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Tuesday, November 28, 2023
More Bias, Shoddiness Found In MRC's Attack On Ad Fontes
Topic: Media Research Center

We've already shown how the Media Research Center's attack on website-rating firm Ad Fontes is as loud, lame and partisan as its previous attacks on a similar firm, NewsGuard. But a deeper dive into the study shows just how shoddy and biased it is. There's nothing impartial about it at all; the MRC went into it with the goal of smearing Ad Fontes as biased, and its so-called evidence to make that narrative was just as biased. Luis Cornelio and Tim Kilcullen dubiously framed the fact that Ad Fontes rates right-wing websites lower than liberal-leaning websites as some sort of conspiracy:

With regard to its “reliability” scoring, Ad Fontes ranks media sources from a high of 64 to a low of zero. As Ad Fontes explains it, “Scores above 40 are “reliable” and “generally good;” scores below 24 are “unreliable” and “generally problematic.” 

MRC Free Speech America staff analyzed the reliability scores of the 3,134 media entities rated by Ad Fontes between July 31 and Aug. 7. The disparity in scoring was readily apparent. Of the 2,032 media that Ad Fontes rated on the political “left,” 1,299 (64%) were given a score of 40 or above, solidifying their status as “reliable.” 

Examples of left-leaning media awarded this highest rating include CNN, The New York Times,NPR, Associated Press, Vox, ABC, CBS and NBC. However, of the 975 media Ad Fontes rated on the “right,” only 313 (32%) were given a “reliable” score of 40 or above. (e.g. The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, National Post, CATO Institute). Ad Fontes was exactly twice as likely to award its highest rating to media on the left.


The bias is even more extreme in terms of what media Ad Fontes considered to be “unreliable” and “generally problematic.” Ad Fontes rated only 59 of the 2,032 (2.9%) media on the political left as “unreliable” (scores below 24). Media in that group included MSNBC’s The ReidOut and The Daily Dot. By contrast, Ad Fontes rated a sizable 286 of the 975 (29%) media on the political right as “unreliable.” Included among that tier were: The Federalist; Fox News shows Jesse Watters Primetime, Hannity and The Ingraham Angle; The Epoch Times; PragerU; The Daily Signal; RedState; Turning Point USA; NewsmaxTV, Timcast IRL,OAN, and The Matt Walsh Show. This means that Ad Fontes is exactly 10 times more likely to rate right-leaning media as “unreliable” and “generally problematic.”

Comparing the overall scores of comparable media further emphasizes how relentlessly Ad Fontes’s reliability system favors big media entities on the left and punishes media it labels as on the political right:

Cornelio and Kilcullen are trying to impose false balance on Ad Fontes; there's no reason for it to give equivalent ratings to an equal number of left-leaning and right-leaning websites if the data doesn't support it, and they offer no actual evidence that it doesn't. Insetad, they cherry-pick stories from right-wing media they believe are rated lower than they desire:

Take, for example, a Breitbart article summarizing the testimony of a mother accusing Fairfax County’s school lockdown policies of exacerbating her autistic son’s fatal depression. Ad Fontes gave this story a rare single-digit rating (9.33), far beneath the score of 24 that marks something as “unreliable.” The article did not endorse the woman’s speech, but merely quoted and embedded the video of the mother’s public testimony and transcribed what she said.

Cornelio and Kilcullen are dishonestly portraying the story; in fact, the headline claimed the mother blamed "critical race theory" for her son's suicide. And their insistence that Breitbart "did not endorse the woman’s speech" is laughable since its decision to publish the story was an effective endorsement -- it would not have allowed this woman's testimony to stand without comment it didn't fit into right-wing narratives against CRT and COVID-era lockdowns.

Cornelio and Kilcullen further shows their hostility to Ad Fontes by arguing with its leader, Vanessa Otero, and laughably denying that right-wing media outlets have any sort of reach and are staffed with ideologues:

Otero’s willful disregard of facts contrary to her worldview is not limited to the subject of Biden bribery. When pressed about the left’s disproportionate representation in the media, Otero interjected: “I don't agree with your premise that … there are more left leaning folks in that field than right leaning folks.”

When it was pointed out to Otero that by her own site’s designations left-leaning sources more than double right-leaning ones (2,032 to 975), Otero still refused to acknowledge the disparity. “There's a lot of media out there and like, like Fox News, New York Post, you know, the Daily Mail, those are some of the biggest media organizations in the world,” she insisted. “And they're not populated by left-leaning journalists.”

Even if one takes at face value that these three organizations lack left-leaning journalists, it is ludicrous to claim that the market share of Fox News, the New York Post and Daily Mail approach the impact of legacy media. According to Nielsen ratings published by Variety in Dec. 2022, Fox News and its sister channel Fox Business had a combined 2.43 million total viewers in 2022. This is less than half of the 5.148 million viewers of NBC (NBC is owned by Comcast, which is actually one of “the biggest media organizations in the world). The other two broadcast news channels—CBS at 5.144 million viewers and ABC (owned by Disney) at 3.867 million viewers—also dwarfed Fox News’s total viewership.  

The case is the same for news site traffic. According to an August report by the Press Gazette, Fox News has 262.1 million monthly visitors; Daily Mail has 125.3 million. The two websites’ combined influence is significant, but it is only a fraction of the 441.6 million that The New York Times or of the 415.2 million that CNN — two far-left outlets that are pushed by Big Tech giants like Google — receive.

Note that Cornelio and Kilcullen apply the the "far-left" tag to the Times and CNN -- a tag they don't justify, showing just how marinated they are in right-wing ideology that portrays any media that not as far-right as they are as "far-left." (They do not similarly identify any outlet as "far-right.") They also engage in more dishonesty by comparing the ratings of Fox News, which runs programming 24/7 designed to promote right-wing politcal narratives 24/7, to networks like ABC, CBS and NBC, which run non-ideological entertainment programming for most of its day.

Cornelio and Kilcullen were even mad that Ad Fontes endorsed the American justice system:

Otero and Berens’s political agenda pervades the actions of Ad Fontes, right down to its marketing. After nineteen MAGA Republicans, including former President Trump, were indicted in Atlanta, Georgia, Ad Fontes sent out a celebratory email declaring: “[t]he process of bringing those at the center of a conspiracy to defraud the American people and misrepresent the good work of the officials responsible for mounting a free and fair election in Georgia had been identified by Georgia District Attorney, Fani Willis, and indicted for their alleged actions. The wheels of justice, however slow, had turned in the general direction that they are supposed to turn.”

Yes, supporting the prosecution of alleged criminals is now a "political agenda" -- though it used to be the one on the right.

Cornelio and Kilcullen's attack seems to have been motivated by its criticism of the MRC itself:

Ad Fontes often gives “unreliable” ratings to stories critical of the Biden agenda that legacy media does not cover, even when there is no doubt as to their veracity. MRC Free Speech America’s February 2022 study documenting over 800 cases of COVID-19-related censorship by Big Tech platforms was labeled “unreliable” (15.67) despite the platforms themselves they censor speech that disagrees with establishment guidelines.

As usual, the MRC is portraying correcting lles and misinformation about COVID as "censorship," or that prioritizing accurate information is somehow "establishment."

Cornelio and Kilcullen concluded:

While Ad Fontes claims to have a methodology for how it scores the articles it chooses, this framework is habitually abandoned so as to pursue Otero’s aggressive hard-left agenda. Concerningly, the brokenness of Ad Fontes’s methodology has not yet affected the firm’s effectiveness in pushing its product. Otero boasts that Ad Fontes has been imposed in schools across the country, removing the ability for students to access news sources skeptical of the left’s agenda. Ad Fontes also has partnered with Big Tech giants Meta and Microsoft, making it easier to pressure advertisers into blacklisting media Otero’s ratings system disapproves of.       

Censorship tools like Ad Fontes have no place in a free country. Americans benefit from a diversity of viewpoints, not conformity to Otero’s warped worldview.

Again, they want you to think that not being hard-right like they are means being "hard-left." This is not "media research" -- it's a political hit job designed to dishonestly portray the pursuit of accurate, trustworthy information as a partisan enterprise. Cornelio and Kilcullen need to explain their ideological motivation behind wanting to let misinformation spread unchecked and attacking anyone who opposes that.

Posted by Terry K. at 10:21 PM EST

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