(LifeSiteNews) — Of the revolutionary hallmarks of the past decade in the West, one of the most shocking is this: The idea that a free press is indispensable to a healthy society is now up for debate.
While outright imprisonment of journalists remains taboo in places like the U.S., Canada and the U.K., censorship in these countries has been achieved with more subtle methods: Shadow banning, “fact-checking,” even ridicule during “comedy” shows. The aim is the same in every case: Suppress an idea after — or even before — it has caught fire.
Now, a new method of censorship is quietly gaining traction in the form of a “misinformation”-fighting company called NewsGuard, founded in 2018. Its methods are similar to fact-checking but with added muscle. The group rates media outlets for “reliability” and “transparency” with a score that translates into a label of (basically) “credible” or “unreliable.” A plug-in that can be purchased by an individual or institution then warns internet users about the so-called “unreliable” media sources.
A description of NewsGuard’s rating method explains that all of their nine allegedly “apolitical” criteria are pass-fail and grant a certain number of points out of 100. The most heavily weighted criteria are “does not repeatedly publish false content” (22 points) and “gathers and presents information responsibly,” (18 points) which requires that outlets “do not egregiously distort or misrepresent information to make an argument or report on a subject.”
Already, there is a fundamental problem with the company’s endeavor: Its assumption that it can appoint itself an all-knowing judge of fact is antithetical to authentic journalism and its very purpose.
A healthy society requires that organically emerging viewpoints can be publicly aired in tandem with each other, without one body imposing even the mere claim of authority above the rest. Institutions, including those with a public veneer of respectability, like NewsGuard, are too easily corrupted.
And short of full-on corruption, personal interests too easily cloud the judgment of even the most well meaning. Just as checks and balances are critical to helping to check U.S. government corruption, they are necessary to keep the truth flowing through the public arena.
Case in point: NewsGuard was forced to backtrack after making overconfident claims during the COVID-19 outbreak that the idea that the virus was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China was false, as The Epoch Times has pointed out.
As a result, “if a news outlet with a perfect score responsibly reported on the extensive circumstantial evidence indicating a lab leak, it ran the risk of NewsGuard decimating its score and falsely labeling it an ‘unreliable’ source,” the Times pointed out.
NewsGuard also maintains misleading “fact-checks” of claims surrounding COVID-19 mRNA shots. For example, it describes as a “myth” the claim that “A document on the FDA website shows that two participants died as a result of ‘serious adverse events’ from an experimental COVID-19 vaccine.” NewsGuard objects that the FDA “did not attribute those deaths to the vaccine.” Having noted that there were 21,000 who received the injection during a trial, NewsGuard is suggesting that there is virtually no danger of death from the mRNA shots.
Yet, a Pfizer document was released in April 2023 reporting that two babies died from premature delivery after their mothers were injected with the Pfizer COVID jab during a trial phase, describing the premature deliveries as “adverse events.” Pfizer also recorded 53 reports of “spontaneous abortion” during the trial, and there are tens of thousands of reports of death in the general population following COVID mRNA shots shared on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
It is noteworthy that NewsGuard does not address the Pfizer trial documents or the VAERS reports in its “special report” on “Top COVID-19 Vaccine Myths.” Instead, it blames “online misinformation” as “responsible for a 20% decrease in vaccine uptake across the states” in its 2022 “Misinformation White Paper.”
National security state ties
Even granting that there is a way to effectively take on the role NewsGuard assumes, a little digging reveals that it fails the most basic test of a media watchdog group, which requires, at the bare minimum, independence from the government and corporate interests.
The group’s ties to the national security state are not a matter of speculation. In 2021, the Department of Defense awarded NewsGuard $750,000 for its project “Misinformation Fingerprints,” which aims to combat what it calls “a catalogue of known hoaxes, falsehoods and misinformation narratives that are spreading online.”
A recent Epoch Times report also found that the company’s advisory board is crawling with high-level former government officials, including Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and the NSA, whom Mike Benz, former head of the digital desk at the State Department, has referred to as an “apex predator of the national security state.”
Other advisers to NewsGuard include former secretary-general of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen; the ﬁrst head of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge; former Clinton White House spokesman Don Baer; and former education secretary under the Obama administration, Arne Duncan, according to the Times.
Accordingly, NewsGuard supports as “credible” news that tends to support the U.S. government’s agenda, as well as that of the global World Economic Forum (WEF) (which promoted NewsGuard last year), which gathers together and influences many heads of state, business leaders, and mainstream media journalists.
Thus, NewsGuard favors pro-war and pro-Ukraine stances; reports supporting the “safety” of the COVID-19 vaccine are approved, and those questioning its safety are penalized, as are reports criticizing lockdowns.
While the Media Research Center (MRC) has shown that NewsGuard gave left-leaning outlets scores 25 points higher on average than right-leaning outlets in 2022, Benz has rightly noted that NewsGuard doesn’t so much have a bias against conservatives as it does against anti-establishment stances.
In its 2022 “Misinformation White Paper,” NewsGuard alluded to the fact that stances questioning establishment positions lend to poor ratings, writing that “a large number of NewsGuard red-rated sites during the German Federal Election in 2021” were “proliferating anti-vaccination, anti-lockdown, and anti-climate protection content … ”
The conservative media organization PragerU has also told The Epoch Times that it was asked by NewsGuard “to stop criticizing the COVID-19 lockdown policies, stop questioning the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines, and “stop talking about any COVID-19 treatments not endorsed by the government” as a condition of having its red label lifted.
The nature of the questions underlying NewsGuard’s critiques, such as whether public spaces should be locked down during a viral outbreak, brings to light another big problem with NewsGuard’s efforts to monitor the “credibility” of media reports.
Dictating ‘Correct Values’ is an impossible endeavor
What clinches NewsGuard’s untenability is that it attempts to exercise judgment not just about facts but about values and matters of philosophical difference.
Opposition to the lockdowns, for example, is not necessarily a function of how dangerous one believed the COVID-19 virus to be, that is, one’s acceptance of the “raw facts.” It really comes down to a matter of priorities. One can believe a virus has lethal danger but maintain that freedom and mental health needs served by open restaurants, parks and churches, for example, should not be sacrificed to slow or “stop” the spread of the virus.
Similarly, one may believe that climate change is real and detrimental to the earth, but that it should be met with voluntary measures on the part of individuals and businesses, as opposed to coerced business shutdowns or energy reduction or reduced production.
Or people may hold varying beliefs as to how much death and injury caused by a vaccine is enough to have it labeled “unsafe.”
While this “philosophical” difference does seem to play a role in NewsGuards’ assessments, the fundamental problem remains that they disrespect the importance of being able to debate “just the facts.”
In fact, they punish simply sharing primary-source facts when doing so may put the government in a less-than-favorable light. This is shown by the remarkable fact that they have given the website Wikileaks, which simply publishes documents — many of them classified — a “fail” grade, even while they’ve admitted its overall accuracy in publishing.
NewsGuard openly admitted to Wikileaks’ accuracy in 2019 on Twitter but persists in giving the site a fail grade due to “lack of transparency,” according to RationalWiki, despite its whistleblower sources’ obvious need for anonymity.
How NewsGuard pushes its doctrine
NewsGuard is primarily pitched for use by entire institutions, such as schools and libraries, triggering an alert when a user comes across a badly rated site, warning, “Proceed with caution. This website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability.”
Their tools are increasingly invading institutions of learning, according to co-founder Steven Brill, who shared in a 2022 press release that NewsGuard’s reliability ratings tool is used in over 800 public libraries, “where 7 million public library patrons use NewsGuard when they go to the library for their broadband access,” as well as “dozens of public schools and universities [and] independent schools.”
The American Federation of Teachers has also subscribed its 1.7 million members to NewsGuard. This kind of strategic placement will especially affect our youth, who have little to no experience that would cause them to question NewsGuard.
NewsGuard threatens to become even more pervasive due to its partnership with Microsoft. Its “credibility” warning already looms over internet searches on Microsoft’s Edge browser on iOS and Android mobile phones, in which its plug-in is installed by default. The company also reportedly may automatically flag sites in the U.K., with major British broadband providers considering incorporating the tool into internet service there.
NewsGuard is also working to help defund offending media outlets through pressure on top ad agencies, with which it has “cultivated aﬃliations, partnerships, or licensing agreements,” The Epoch Times noted. This includes Publicis Groupe, the world’s third-largest ad agency and NewsGuard’s top corporate investor.
NewsGuard signals to these ad agencies which media outlets are “unsafe” to advertise on. On its website, it openly declares “misinformation about topics like health, election integrity, politics and war” to be a threat to so-called “brand safety” for companies advertising on media outlets.
The danger this poses to businesses is considerable enough to have motivated Florida Chief Financial Oﬃcer Jimmy Patronis to send a letter to NewsGuard in March threatening to “use the full force” of his oﬃce “to shed light on the organization.”
“They’re telegraphing, ‘You need to act more like The New York Times or NPR, and if you’re not, then you’ll receive a poor grade and then your advertising will dry up,’” he told The Epoch Times, later adding that the company is “literally trying to discredit somebody through a scoring system in order to hurt them ﬁnancially.”
In March, U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz called for an investigation into the company, openly troubled by its financial sway over media outlets.
“What I’m used to in this town is government officials pick their favorite outlets and they give them the best scoops and they give them the best stories, and there’s a fusion of media and government that has long made me uncomfortable,” Gaetz said after a hearing on the “Twitter Files” showing government interference in information exposure on Twitter.
“But what you’re describing now is literally the directing of revenue to certain media companies over other media companies, designed and implemented with US government funding and support.”
He then tweeted, “Newsguard is a US government-backed entity that literally drives ad revenue away from media companies to other media companies that are considered more ‘favorable.’ The Weaponization Subcommittee must investigate NewsGuard!”
Fighting for the truth
NewsGuard is only just getting started. If it increasingly permeates places like universities and high schools, follows through with deals with broadband providers, and maintains influence over top ad agencies, it will expand its sway over the minds of citizens across the world, including in Europe, where it plans to launch in Germany, Italy, and France in addition to the U.K.
Its expansion could have an exponential impact. If there is even just a perception that certain news outlets are considered to be “officially” discredited, people who hold anti-establishment, alternative views may be persuaded to keep silent about their viewpoints for fear of being labeled wacky or considered unreliable themselves.
Many will feel they have no reason to question the credibility of an organization like NewsGuard, particularly if it happens to largely align with their worldview. And there will always be a sizable number of people who don’t have the time, energy or will to investigate issues for themselves or even consider alternative points of view.
Those committed to the truth must be unafraid to speak up, and we must equip ourselves with our very best cogent arguments for the truth. With enough momentum, we can turn the tables on the establishment, to the point that it is common knowledge that they are the “unreliable” sources. We are not far off from that point.