• House Probes NewsGuard’s ‘Fact-checking’ Operations, Citing Federal Funding

    June 19, 2024
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    Rep. James Comer, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, last week launched an investigation into the fact-checking firm to examine the impact of NewsGuard on protected First Amendment speech.

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    by Michael Nevradakis, Ph.D.

    NewsGuard, a “fact-checking” firm that provides “journalist-produced ratings and ‘Nutrition Labels’ for thousands of news and information websites” to advertisers hoping to steer clear of sites that publish “misinformation,” is under congressional scrutiny for its practices.

    Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Accountability, last week launched an investigation into the fact-checking firm, a recipient of federal funding.

    The probe will examine “the impact of NewsGuard on protected First Amendment speech and its potential to serve as a non-transparent agent of censorship campaigns,” the committee said.

    In a letter to NewsGuard co-CEOs Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, Comer highlighted federal funding NewsGuard received “and possible actions being taken to suppress accurate information.”

    The letter also questions the potential political bias of NewsGuard’s editorial team.

    OD) in 2021 awarded a contract to NewsGuard. The contract raises questions about the involvement of federal agencies in potential censorship campaigns, according to Comer’s letter.

    The $749,387 contract was directed to NewsGuard’s “Misinformation Fingerprints” database. According to NewsGuard, the database is “a catalogue of known hoaxes, falsehoods and misinformation narratives that are spreading online.”

    The DOD funding led The Federalist, in a November 2023 article, to report that “NewsGuard is selling its government-funded censorship tool to private companies.”

    Also in November 2023, Lee Fang, one of the journalists involved with the “Twitter Files” release called NewsGuard a “surrogate the Feds pay to keep watch on the Internet and be a judge of the truth.”

    Although not mentioned in Comer’s letter, other federal agencies also provided support to NewsGuard.

    For example, an August 2020 NewsGuard press release states the firm won a “Pentagon-State Department contest for detecting COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation.”

    The contest, known as the Countering Disinformation Challenge, sought “to offer solutions to hoaxes related to the COVID-19 pandemic” by helping the U.S. Department of State and the DOD “evaluate disinformation narrative themes in near real time” and to flag “hoaxes, narratives, and sources of disinformation as they emerge.”

    NewsGuard, which received $25,000 as part of the contest, worked with the State Department’s Global Engagement Center “to scope and develop a test in support of the DoD’s Cyber National Mission Force.’’

    According to a March 2023 “Twitter Files” release, Twitter — now known as X — worked with the Global Engagement Center to brand numerous accounts that posted “legitimate and accurate COVID-19 updates” but which “attacked” U.S. and European politicians as “Russia-linked.”

    In December 2023, the State of Texas, The Daily Wire, The Federalist and the New Civil Liberties Alliance sued the State Department, alleging it was using and promoting technology intended to “covertly suppress speech of a segment of the American press.”

    In May, a federal judge rejected the State Department’s efforts to dismiss the case.

    The Countering Disinformation Challenge also “stressed the need for identifying hoaxes and misinformation in advance — what NewsGuard calls its ‘prebunking’ of hoaxes.”

    Twitter began employing the pre-bunking strategy in 2022 before Elon Musk bought the platform.

    According to The Daily Wire, one of the “hoaxes” NewsGuard helped the State Department identify “was that COVID might have come from a Chinese lab, a scenario now viewed by U.S. agencies to be likely.”

    Bill Rice Jr. is a freelance journalist and blogger who investigated NewsGuard’s operations. He told The Defender, “Four years into our new abnormal, nothing should surprise me.” Yet, he said NewsGuard’s collaboration with government agencies “stuns” him, describing it as “a new level of brazen.”

    Although not mentioned in Comer’s letter, NewsGuard also collaborated with the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), authors of the so-called “Disinformation Dozen” list, which includes Robert F. Kennedy Jr., chairman on leave of Children’s Health Defense (CHD). CCDH’s sources of funding have been called into question.

    Journalist Paul D. Thacker has investigated CCDH for The Disinformation Chronicle. He told The Defender that groups like CCDH and NewsGuard “always censor people on the left and conservatives because their job is to enforce center-left ‘conventional wisdom.’”

    Jeffrey Tucker, president and founder of the Brownstone Institute, agreed. He told The Defender that such groups “are there to censor us … to discredit us, basically. That’s their power, and that’s supposed to make me afraid.”

    “These groups work together in a layering fashion, confirming and supporting each other in a web of nonsense,” Thacker said. “These groups add nothing to public discourse except shutting down journalism and silencing people from voicing an opinion. Society doesn’t need hall monitors telling us where we can and cannot go.”

    Writing on Substack, Rice noted that NewsGuard has not created “Nutrition Labels” for agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization (WHO), or for figures such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, even after many of their COVID-19-related pronouncements have been proven false.

    NewsGuard already had ‘agenda and conclusion’ when reviewing sites

    According to Comer’s letter, news outlets have noted frustrations about interactions with NewsGuard representatives over exchanges they “perceive as aiming to suppress information that may challenge widely held views but is not itself inaccurate.”

    The letter cited a March 2022 Daily Sceptic article summarizing a Johns Hopkins meta-analysis finding that COVID-19 lockdowns were unnecessary and harmful.

    According to the letter, NewsGuard took issue with the story. The Daily Sceptic addressed specific NewsGuard criticisms, but NewsGuard then “reportedly expressed that only retraction would address its concerns” and “subsequently lowered the outlet’s reliability rating shared with advertisers after the outlet chose to stand by its published story on the study.”

    Tucker told The Defender he has had similar interactions with NewsGuard:

    “NewsGuard has been a constant and censorious annoyance from the very beginning of our operations. At first, I attempted to engage earnestly. I spent hours on the phone with their reporters and researchers and attempted to answer every inquiry. I did this because Brownstone strongly believes in accuracy and truth, whatever it is. So of course, I believed we would pass whatever tests they offered up.

    “Over time, it became very clear that they already had their agenda and conclusion. There never really was a point to wasting an instant of time with this organization.”

    Tucker referred to NewsGuard and other “fact-checking” sites as “the shallow state.”

    “They appear to be these objective organizations that are trying to clean up the internet for misinformation. But then it turns out they’ve got their own sources of funding, and they’ve got strong biases, and their purpose is censorship. That’s their goal. It’s surreptitious censorship, as you know. That’s all they’re about,” he said.

    In September 2021, NewsGuard announced it found “more than 500 ‘news’ sites peddling COVID-19 misinformation,” including CHD, in this list. NewsGuard’s statement included praise from a WHO official for “NewsGuard’s tireless efforts to reveal sources of misinformation online.”

    ‘Who is funding NewsGuard?’

    Comer’s letter also addressed concerns about NewsGuard’s most significant corporate backer,” Publicis Groupe, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. According to the letter, “NewsGuard markets its analytical services to businesses … who direct the advertising buys that provide financial support for much of the news media,” even as Publicis “is itself an advertising holding company.”

    “From the beginning, it was ludicrous to think that a ‘fact-checking’ company could be trusted when they are funded by Publicis Groupe, one of the largest PR firms on the planet,” Thacker said. Publicis clients include Burger King, Nestlé, Heineken, auto companies and banks, Thacker said.

    “What do you think NewsGuard is going to promote: truth, or messaging for these corporations?” Thacker asked.

    In his letter, Comer demanded NewsGuard turn over “Complete versions of all current and past contracts with government entities,” “records of all disciplinary or corrective actions” related to staff violations of its own editorial policy, “policy documents and guidance on managing conflicts of interest related to its investors and other outside influences,” and all documents or data “on corrections, retractions, or the changes to news or opinion articles … associated with inquiries made by NewsGuard.”

    Some journalists believe Comer’s letter does not go far enough.

    “I would have asked for all financial support over their entire existence, as well as all records involving outreach for financial support,” Thacker said. “I want to know what they are offering sponsors.”

    “Follow the money. Who is funding NewsGuard? Also, someone needs to show all the claims of NewsGuard that were and are preposterous,” Rice said.

    They also called for Comer’s investigation to lead to drastic action.

    “If this company is intentionally trying to harm companies or citizens who are practicing free speech, criminal and civil charges should be brought against this company,” Rice said.

    “I don’t care whether they offer censorship programs for industry or governments. These groups are dangerous and need to be shut down,” Thacker said.

    The Defender on occasion posts content related to Children’s Health Defense’s nonprofit mission that features Mr. Kennedy’s views on the issues CHD and The Defender regularly cover. In keeping with Federal Election Commission rules, this content does not represent an endorsement of Mr. Kennedy, who is on leave from CHD and is running as an independent for president of the U.S.

    Michael Nevradakis, Ph.D., based in Athens, Greece, is a senior reporter for The Defender and part of the rotation of hosts for CHD.TV's "Good Morning CHD."

    “© [Article Date] Children’s Health Defense, Inc. This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of Children’s Health Defense, Inc. Want to learn more from Children’s Health Defense? Sign up for free news and updates from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the Children’s Health Defense. Your donation will help to support us in our efforts.


    CDM Staff

    The mission at Creative Destruction Media is to be the catalyst for the "process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one."
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