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The MRC's Loud And Lame War On NewsGuard, Part 2

The Media Research Center is reduced to defending the honor of misinformation-laden right-wing websites in an attempt to attack NewsGuard for pointing out that misinformation.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 6/17/2022

Read Part 1 here.

The Media Research Center's bogus and dishonest war on website-rating firm NewsGuard has been continuing with a variation on a theme of attempting to portray right-wing news outlets as accurate and truthful -- thus demonstrating the increasingly lame and meager returns on its attacks. Catherine Salgado launched this particularly lame salvo in a Feb. 2 post:

Self-appointed online “credibility” arbiter NewsGuard rates several U.S. media outlets as less reliable than several Chinese Communist Party-controlled state media outlets.

Media in China is almost entirely under the control of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, meaning that they are little more than propaganda arms for a tyrannical government. This is so blatant that former President Donald Trump’s then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2020 designated nine Chinese media outlets operating in the U.S. as “foreign missions.” China Global Television Network (CGTN) and Global Times were among the nine outlets so designated.

Some of the genocidal CCP’s state media sites receive extremely low ratings, but other CCP-controlled state media outlets received higher NewsGuard ratings than several U.S. outlets. For example, China's Global Times, which has tweeted out violent rhetoric, was rated 39.5/100 by NewsGuard, while One America News Network (OANN) is rated 17.5/100. Not only that, but NewsGuard states of several CCP state-media outlets that they do “not repeatedly publish false content.” In contrast, Newsmax, OANN and LifeNews are all rated as “repeatedly publish[ing] false content.”

Salgado makes sure not to mention the ugly details of the "false content" published by those right-wing sites she's defending. As previously noted, Newsmax has numerous accuracy issues including that it's currently being sued by voting-tech companies Dominion and Smartmatic for spreading false claims; LifeNews has been busted for spreading false information about President Biden's views on abortion and about Planned Parenthood.

OAN, meanwhile, is in a category all its own. It too is being sued by Smartmatic and Dominion for spreading lies about the companies to boost Donald Trump's bogus claims of election fraud. It was also being sued by two Georgia poll workers for spreading lies about them -- as part of a settlement, OAN was forced to admit in an on-air statement that there was "no widespread voter fraud" in Georgia and that the workers "did not engage in ballot fraud or criminal misconduct" -- and management ordered on-air personnel not to call the Capitol riot a "riot."

Salgado went on to huff that "NewsGuard’s ratings of outlets that AllSides rates “right” or “lean right” and at least one pro-life outlet versus some Chinese state-run media sites would seem to ignore the utter lack of journalistic credibility of the latter." But she made no effort to prove that Newsmax, OAN or LifeNews actually have any journalistic credibility.

Given that Newsmax and OAN were effectively pro-Trump state media during the Trump presidency -- and LifeNews has more than proven itself to be an unreliable source -- Salgado not only makes herself look silly trying to defend them as supposedly not as bad as Chinese state media, she proves that she and the MRC has a weird vendetta against NewsGuard because it doesn't adhere to right-wing media narratives.

The flailing continued in a Feb. 25 post by Brian Bradley, who complained about the head of NewsGuard saying factually accurate things:

NewsGuard CEO Steven Brill this week painted his company as a white knight that can save impressionable dupes from repeating another Jan. 6 “insurrection,” and said Fox News and OANN traffic in conspiracy theories.

Brill tried to represent his company as an unbiased ratings company, but inadvertently made clear his company has a liberal agenda. He even defended calling the Jan. 6 riots an “insurrection.”

“If you look at the reports that were written by people who participated in the insurrection of January 6, what you see, by and large, is that most of those people were people who were ordinary American citizens,” Brill said on C-SPAN Wednesday. “A fireman from Staten Island; there was a construction worker in Ohio who just read stuff online and started going down rabbit holes, and ended up with extreme beliefs that they didn’t start with.”


One caller to the live C-SPAN show asked Brill why he referred to the Jan. 6 riot as an “insurrection.”

“I saw hundreds of people overrunning the Capitol, breaking windows, attacking police officers, and all for the purpose of blocking the confirmation of the election results,” Brill said. “I think it’s fair to say that characterizing that as an insurrection is not unreasonable.”

But Bradley made no effort to counter Brill's claims -- which tells us that he knows Brill is correct on both counts. Instead, Bradley rehashed its previous dubious attacks on NewsGuard, as if repeating will somehow make them less lame.

Bradley also complained that Brill said the way to deal with misinformation is “not the government interfering, it’s giving those people more information about what they’re reading before they go down those rabbit holes,” retorting in response: "But NewsGuard benefits from government calls for censorship, because the current culture of information-policing helps to justify NewsGuard’s existence." Addressing misinformation is not "censorship," no matter how loudly the MRC screams that talking point. It only reinforces the fact that the MRC is defending misinformation and trying to discredit any fact-checker who calls out that misinformation.

Catherine Salgado leaned into the MRC's unfortunate tradition of treating right-wing extremists as authoritative in a March 2 post:

“‘Fact checking’ is just a euphemism for the Ministry of Truth. It is not about 'facts,'” journalist Kyle Becker tweeted about biased NewsGuard.

Becker News CEO Kyle Becker pointed out that the rating site NewsGuard partners with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. government. The WHO, Microsoft, and the U.S. State and Defense departments are among NewsGuard’s partners.

“This front group is spearheading an unconstitutional attack on freedom of speech and the press to undermine critics of the U.S. government,” Becker insisted. He cited NewsGuard’s Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center page to illustrate his point.

Regarding the COVID-19 “misinformation” page, Becker noted: “I... didn't see anything there I had reported; but I did question ‘full authorization’ of Pfizer … This legally does not add up.” The only FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines in the United States are Pfizer’s Comirnaty and Moderna’s SPIKEVAX. These vaccines are not available to the U.S. general public, and the actual available Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are under Emergency Use Authorization only.

“I did not see a single ‘fact check’ for false statements made by policymakers over Covid, such as vaccines 'stop the spread,' or anything about there being no heart inflammation side effects, etc.,” Becker tweeted. “It's all directed against Big Government's and Big Pharma's critics. As expected.” NewsGuard’s COVID-19 “misinformation” page mixes unproven statements with statements supported by solid evidence in its list of “myths.” NewsGuard’s COVID-19 “myth” classifications seemingly defend several organs of U.S. authority.

Translation: Becker is mad that his COVID conspiracy theories are being ignored. And Media Bias/Fact Check lists the spreading of COVID conspiracy theories as among the reasons why it has rated Becker News with a low credibility rating. Kyle Becker himself lost his job at the right-wing Independent Journal Review for a false story claiming Barack Obama interfered in a judicial ruling blocking parts of Trump's travel ban.

So, yeah, not the kind of person you want to tout advancing your talking points -- unless you're the MRC. Nevertheless, Salgado went on to uncritically quote Becker: "There is a process for correcting misinformation called 'corrections' and arguing policy on the editorial pages. It is not slandering those whose opinion activists & politicians disagree with." Has Becker ever corrected the record on any false information he put out to demonstrate how he corrects misinformation? Salgado was not interested in finding the answer to that question.

Dishonestly bashing BuzzFeed

A Feb. 22 post by Brian Bradley asserted:

NewsGuard has reaffirmed its perfect rating of BuzzFeed News, even though the outlet continues to host the bogus Steele dossier on its website.

In an email to MRC, NewsGuard General Manager Matt Skibinski justified his company’s perfect “100/100” rating for BuzzFeed News by noting the five-year timespan since the dossier’s publication and the fact that the dossier article is one “single story.”

Members of the U.S. intelligence community and political enemies of former President Donald Trump used the discredited dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign, to help build the case for the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The investigation cost $25.2 million, according to Fox Business, and paralyzed the country for two years. The Mueller probe also aggravated the political environment in the U.S. and across the world, dominating headlines while other, important news took a backseat.

Even liberal media have broadly rejected the accuracy of the dossier, and Special Counsel John Durham charged the primary source of the dossier with lying to the FBI in November.

But Bradley deliberately ignored the fact that BuzzFeed News never represented the dossier as unimpeachable fact and never vouched for its accuracy. BuzzFeed's article on the dossier specifically states that the dossier "includes specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians," adding that it was published because it was being discussed: "BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government."

By contrast, the MRC repeatedly defends extremist purveyors of actual, documented misinformation so it has some "victims" to use in its parallel war against "big tech." It has no problem with that sort of misinformation spreading.

Bradley then bashed Skibinski for his response, even though Skibinski really deserves a medal for trying to engage with a bad-faith critic:

MRC asked NewsGuard to explain its BuzzFeed rating, pointing out that the Steele dossier was the focal point of the media’s misreporting about Trump ties to Russia.

The dossier story “was published in January of 2017, more than five years ago and more than a year and a half before NewsGuard first launched our ratings and Nutrition Labels,” Skibinski said. “Moreover, no single story, even one that has recently been published, determines a site’s rating.”


Still, though the dossier remains posted on the BuzzFeed News website without any correction or clarification, NewsGuard’s nutrition label says the outlet both “Regularly corrects or clarifies errors” and “Gathers and presents information responsibly.”

Again, Bradley ignored the fact that BuzzFeed never portrayed the dossier as accurate. After referencing the MRC's previous attacks on NewsGuard, Bradley did quote Skibinski again:

In his most recent email sent Feb. 17, Skibinski complained that MRC was wrong for calling out NewsGuard’s flawed scoring system. Then he abruptly pivoted to mention MRC’s NewsGuard rating, a topic that had nothing to do with the BuzzFeed News inquiry.

“We hope you will be more fair and accurate in your description of NewsGuard's ratings of the many conservative and conservative-leaning outlets that get perfect or high scores based on our criteria in this story than in previous stories, including noting that your own outlet, NewsBusters, continues to score a 92.5 out of 100 points,” Skibinski wrote.

Not gonna happen, Matt. NewsGuard has been declared an enemy of the MRC, and fairness and accuracy no longer matter, if they ever did. Bradley and Co. want NewsGuard destroyed, and they don't particularly care how it gets done.

That fundamental unfairness tried to drag NewsGuard into the right-wing abortion wars, as demonstrated by a Feb. 25 post by Catherine Salgado:

Online “credibility” arbiter NewsGuard strongly favors an organization that kills babies, declaring abortion giant Planned Parenthood credible. Meanwhile, the rating firm gave very negative ratings to three pro-life outlets.

NewsGuard gave abortion giant Planned Parenthood, infamous for killing the unborn, a positive 75/100 rating. It also gave it the green checkmark of credibility. The ratings firm gives green ratings to sites it deems credible and red ratings to sites it considers lacking in “credibility.”

Planned Parenthood had performed 9 million abortions as of July 2021, meaning it has caused one of the biggest genocides in history, per Human Life International. Yet, NewsGuard gave pro-life LifeNews and Live Action websites negative red “credibility” ratings of 30/100. The rating firm gave LifeSiteNews a 17.5/100. NewsGuard has not rated a number of other pro-life and pro-abortion sites.

At no point did Salgado cite anything on any Planned Parenthood website that's misleading, let alone wrong -- it's all about attacking Planned Parenthood for performing procedures that are legal under U.S. law and not lying about it. She tacitly admits this later in the post; after noting that NewsGuard's rating states that the group "does not repeatedly publish false content," she huffed in response: "NewsGuard does not seem to take into account the fact that abortion kills unborn human children, which alone makes the act condemnable."

What act? The act of existing? That has nothing whatsoever to do with what NewsGuard does.

Again, Salgado is totally cool with the misinformation published by those anti-abortion sites, insisting that their biased and ideological judgment trumps that of medical professionals and legal authorities:

Live Action received a rating of 30/100, and NewsGuard specifically downgraded the pro-life site for reportedly exposing corruption in Planned Parenthood. NewsGuard describes Live Action as “an anti-abortion group that has deceptively edited videos and made unsubstantiated health claims, particularly in articles that target Planned Parenthood.” The “nutrition label” from NewsGuard slammed abortion pill reversal practices, which have reportedly saved 2,500 lives as of November 2021.

NewsGuard’s label criticized the reversals as “not based on science,” citing the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, while simultaneously defending the abortion pill. NewsGuard’s “nutrition labels” for Live Action, LifeNews and LifeSiteNews are lengthy arguments against various perspectives published by the pro-life outlets.

In contrast, the “nutrition label” for Planned Parenthood seemingly favors the abortion giant against the evidence of Planned Parenthood’s selling of aborted babies’ body parts exposed by journalist David Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress. NewsGuard’s Planned Parenthood label cites the organization’s claim that Daleiden’s videos were “heavily edited.”

Daleiden's videos were, in fact, heavily edited. Again, ideology trumps facts at the MRC -- which means more hostile, nonsensical attacks on NewsGuard.

Using NewsGuard to attack teachers

The MRC extended its war NewsGuard to attempting to interfere with its business operations by bashing a teachers union that contracted with the company. Salgado raged in a Jan. 26 post:

Biased online ratings firm NewsGuard is taking its information war to schoolchildren through a deal made with the American Federation of Teachers.

School children depend on the internet for homework help. NewsGuard is now stepping in to “filter” online sources for so-called “misinformation.” The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union is buying NewsGuard licenses for its 1.7 million member teachers, according to an AFT press release. The partnership will make NewsGuard available to tens of millions of students and their families for free.

The NewsGuard partnership will foist the company's “real-time ‘traffic light’ news ratings and detailed ‘Nutrition Label’ reviews, via a licensed copy of NewsGuard’s browser extension” on students using news stories for research.

Salgado then rehashed the MRC's bogus attacks on NewsGuard, followed by a quote from her boss:

MRC President Brent Bozell blasted the AFT-NewsGuard partnership, suggesting it is worse than critical race theory in public schools. “The left has found a dangerous and equally disingenuous new way to indoctrinate our children, without their parents knowing. NewsGuard is partnering with a national teacher's union to bring their biased ratings into classrooms nationwide. This is as bad as CRT. In fact, it's worse. Like CRT, it is designed to push a leftist ideology on children, but unlike CRT, the left is not going to give it a name this time. This is purposely designed to go under the radar of public scrutiny.”

Rating the quality of websites is like critical race theory? That's a new one. But, hey, narratives are the MRC's business, and Bozell had to cram in the latest buzzwords.

The MRC tried to ramp up the war on NewsGuard and the AFT by calling its right-wing buddies in to screech at it, as Salgado wrote in a March 3 post:

The Media Research Center and more than 40 other conservative leaders warned governors about the left-wing bias of ratings firm NewsGuard.

The joint letter, signed by MRC founder and President Brent Bozell and dozens of other free speech advocates, sounded the alarm both on NewsGuard’s leftist bias and the ratings firm’s dangerous and growing influence in the educational arena. NewsGuard recently partnered with the American Federation of Teachers to bring its online “credibility” ratings and other resources to teachers and school children.
The letter itself featuring some of the MRC's lamest attacks on NewsGuard as purported evidence of its bias, such as arguing that HuffPost got a high rating despite "an attack piece on then-conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh following his death" (the letter clearly wasn't well edited, given the odd description of Limbaugh as "then-conservative") and that Planned Parenthood's rating should be lower because it "performed 9 million abortions as of July 2021" while anti-abortion websites got lower ratings (the MRC cited no misinformation on the Planned Parenthood site and was silent about the misinformation found on those anti-abortion sites).

Ironically, some the letter's signatories are notorious for publishing highly biased misinformation, such as David Kupelian of WorldNetDaily, Floyd Brown of the Western Journal and Steven Ertelt of LifeNews.

In a March 8 post, Bradley got mad that the MRC's attempt to crash a webinar held by NewsGuard CEO Steven Brill and AFT president Randi Weingarten failed:

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said she’s happy that NewsGuard highly rates some news outlets that have been critical of her. And her group’s new partner was right by her side.

During a webinar Thursday, she and NewsGuard CEO Steven Brill weren’t even willing to answer a question about their clear left-skewed political leanings.


Given Weingarten’s transparent partisanship and the formation of the new partnership, MRC asked the two executives how anyone can take NewsGuard’s claims of neutrality seriously. They totally ignored the question, even as they answered several questions posted in the Zoom Q&A chat.

Bradley then boasted that a notorious misinformer attacked NewsGuard:

Also on the health front, Weingarten lamented that “anti-vaxx” group Children’s Health Defense, headed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., “ attacked ” NewsGuard’s ties to Big Pharma in a Feb. 28 blog critical of the NewsGuard-AFT partnership.

The post links to marketing materials that note the health division of Publicis Groupe, a major early funder for NewsGuard in 2018, boasted “13 of the top 20 global pharmaceutical companies” as clients. However, it’s also worth noting that Publicis Groupe divested its health care division in 2019.

“If there’s anyone who has been viewed as an enemy of Big Pharma, it’s you,” Weingarten hailed Brill.

Brill then pivoted the conversation to talk about alleged health “misinformation,” “anti-vaxx decisions plaguing the world,” and so-called 5G conspiracy theories. He lauded U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy for calling out alleged health care “misinformation” as a big obstacle, and he complained that programmatic ad revenue had contributed to alternative COVID-19 narratives. Then Brill used rhetoric to lash into Kennedy.

“The really good news about the internet is that anybody can be a publisher. You know, any teacher, you know, in this audience who has an important thought or an important contribution, you know, can be a publisher,” Brill said. “The really bad news about the internet is that anybody can be a publisher, and anybody is a publisher. And if your name is Kennedy, uh, you get a lot of attention, which is just really sad and is a whole ‘nother sad story about that.”

It's unclear why Bradley put scare quotes around "anti-vaxx" when describing Children's Health Defense, because it is very explicitly and unambiguously an anti-vaccine group. And Bradley made no effort to debunk anything Brill said.

Bradley concluded by whining that "The problem is that politics is embedded in NewsGuard’s framework and in AFT’s leadership." Actually, the problem is that the MRC is trying to use the might of the right-wing media machine it helped build to try and censor and silence NewsGuard because it is in apparently desperate need of a scalp to hang in MRC headquarters. Unfortunately for the MRC, however, its lame attacks on NewsGuard -- and its embrace of extremists like Children's Health Defense in this own-the-libs bid -- aren't exactly making that case.

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