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Wednesday, February 2, 2022
MRC Delcares War On Website Rater NewsGuard With Bogus 'Study'
Topic: Media Research Center

The Media Research Center has a dislike for the website credibility rating firm NewsGuard that has only grown more visceral. In 2020, we noted that the MRC tried to tag NewsGuard as "liberal" for no real reason other than that it once fact-checked Rush Limbaugh. Last May, the MRC's Kayla Sargent freaked out over NewsGuard launching a service that would allow advertisers to block its ads on websites that contain misinformation -- weirdly screaming in the headline that this was "DISGUSTING." She huffied that "NewsGuard’s new service to help advertisers fight what it considers to be 'misinformation' could even be dangerous to the idea of free speech, because the organization is so overtly left-leaning." She offered no credible evidence that NewsGuard is "left-leaning."

But when NewsGuard announced it was spreading its ratings system to broadcast news, the MRC decided to declare war. Joseph Vazquez ranted against the "leftist" NewsGuard in a Dec. 3 post, first repeating the MRC previous factually deficient attack on the organzation over its Limbaugh fact-check, then adding:

NewsGuard even went after pro-life organizations like Live Action, giving it a dubious score of “30” out of 100 and accused that it “severely violates basic journalistic standards.” Meanwhile, NewsGuard rates baby slaughter mill Planned Parenthood with a “75” score and claimed its “ website adheres to basic standards of credibility and transparency.” [Emphasis added.]

But that’s not all. NewsGuard’s “Nutrition Label” rating for LifeSiteNews relied on pieces marked as “opinion” to lambast the pro-life website for information that the outlet considers to be not factual, such as the link between breast cancer and abortion. However, leftist Jezebel, a site that appeared to highlight and sympathize with “unlicensed, untrained illegal abortionists,” is considered a good site by NewsGuard.

Note that Vazquez hung political labels on Jezebel but not LifeSite or Live Action, which are unambiguously right-wing. He also forgot to mention that LifeSite is a notorious spreader of misinformation, particulary about COVID; when social media shut down its accounts because of the information it spreads, the MRC conferred victimhood on it.Vazquez also didn't prove that Planned Parenthood is unreliable or that LiveAction is reliable (Live Action got kicked off Instagram for spreading misinformation).Vazquez further whined:

A December 2020 report by NewsGuard illustrated the bias the site has against conservatives. It claimed that organizations listed “published falsehoods about both COVID-19 and the 2020 U.S. election.” The list included outlets like Breitbart, The Blaze, The Epoch Times and LifeSiteNews. The “Trustworthy and Trending” list, on the other hand, included liberal propaganda outlets like NBC News, The New York Times, Microsoft’s, The Washington Post and the taxpayer-funded National Public Radio. 

Vazquez provided no evidence to dispute any specific findings, though.

The gauntlet having apparently been through, the MRC slapped together a so-called "study" in an attempt to tar NewsGaurd as having a liberal bias, which Vazquez hyped in a Dec. 13 post:

A new analysis reveals the extraordinary left-wing bias of website ratings firm NewsGuard, which should concern every American given that it is expanding its reach into cable and broadcast TV news. Liberal outlets were rated 27 points higher on average than news organizations on the right.

MRC Free Speech America analyzed the NewsGuard ratings of media outlets based on a list compiled by AllSides classified by their “bias” on a left-to-right scale. The average NewsGuard score for the “left” and “lean left” outlets — which included leftist outlets like Jacobin and he Nation — was 93/100. While the average rating for “right” and “lean right” outlets — which included Fox News, Washington Times and New York Post — was a low 66/100. That’s a 27 point disparity.

According to NewsGuard’s skewed ratings, left-leaning outlets have substantially more “credibility” on average than right-leaning outlets.

But as we've documented, AllSides is a right-leaning fact-checker that uses sloppy labeling, and the MRC has previously praised it for leaning into its "liberal bias" narratives. Nevertheless, Vazquez tried to make a case for AllSides' credibility, claiming that "Even the liberal Poynter Institute cited two media experts who shared 'praise for the stated methods for rating bias' by AllSides." Vazquez did weirdly complain, though, that "AllSides including Deseret News in its “lean right” list is disputed by MRC research; as we've documented, that "dispute" is based solely on coverage on two stories seven years apart in which the paper -- which is owned by a division the Mormon Church, hardly a bastion of liberalism -- dared to accurately report bad news about a Republican.

Vazquez then moved on to cherry-picking attacks on NewsGuard's numbers:

The breakdown of the lists of outlets is even more revealing in terms of their individual grades. Socialist site Jacobin, scored an astonishing "92.5" by NewsGuard. The same outlet published Marxist propaganda in October headlined: “Socialism Isn’t Just About State Ownership — It’s About Redistributing Power.” In April 2020, Jacobin published a piece celebrating how “[s]ocialism is back on the agenda in the United States, thank God. And today’s newly minted socialists shouldn’t be afraid to embrace Marxism.”


That’s not all. The Nation, which also scored a high “92.5,” is the same outlet that published a 2020 piece defending “property destruction” as integral to the success of a left-wing “uprising” following the murder of George Floyd. The piece advocated for property violence: “Given that capitalism largely restricts pleasure to the consumption of goods, we should be able to entertain the idea that this taking of unnecessary things—while not a recognizably political act—is understandable or even a [sic] justifiable.”

Vazquez seems to be arguing that Jacobin and The Nation be rated lower simply for advocating a political viewpoint he gets paid to disagree with. He offered no evidence why those views, in and of themselves, should automatically make a website less credible.He continued:

By comparison, The Federalist, posted in the “right” AllSides list, was scored the worst with a ridiculous “12.5” on NewsGuard. A predominant reason for the abysmal rating, according to NewsGuard, was that The Federalist questioned the efficacy of mask mandates for COVID-19, even though liberal CNBC (not on the AllSides list, but has a “95” NewsGuard rating) cited a study showing that cloth masks were only 37 percent effective at filtering out virus particles. Another August preprint study did not find an “association between mask mandates or use and reduced COVID-19 spread in US states.”

In cherry-picking that piece, Vazquez didn't mention all the other misinformation the Federalist has publiahed. He went on to whine:

Only two “lean-right” outlets on the AllSides list were given “100” scores by NewsGuard, both of which happen to be the Democrat-favoring Deseret News and the anti-Trump Reason magazine. Another anti-Trump outlet listed in the “lean right” AllSides list was The Dispatch, which received a “92.5” score from NewsGuard. It appears NewsGuard is more willing to award great scores to “lean right” sites that ironically publish pro-liberal content it approves.

Vazquez is again arguing that only websites that spout the same right-wing views he gets paid to advocate should be considered "credible." He refuses to take into consideration the idea that conservative websites are, in fact, less credible than liberal-leaning ones.

This "study" is a complete failure. But you know who loved it? AllSides, the supposedly neutral operation it relied on for its ratings. It devoted a Dec. 14 post to reviewing the findings and giving them credence, once again leaning into the MRC's politically motivated bias narratives: "Journalists tend to lean left, which reflects in their work. It makes sense that NewsGuard would rate them more highly because NewsGuard’s review staff is mostly made up of longtime mainstream journalists."

That, of course, is the ultimate evidence that the MRC's "study" is fatally flawed.

Posted by Terry K. at 9:48 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, February 2, 2022 9:54 PM EST

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