The Media Research Center tried to attack Google as biased for purportedly downgrading the websites for Republican candidates in search results -- but never explained why the search terms it used should have generated the results it demanded.
By Terry Krepel Posted 4/28/2023
The Media Research Center is well known for concocting highly biased "studies" designed to advance partisan right-wing narratives rather than further the cause of legitimate research. (Remember its invention of "secondhand censorship" to push its victimhood narrative?) It was at it again in an Oct. 25 post by Gabriela Pariseau that reads more like a political screed than any sort of "study":
Anti-Democracy Google is manipulating search results to bury Senate Republican candidates’ campaign websites before the 2022 midterm elections. This comes on the heels of a North Carolina State University study that found that Google’s Gmail marked 59.3 percent more emails from “right”-leaning candidates as spam compared to “left”-leaning candidates.
“Google must be investigated for its un-American efforts to sway the election,” said L. Brent Bozell, founder and president of the Media Research Center. “First, researchers caught Google red-handed by proving Republican campaign emails were sent to spam. Now we’ve uncovered Google manipulating search results to hide Republican campaign websites while promoting Democratic ones. This is all an effort by Google to help Democrats and interfere in the democratic process.”
MRC Free Speech America has analyzed Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo search results for the 12 Senate races identified by RealClearPolitics as the most important to watch. Our researchers caught Google burying 10 of 12 Senate Republican Party candidates’ campaign websites while highlighting their opponents campaign sites in organic search results. This stands in stark contrast to Bing and DuckDuckGo whose search results treated Republican and Democrat campaign websites more neutrally than Google.
Google buried Senate Republican Party candidates’ campaign websites. Ten of 12 Senate Republican Party candidates’ campaign websites (83%) appeared far lower (or did not appear at all) on page one of Google’s organic search results compared to their Senate Democratic Party opponents’ campaign websites.
Google completely hid seven of 12 Senate Republican Party candidates’ campaign websites in page one organic search results. Seven of 12 Senate Republican Party candidates’ campaign websites did not appear on page one using Google’s organic search. Meanwhile, eight of 12 Senate Democratic Party candidate campaign websites were highlighted in the top six items in organic search results.
Google’s search result bias is undeniable when compared to Bing and DuckDuckGo. With the exception of two candidates, both Bing and DuckDuckGo showed both the Senate Democratic Party candidates’ campaign websites and the Senate Republican Party candidates’ campaign websites in the top five organic search results on page one.
The fact that Pariseau put her boss' political attack on Google ahead of the MRC's so-called "research" tells you the true intent of what was being done here. After a set of "recommendations" that began by ranting that "Google must stop its war against Democracy" -- again, not the sign of a serious researcher -- did Pariseau finally get around to describing how this "study" was done:
For this report, MRC Free Speech America has analyzed the Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo search results for the 12 Senate races identified by RealClearPolitics as the “Top Senate Races” on Oct. 7, 2022. The “Top Senate Races” included the Democratic Party and Republican Party candidates from the following states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin.
MRC Free Speech America created an algorithm to automate this process in a clean environment. A “clean environment” allows for organic search to populate results without the influence of prior search history and tracking cookies.
MRC Free Speech America researchers searched each candidate's name with the words “Senate Race 2022” using the algorithm. To determine bias, our researchers looked at each search engines’ results and recorded the rank(s) of each candidate’s campaign website.
Example(s): “Blake Masters Senate Race 2022” and “Mark Kelly Senate Race 2022”
What's missing, however, is any sort of reasoning why that particular search term should have put the campaign's website at the top of a given search engine's search operations -- or even why that particular term was used to test search placement.
Pariseau went on to write that "MRC Free Speech America has found that Google search results buried Senate Republican candidates’ campaign websites 83 percent of the time compared to their Democratic opponents. For more than half of these races, Google completely eliminated the Republican campaign websites from the first page of results." What she didn't do, however, is show her work -- that is, the raw data that showed what those searches did retrieve. Remember, this "study" never explains why the only acceptable outcome for the search term it used is to put the campaign website at the top of the results, or even why that particular term is supposed to generate that particular result. After all, wouldn't someone a month before the election (the MRC conducted its searches on Oct. 7) likely be more interested in news about the candidate and campaign -- which is what search engines would likely be prioritizing -- than the campaign's website, which in most cases is filled with boilerplate platitudes?
Pariseau then cited a anti-Google activist to add a bit faux gravitas to its shoddy "research":
Over 90 percent of all searches are conducted on Google, according to Business Insider, so Google’s outsized influence makes its conduct uniquely harmful among the Big Tech companies. Because of its power and technological capability to shape elections, liberal psychologist and researcher Dr. Robert Epstein, Ph.D., has repeatedly warned of the danger Google poses to American voters.
“Google poses a serious threat to democracy," Dr. Epstein said in his 2019 testimony to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. He cited the fact that Google and Big Tech have the power to change 15 million votes and added that “to let Big Tech get away with subliminal manipulation on this scale would be to make the free and fair election meaningless.”
Dr. Epstein has extensively researched and monitored what users experienced while using Google products in the lead-up to the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections.
Dr. Epstein also noted in an interview< with Fox News host and contributor Tucker Carlson in 2020 that “Google’s search results were strongly biased in favor of liberals and Democrats.” He also said that the bias was being shown to every user but that conservative users who participated in the study received “slightly more liberal bias in their search results than liberals did.”
ConWebWatch has documented how Epstein's research alleging Google search bias in the 2016 election has been discredited because it was based on an absurdly small sample of 21 undecided voters. And Epstein appearing on the most biased right-wing show on the most biased right-wing "news" channel doesn't improve his credibility as much as Pariseau apparently thinks it does.
Speaking of boilerplate, Pariseau added a bunch that rehashed previous MRC attacks on Google purporting to show how "The company has aided Democrat [sic] politicians for at least a decade." That demonstrates even more that this is a partisan attack and a weak attempt at an October surprise rather than legitimately conducted research.
Propaganda in hand, Bozell was went to Fox News to hype this "research," where he knew he would face no serious questions about its shoddiness:
When other people pointed out the study's shoddy construction, the MRC lamely fought back. Joseph Vazquez huffed in an Oct. 26 post:
The geniuses at Newsweek tried to toss the leftists at Google a lifeline by issuing a ridiculous “fact check” of MRC Free Speech America’s latest study showing Google manipulating search results to benefit Democrats in top senate races.
MRC President Brent Bozell had a one-line response to Newsweek: “Remember Newsweek was sold for a dollar. Someone overpaid."
Newsweek’s so-called ‘fact check’ whined that the MRC< study, which caught Google burying 10 of 12 Senate Republican Party candidates’ campaign websites while highlighting their opponents campaign sites in organic search results, “does not provide any definitive evidence to suggest Google deliberately alters their algorithm for partisan effect.”
Not only did the outlet not reach out to the Media Research Center for comment, it chose to leave out core elements of the study that upend Newsweek’s lazy work.
Bozell excoriated Newsweek and Google’s gaslighting: “Google's response and Newsweek's attack on our study are predictable for Google and Newsweek.”
Newsweek had parroted a Google spokesperson’s claim that the MRC Free Speech America “‘report is designed to mislead, testing uncommon search terms that people rarely use.’”
The so-called fact-check’s “ruling”? “Unverified,” claimed Newsweek, which is a cute way of saying it isn’t really a fact-check. The outlet even conceded based on an expert it cited that Google is notorious for its “lack of transparency” when it comes to its algorithm.
Newsweek didn’t even bother mentioning that the MRC Free Speech America study researched the same parameters on two other search engines: Bing and DuckDuckGo. When MRC Free Speech America researchers performed the same searches on those two search engines, the results were more neutral.
In all that whining and distraction, Vazquez never responded to Newsweek's central claim of a lack of proof of algorithm manipulation or an explanation of why those "uncommon search terms" were used.
Brian Bradley played the same distraction game against criticism from Google itself in an Oct. 28 post:
On Tuesday, MRC Free Speech America released a study “Google CAUGHT Manipulating Search, Buries GOP Campaign Sites in 83% of Top Senate Races” that showed Google manipulated data to suppress and censor Republicans in key Senate races at a time when the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance.
A Google spokesperson told Fox News Digital: "This report is designed to mislead, testing uncommon search terms that people rarely use. Anyone who searches for these candidate names on Google can clearly see that their campaign websites rank at the top of results - in fact, all of these candidates currently rank in the top three and often in the first spot in Google Search results."
MRC Free Speech America applied the exact same methodology from its Senate study to analyze 36 top House races, where polling shows the House does not hang in the balance.
MRC Free Speech America’s methodology was not only correct, but when comparing Google’s search results with Bing and DuckDuckGo, Google’s search bias becomes even more clear.
When you can't even offer a plausible explanation for the "uncommon" search terms you use and then hid the raw data those search terms returned, that's evidence your methodology is not "correct." It's biased "research" designed to produce a predetermined result -- the exact opposite of real research.
The MRC's dubious methods got promoted a few days later with more shoddy research highlighted in a Nov. 2 post by Bradley:
Google is burying the campaign websites of its fiercest critics on Capitol Hill.
Shortly after MRC Free Speech America released its study showing that Google suppressed Senate Republicans’ campaign websites in its search results, it now appears that Google is hitting members of both the House and Senate who have been critical of Google’s tactics. This is happening just as the country is gearing up to vote during the midterm elections on Nov. 8.
"First, Google was caught sending GOP emails to spam. Then we found Google suppressing the campaign websites of Republican Senate candidates. Now, we have evidence that Google is punishing Republicans who dared to speak out or take action against Big Tech by hiding their campaign websites in search results,” said MRC President Brent Bozell. “If this isn’t election interference, I don’t know what is."
MRC Free Speech America analyzed search results from Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo for 10 key congressional races involving current politicians who have aggressively acted against Big Tech, either legislatively or vocally. Our researchers caught Google again burying Republican Party campaign websites while highlighting their Democratic and independent opponents’ campaign sites in organic search results. The results follow up on MRC Free Speech America’s previous search engine studies on hotly contested Senate races, and also House races, where polling shows the House does not hang in the balance.
MRC Free Speech America researchers found that Google search results highlighted the Republican’s challenger in all 10 of the total House and Senate races reviewed.
Google buried the campaign websites of lawmakers critical of Big Tech. Google censored the search results for Big Tech critics 100 percent of the time, either ranking their sites lower than that of their challengers or totally omitting Republican Big Tech critics’ campaign sites from the first page of results entirely.
Google completely hid seven of the 10 total campaign websites of Republican Big Tech critics in page one organic search results. Seven of 10 Big Tech critics’ campaign websites did not appear on page one results using Google’s organic search. At the same time, Google put 67 percent of the campaign websites of the Big Tech critics’ opponents in the top six items of organic search results.
Google showed egregious search bias when compared to Bing and DuckDuckGo. By comparison, when performing the exact same searches, Bing’s search results were relatively more neutral. Bing’s results highlighted the Republican opponent’s campaign websites 5 out of 10 times. DuckDuckGo elevated Republican opponents’ campaign websites in 4 out of 10 races.
The suppression could significantly impact the 2022 midterm elections, as over 90 percent of all searches are conducted on Google, according to Business Insider.
The methodology is the same as it was before -- and, as before, Bradley offered no explanation of why those particular search terms were chosen, that these are common search terms normal people use, or why these particular terms should have placed a candidate's website at the top of the results. That tells us this is a partisan work and not one that involves genuine research. Indeed, Bradley went on to hype right-wing activists portraying these results as somehow legitimate evidence of an election law violation:
Hans von Spakovsky, attorney and Election Law Reform Initiative manager with The Heritage Foundation, stated that Google’s suppression of search results could violate election law.
“It’s illegal for a corporation to make a direct financial contribution to a candidate, but the law and the regulations also prohibit [unreported] in-kind services,” von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commission (FEC) member, told MRC Free Speech America. “If, in fact, Google is burying the website and therefore restricting information on one candidate as opposed to another, that’s an in-kind service for that campaign.”
FEC rulings often come down to party lines and legal interpretations of the commissioners deciding the case, Foundation for Accountability and Civil Trust Executive Director Kendra Arnold told MRC Free Speech America.
The case for Google’s search suppression of certain candidates carries an extra layer of complexity because the technology aspect of how Google’s search works would need to be fully explained and proven, she said. Google is notorious for keeping its search algorithms under wraps. Failure to hold accountable Google and the tech industry writ large risks rendering future elections “meaningless” as it would let Big Tech “get away with subliminal manipulation,” liberal psychologist and researcher Dr. Robert Epstein, Ph.D said during 2019 Senate testimony.
Proving an election law violation would be more difficult in the case of Google search suppression, “because by nature it’s less visible and is more factual-intensive than other cases, which are quite simple,” said Arnold, who gave the example of “an advertisement running that everyone can see.”
As before, Bradley hid the fact that Epstein's research alleging Google search bias in the 2016 election has been discredited. But you can tell that Bradley is trying to boost Epstein's credibility by adding "Dr." and "Ph.D." to his name.
Of course, the point of all of this was not to conduct legitimate "research" but to manufacture results for political exploitation. Which is why Bozell went on Fox News on Nov. 4 to rant about it:
Media Research Center President Brent Bozell on Thursday blasted Google on Fox News at Night after yet another MRC study exposed the Big Tech giant’s left-wing bias just days before the historic 2022 midterm elections.
Bozell didn’t hold back on the anti-American, anti-free-speech “Googlers” attempting to subvert American elections. “This is an illegal corporate contribution by Google, trying to affect elections,” Bozell said. “Anyone running for office, if you’re a voter, you want information, in seven out of ten cases, you couldn't find the candidate if he was Republican.”
“Google is manipulating information.” Media Research Center President Brent Bozell demanded Google be held accountable for its anti-American and anti-free-speech attempts at influencing American elections during a Monday segment on Fox Business.
“This is, I believe, an illegal contribution they’re making to the democratic process,” Bozell stated on the Nov. 7 edition of Fox Business’s The Evening Edit. He continued: “They have got to be investigated. The Democrats don’t want to do it. If the Republicans take over, they have got to investigate what Google is doing because I think democracy is in danger when they can manipulate the voters this way.”
Bozell knows nobody at Fox News or Fox Business will ever seriously question him about the shoddy, unscientific methodology his employees are using -- he'll be able to rant at length and the hosts will just nod and smile. That's how the right-wing outrage machine gets fed, after all.
Gabriela Pariseau fed the Georgia Senate race into this narrative in a Dec. 12 post:
Google once again tried to manipulate undecided voters with slanted search results.
This time the Big Tech company’s tactics seem to have benefited incumbent Democrat Senator Raphael Warnock in the hotly contested Georgia runoff Senate race against Republican candidate Herschel Walker. "Google at it again trying to swing the election,” MRC founder and President Brent Bozell said. “Google needs to be held accountable for interfering in elections."
MRC Free Speech America analyzed Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo search results from searches conducted on Dec. 3 in one majority Democrat precinct, one majority Republican precinct and one swing precinct in Coweta County, Georgia.
In a very telling revelation, MRC Free Speech America researchers found that Google’s results favored Warnock in the swing precinct where greater proportions of undecided voters likely reside. Warnock’s campaign website appeared third in Google search results, but the platform scrubbed Walker’s website from the first page of results altogether.
Again, the MRC's approach lacked a basis in reality. The serarch terms used -- "Herschel Walker Senate Race 2022" and "Raphael Warnock Senate Race 2022"-- are not ones normal people would use in seeking information about the race, and no explanation was given as to why those terms were used or why they would have returned the results the MRC demanded.
There's one other interesting twist. Pariseau noted that "MRC Free Speech America worked with David Carlson, executive director of American Virtue, who oversaw the search tests used in this analysis." American Virtue is a white nationalist-adjacent organization that has tried to tone that stuff down in a bid for mainstream respectability. Political Research Associates reported on the group after a conference it held last summer:
From its beginnings, American Virtue has strained to distance itself from White nationalist Nick Fuentes and his Gen-Z America First/groyper movement. They have attempted this by toning down overtly racist, male supremacist, and antisemitic rhetoric in a bid for mainstream conservative respectability, even as they mimicked many aspects of groyper ideology and style.
While Fuentes’ unfiltered antisemitism, White nationalism, and incel-infused male supremacy has made him a liability for many conservative leaders, American Virtue continues to take a more circumspect route, flirting with groyper politics and aesthetics while carefully avoiding crossing red lines like antisemitism, positioning themselves within the bounds of mainstream conservative respectability. “We believe that America is a Christian nation,” proclaimed American Virtue Managing Director David Carlson during Friday’s conference, encapsulating the group’s militant Christian nationalism. “We believe that America has one culture, a shared identity, a shared heritage, and a shared traditionand that people trying to supplant that tradition, trying to destroy what made us America, are fundamentally opposed to us in every single way, and they must be stopped.”
Pariseau didn't explain why the MRC considers an extremist like Carlson to be a credible person to collaborate with for this biased experiment.
Pariseau hyped another dubious search gotcha in a Jan. 20 post:
Looking for information on “pregnancy”? Google’s got just the website for you: America’s largest baby-killing organization, Planned Parenthood.
MRC Free Speech America researchers analyzed Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo search results for the word “pregnancy” in a “clean environment.” Researchers performed the analysis the day before the 50th annual national March for Life in Washington, D.C. and found that Bing’s and DuckDuckGo’s search results for the word “pregnancy” stand in stark contrast to Google’s. While both Bing and DuckDuckGo showed more neutral results, displaying Healthline.com’s “overview” of pregnancy, Google showed a Planned Parenthood link as its first result. Planned Parenthood did not show up at all on the first page of results for either Bing or DuckDuckGo.
“Google may not believe it, but life is sacred,” MRC President Brent Bozell said. “Planned Parenthood should not be the first result when searching 'pregnancy' on Google. This is the work of the devil and the progressive left.”
The un-American search engine’s first result leads users to a Planned Parenthood page with an extremely detailed informational video answering “how does pregnancy happen” and the option to learn more. The link is a gateway for promoting abortion and discouraging women from seeking crisis pregnancy centers.
Pariseau made no effort to prove that anything in that Planned Parenthood pregnancy video was wrong, despite complaining that it was "extremely detailed" -- she simply complained that it was the first result because she hates Planned Parenthood for ideological reasons. She also didn't substantiate her slur that Google is "un-American," or why these particular search results somehow support that slur.
Nevertheless, Pariseau went on to complain:
For example, just underneath the informational link, in the same search result, is a link to a “Pregnancy Options” page that warns users about pro-life clinics:
“Be careful when looking for a reliable health center. There are fake clinics that say they have pregnancy services. These are called Crisis Pregnancy Centers, and they’re run by people who are anti-abortion and don’t believe in telling you the truth about all of your pregnancy options. They may use lies and manipulation to try to scare or shame people out of choosing abortion.”
Pariseau didn't dispute that crisis pregnancy centers mislead or scare women, because the record is quite clear on that. Which means that Pariseau is once again mad that Google is providing accurate information to its users.