Legal expert Margot Cleveland, writing for THE FEDERALIST, has turned her sights on new revelations from the “Twitter Files,” including the participation of another government-paid censorship entity --- this one a for-profit company --- called NewsGuard.
We’ve been reporting for some time on two “non-partisan” (ha) organizations, the State Department’s Global Engagement Center and the Britain-based, Soros-funded nonprofit Global Disinformation Index, which were working as go-betweens between government agencies and Big Tech. Here’s an update from NEWSMAX on those two, from earlier this month.
But now we’re told of another one, called NewsGuard, which Matt Taibbi mentioned in passing last week in his testimony before the House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
“Some NGOs [non-governmental organizations] like the GEC-funded Global Disinformation Index or the DoD-funded NewsGuard, not only seek content moderation but also apply subjective ‘risk’ or ‘reliability’ scores to media outlets, which can result in reduction in revenue,” Taibbi testified.
So, just as the State Department paid GDI, so the Defense Department paid NewsGuard. Why shouldn’t everybody get into the act? As NEWSMAX reported, government records show a purchase order from the DoD in the amount of $749, 387 with the recipient listed as NewsGuard Technologies, Inc. They specify a start date of September 7, 2021, and an end date of December 8, 2022. (That period does happen to coincide with the election season for the 2022 midterms.)
NewsGuard, a for-profit company, was founded in 2018 by Steve Brill, described by NEWSMAX as “a longtime and prolific Democratic Party supporter, including having made donations to former Presidents Barack Obama [and] Bill Clinton, and Chuck Schumer.”
NewsGuard --- just like the GDI, which put us on their “blacklist” (too bad we didn’t make their Top Ten) --- negatively rates leading conservative outlets such as WASHINGTON TIMES, NEWSMAX, BREITBART, THE FEDERALIST, EPOCH TIMES, REDSTATE, PRAGER U, DAILY WIRE, and others. They supply credibility ratings on news and information outlets to advertisers, agencies and other businesses, claiming to provide “online safety...while promoting safety for readers, brands and democracy.”
That’s right, we American consumers --- and democracy itself! --- are protected when shielded from information not deemed “safe” by NewsGuard. Agencies use NewsGuard’s rating system to ban conservative media outlets from receiving advertiser revenue --- to try to starve them out of existence.
As NEWSMAX reported, the Media Research Center has examined NewsGuard’s rating system and found that they consistently favor left-wing and left-leaning outlets as “trusted” while rating conservative ones as unreliable. Assessments were done in 2021 and again in 2022, and the latest results are in. Last month, the MRC released a report saying, “A new analysis shows that liberal media outlets were rated 25 points higher on average than right leaning media outlets,” illustrating “how NewsGuard’s self-projection as a credibility gatekeeper is a complete joke.”
Joseph Vazquez, the associate editor at the MRC who led the study, sees NewsGuard as in the same league with the Global Disinformation Index. “NewsGuard claims they’re not biased,” he said, “but their ratings are completely subjective, and they have the same goals of GDI, to silence conservative views and voices.” Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana has also questioned their neutrality, pointing out that they have ranked several Chinese state-run media outlets as more “trustworthy/truthful” than popular American conservative news sources.
NewsGuard has been so aggressive against conservative outlets that Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis issued them a warning that he’s ready to levy the power of his office to protect any Florida businesses they target. He says their efforts appear to be a larger push to establish social credit scores (similar to those in China) that will result in “debanking” and “deplatforming” private companies.
The Florida Legislature, Patronis said in a letter to NewsGuard last week, is taking a stand against the ‘environmental, social and governance’ standards (ESG) that NewsGuard proudly follows, because “as fiduciaries, we cannot undermine those in our pension plan from gaining the best returns possible in the name of political outcomes.” We would note that his letter was written before the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, which had been focused on investments driven by these same standards. That’s the sort of outcome from which Patronis wants to protect his state.
Patronis noted that Florida laws already call for divestment from companies engaging in “boycott divestment, or sanctions” (BDS) against our allies, including Israel.
He also sees the “blacklisting” NewsGuard does as undemocratic, “because of its use of capital to push businesses into the promotion of social outcomes.” So he told them, “If your actions target any Florida business, as someone who’s charged with protecting Florida’s economy and economic vitality, I will not hesitate to use the full force of my office to shed light on the organization you’re running.”
NewsGuard responded that they were “surprised” by Patronis’ letter and that there had been a “fundamental misunderstanding” of what they do. They claimed to be “strictly apolitical and fully transparent and said they did not use “ESG metrics.” As Margot Cleveland reports, they’re even denying they were government-funded --- never mind the records mentioned above that show a nearly $750,000 federal grant. Taibbi had photographed the document and included it in his Twitter post.
Co-CEO Gordon Crovitz sought to distance himself from what is now being called the “Censorship Complex,” telling Taibbi in a letter that NewGuard operates in “an entirely different manner” than GDI. He said he was skeptical of those Silicon Valley “advocacy groups.” He claimed that NewsGuard’s work for the Pentagon is to analyze info ops (disinformation campaigns) from foreign adversaries such as Russia and China.
Cleveland gives NewsGuard points for at least being more transparent than the Global Disinformation Index, but she says their history of rating news outlets is certainly not apolitical. She pulls up an example from 2022, a story about NewsGuard’s then-new agreement with the American Federation of Teachers, granting AFT members access to their so-called “misinformation” software. This piece is an eye-opener.
Cleveland notes that in last week’s hearing, it was Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida --- see, Florida again ---who specifically asked, “Who is NewsGuard?” Witness Michael Shellenberger explained that “both the Global Disinformation Index and NewsGuard are U.S. government funded entities who are working to drive advertisers’ revenue away from disfavored publications and towards the ones they favor. This is totally inappropriate.”
But Crovitz maintains that NewsGuard is not government-funded. The $750,000 payment from the DoD was a “licensing fee.” (Oh, that’s very different!) In NewsGuard’s 2021 “Social Impact Report,” however, it called the award a “grant,” from the Small Business Innovation and Research Program.” When questioned about this by THE FEDERALIST, Crovitz provided them with a copy of the licensing contract for a tool called “Misinformation Fingerprints,” confirming the organization had given the government a “license to use the NewsGuard Data...for the purpose of tracking and monitoring disinformation and misinformation campaigns.”
But the amount of the licensing fee is not specified. The agreement says this would be negotiated based on “use cases.” Cleveland examines this arrangement and then goes on to dissect the relationship between the State Department’s Global Engagement Center and the “Disinfo Cloud,” which funnels other government grant dollars to still more entities. The mind reels.
It’s quite a tiny needle Crovitz is having to thread to try to say his company is not government-funded. The point, to use a favorite phrase of our Supreme Court justices, seems moot. Cleveland finally says to draw your own conclusion. But she reiterates that NewsGuard referred to the so-called licensing fee as a grant in their own materials.
Crovitz insists the money was unrelated to their work rating media companies, but either way, our taxpayer dollars were shoveled right into the bank account of a company that was busy doing that very thing. As Cleveland puts it, “While NewsGuard stresses that the ‘Misinformation Fingerprints’ are intended to monitor ‘clearly false narratives’ such as ‘hostile information operations by Russia and China,’ the ‘Twitter Files’ show that the federal government sees things very differently and has no qualms about silencing ordinary Americans speaking the truth.”
RELATED READING: Margot Cleveland has another new piece dealing with U.S. government censorship of Americans. This one is her take on the significance of the testimony given by Taibbi and Shellenberger last week and the network of various censorship groups that (yes) get funded by the government. Highly recommended.