat all my life. I’ve attended a Democrat National Convention where I served on the campaign staff of a sitting Democratic Vice President. So I believe I have an equal right comment on this subject, which with all due respect and deference to its authors, is nothing but a superficial, simplistic piece of propaganda which cannot be accepted on its face.

    • Justin Pickering

      “At present, the best place to get news about what’s going on in America is Fox News at Noon, 3pm, and 8pm, Pacific Standard Time. Other stations are simply unwatchable.”

      That sentence made your comment unreadable. How can you bring yourself to say this?!

      There’s a spot for you on the ground in front of Trump’s throne where the dogs lap up scraps from the master’s table.

      Plus, anyone getting their news from ONLY television and ONLY from American news sources in 2018 is a woefully under-informed human being.

      And you claim to be a Democrat? No modern Democrat I’ve ever met would endorse Fox News let alone use the word “best” to describe it so, you’re either a:

      Russian troll

      Trump propagandist trying to bait and switch your reader into feeling insecurity about his own opinion that Fox News is indeed filmed in Satan’s butthole

      an incredibly self-deluded Baby Boomer ex-hippy who just wants the world to be “fair”

      or someone who just has trouble seeing clearly…

      Fox News is “best” for one thing: IGNORING.

      • Penman

        Sir, your remark, “That sentence made your comment unreadable,” is a clear manifestation of irrationality and a locked mind. Of course, a directed insult to me. It’s also a sign that you haven’t spent any time in the last 18 months to review those time slots to gage the quality of the news there.

        When I was a graduate student working in a paper on rationality, I worked nights in a psychiatric hospital on wards with men, women, and criminals. One characteristic of their pathologies is that they could not reason beyond what their locked minds allowed in. This particular pattern exists in today’s American political culture, alas.

        Естественно, я изучал русский язык.

        Mais je connais aussi le Français et six autres langues.

        If you want to live your life insulting everyone you meet who disagrees with you, Good Luck to you. Have a happy life … as you contribute to the ruination of what America is all about. You clearly are not wise enough to comprehend what America means, and you reject American values, dishonoring those who went before, and especially those who died in the effort, to make a better world for you.

  • Rob Harding

    I’m sharing here what I also shared in response on Twitter.

    I must offer one rebuttal, which is that Fox News has been one of the only news outlets discussing immigration-fueled Ponzi demography. For example, Tucker Carlson interviewed Phil Cafaro in 2017 ( and Michael Anton earlier this year (

    We all know that Ponzi demography is harmful and unsustainable, yet support for it remains prevalent and largely unquestioned across the political spectrum. It should be rejected.

    As Paul Ehrlich and Corey Bradshaw wrote in their book “Killing the Koala and Poisoning the Prairie” (
    1. “Further population growth in super-consuming nations is super-dangerous”. (pg. 112)
    2. “…an additional 80 million Americans by 2050 will enormously add to the already monumental US assault on the planetary systems that support humanity.” (pg. 112)


  • Geoffrey Holland

    The FCC has rules for how the public airwaves are used by broadcasters. How is it possible that the Fox network is allowed to use its license to sell a corrosive alternate reality to its easily manipulated audience? The bilge that Fox presents as news amounts to empty calories that have little or no connection with reality. Fake news is the primary product of the Murdoch empire. All designed to advance the agenda of Fox’s real customers; namely bankers, billionaires, and big business, who care only about profit and power. The false narrative Fox continues to sell its audience has much to do with our current political situation. The obvious antidote is to vote out the politicians that enable Fox in November. Make Murdoch accountable for the Fake news that he broadcasts every single day.

    • Justin Pickering

      “Make Murdoch accountable for the Fake news that he broadcasts every single day.”

      How about let him spend the rest of his days in jail and redistribute his money to the poor, assuring his living relatives get nothing? I’d be cool with that.