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The MRC's Loud And Lame War On NewsGuard, Part 4

The Media Research Center spent the first half of 2023 rehashing its old, discredited attacks on the website-ratings firm, whining that it pointed out the shoddiness of right-wing media.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/1/2023

Joseph Vazquez

The Media Research Center has spent the past couple of years waging a loud, lame war against website credibility-rating firm NewsGuard for pointing out the inconvenient fact that right-wing websites are not very credible -- which, in the tunnel-vision eyes of the MRC, can only mean that NewsGuard is somehow "biased" and its rating system is faulty. That fallacious whining has continued.

An October 2022 post by Catherine Salgado complained that the New York Times was "citing leftist, biased NewsGuard to back up its claims" that disinformation is rife on what she euphemistically called "alternative social media platforms" -- read: right-wing sites like Gettr, Gab, Rumble and Truth Social, which she also laughably and dishonestly called "pro-free speech platforms" -- going on to reference how "MRC Free Speech America research showed that NewsGuard’s ratings skewed in favor of left-leaning outlets, the firm rating those outlets as having substantially more “credibility” on average than right-leaning outlets." Salgado also referenced"evidence that censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story by Big Media and Big Tech helped steal the election for then-presidential candidate Joe Biden in 2020, according to a Media Research Center survey conducted by McLaughlin & Associates." As ConWebWatch has pointed out, McLaughlin was Donald Trump's election pollster, so a poll result that supported its client was preordained and discredits the MRC's "evidence."

Joseph Vazquez spent a November 2022 post complaining that NewsGuard called out the disinformation posted at Rumble:

Leftist internet traffic cop NewsGuard is in no position to be throwing around the “hoax” label when its own CEO tried to dismiss the Hunter Biden laptop scandal as a “hoax.” It's a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

NewsGuard released a new self-serving report headlined: “Making YouTube Look Good: Rumble Becomes Hoax Central Ahead of the Midterms.” NewsGuard's primary complaint was that Rumble doesn’t abide by NewsGuard’s leftist ratings system like censorship-obsessed YouTube does:

“In search results, Rumble pushes twice as many sites rated untrustworthy by NewsGuard as YouTube,” which is laughable in the face of a December 2021 MRC study that showed outlets rated “left” or “lean left” by AllSides getting an average NewsGuard score of 93/100, while sites that AllSides considered “right” or “lean right” scored an abysmal average NewsGuard rating of 66/100.

This is the same NewsGuard whose CEO Steven Brill claimed before the 2020 elections that the Hunter Biden laptop scandal reported by the New York Post was a Russian “hoax.”

Vazquez made no effort prove anything NewsGuard says to be wrong -- he simply engaged in whataboutism by ranting about how "authoritarian Russia and Communist China" have accounts on Facebook. He also whined that NewsGuard called out the Rumble accounts of right-wingers Steve Bannon, Steven Crowder and Dan Bongino for spreading disinformation, but he offered no evidence that they don't.

When NewsGuard highlighted how purveyors of misinformation saw increased engagement after Elon Musk bought Twitter, Brian Bradley was there to complain about it in another November 2022 post:

Another day, another NewsGuard mudsling against the First Amendment.

NewsGuard, a wildly biased website rating firm, attempted to tarnish Elon Musk's Twitter using its flawed rating system. Musk has expressed an eagerness to promote free speech and eschew unfair censorship on the platform, but not without a fight by NewsGuard.

“Twitter’s most popular NewsGuard Red-Rated untrustworthy accounts garnered 57.04% increase in engagement in the week following the change in ownership,” NewsGuard wrote in an article Friday.

New Twitter CEO Musk’s pro-free-speech stance has apparently encouraged “greater activity by malign actors, boosting the popularity of misinformation on the platform,” the article reads.

In fact, both Twitter and NewsGuard are private companies to which the First Amendment does not apply. Bradley even hyped a couple of those serial misinformers -- but insisted that NewsGuard is the problem, not them, because it apparently doesn't have a sense of humor:

NewsGuard took specific aim at two of the 25 accounts that it lambasted as publishing “false” claims about COVID-19: Dr. Joseph Mercola and Dr. Christiane Northrup.

Mercola turned to Substack after YouTube in September 2021 banned his account for spreading so-called COVID-19 “misinformation.”

NewsGuard complained that Mercola “published numerous false claims about vaccines and the COVID-19 pandemic, and that Mercola’s Twitter interactions “rose from 932 to 19,259, a 1966.42% increase in engagement and the largest increase measured by NewsGuard.”

The article also included a tweet of a meme Northrup posted on Oct. 28, depicting a cartooned Musk mocking a caricatured, crying leftist.

NewsGuard portrayed Northrup as “a self-described wellness expert that has also repeatedly published false information about COVID-19.”

Maybe get a sense of humor, NewsGuard?

By not disputing that Mercola and Northrup do, in fact, spread misinformation, Bradley is basically trying to maliciously privilege misinformation by dishonestly labeling it as "free speech." He didn't explain why misinformation shouldn't be countered, or why he's so desperate to see it spread.

After NewsGuard called out Fox News' Tucker Carlson for his rampant misinformation, Salgado went on the attack in a Dec. 6 post:

Try figuring this one out. Biased ratings firm NewsGuard reportedly gave leftist CNN’s Inside Politics a credibility score of 9/10, while Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show notched a 0/10.

MRC Free Speech America showed in a December 2021 report that “credibility” arbiter NewsGuard has a strong leftist, anti-free speech bias. But the online ratings firm is now expanding beyond online news to TV news, Variety reported.

Variety said NewsGuard’s ratings of “140 cable, streaming, and network television shows and networks will be available to advertising agencies, marketers, and others starting January 2, 2023.”

NewsGuard’s bias is already evident based on its TV show ratings. NewsGuard scored Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Tonight< at rock bottom, giving the show a 0/10.

NewsGuard claimed Carlson’s show “regularly advances false, misleading, and unsubstantiated claims on topics of importance such as COVID-19 and U.S. and international politics.”

"NewsGuard is a dangerous form of censorship," said MRC President Brent Bozell. "They are trashing Tucker's show and downgrading anything they don't like, then pushing advertisers to bail and force them off the air."

As with her fellow writers, Salgado made no effort whatsoever to rebut what NewsGuard actually said about Carlson, even though its report on him cites numerous examples of misinformation he has spread. Instead, she whined that "Inside Politics" host John King is "blatantly biased" while citing a few cherry-picked statements.

The MRC has no interest in a good-faith debate with NewsGuard about website credibility -- it simply wants to shout down NewsGuard for revealing inconvenient truths about the shoddiness of right-wing media.

The MRC brought its war on NewsGuard into the new year. Vazquez ranted in a Jan. 6 post:

Discredited leftist website ratings firm NewsGuard has had a year to prove that its ratings system isn’t prejudiced against conservative media, but it’s failing miserably. A new analysis shows that liberal media outlets were rated 25 points higher on average than right-leaning media outlets illustrates how NewsGuard’s self-projection as a credibility gatekeeper is a complete joke.

MRC Free Speech America analyzed the NewsGuard ratings of media outlets based on a list compiled by AllSides that classified their “bias” on a left-to-right scale. The average NewsGuard score for the “left” and “lean left” outlets — which included leftist outlets like USA Today — was a “green shield” rating of 91/100. USA Today was embroiled in a scandal after former reporter Gabriela Miranda was found to have fabricated sources. While the average rating for “right” and “lean right” outlets — which included Fox News, The Daily Wire and New York Post — was a low 66/100.

That’s a 25-point disparity.

As ConWebWatch has noted, USA Today dealt with the situation with that reporter in a forthright manner by identifying the problem and correcting the situation while explaining to readers what happened. By contrast, the MRC still has yet to make any sort of public statement about the Brent Bozell ghostwriting scandal or how one of its bloggers used white nationalist links to flesh out his posts. Also, AllSides is hardly an objective observer; it's a right-leaning fact-checker that uses sloppy labeling, and the MRC has previously praised it for leaning into its "liberal bias" narratives.

Vazquez continued:

NewsGuard’s bias has barely budged in over 365 days of ever-changing nutrition labels either praising or demonizing the “credibility” of news outlets. But NewsGuard as an organization is in no place to virtue-signal about “credibility” given that its CEO Steven Brill tried to cast the now-verified Hunter Biden laptop scandal as a Russian “hoax” just prior to the 2020 presidential election. Even after the emails from the laptop were verified, NewsGuard maintained perfect scores for outlets like Politico, The Washington Post and USA Today, which all interfered in the 2020 election by trying to bury the Biden family scandal as some kind of disinformation operation.

Only in the right-wing bubble would refusal to report an unverified story be considered election interference. Note that Vazquez is blaming non-right-wing media for not parroting the story and not the New York Post -- a right-wing outlet that was in the tank for Trump's re-election in 2020 -- for failing to provide any sort of independent verification of the laptop story that would have elevated it above the October surprise-grade attack it clearly appeared to be. Vazquez clearly does not understand that it's good journalistic practice to not amplify an unverified story.

The worst thing Vazquez could apparently come up with regarding the Washington Post's purported unreliablity is that it "was recently caught stealth-editing a report that falsely labeled journalists Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss as 'conservative.' The erroneous characterization came after both reporters’ separate coverage exposing the internal communications behind Twitter’s massive campaign to censor speech and ban former President Donald Trump." Vazquez offered no evidence to support his claim that Taibbi and Weiss are not conservative, and his description of them offering "separate coverage" of Twitter ignores the fact that both were hand-picked by Elon Musk to write about selective releases of internal Twitter documents to push a right-wing narrative of "censorship" under previous owners.

Vazquez again ranted that "BuzzFeed News continues to host the bogus January 2017 Steele dossier it published that made erroneous claims about alleged collusion between Trump and Russia. However, NewsGuard still gives the outlet a perfect 100/100 score" -- censoring the fact that BuzzFeed never claimed the dossier was accurate, told readers it was unverified and explicitly stated that it published the dossier "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."

Vazquez went on to attack USA Today again for an accurate fact-check on history:

In a so-called June 30, 2020, “fact-check”, the outlet tried deflecting from the historical fact that Democrats started the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan and were responsible for the Civil War by drawing a flimsy distinction between the Democratic Party and Democrats:
Historians agree that although factions of the Democratic Party did majorly contribute to the Civil War's start and KKK's founding, it is inaccurate to say the party is responsible for either.
The headline for the propagandistic fact-check was deceptive: “Fact check: Democratic Party did not found the KKK, did not start the Civil War.” The Democratic Party may not have officially started the Civil War, but the Confederacy was indisputably made up of strident Democrats, which USA Today arbitrarily glossed over to protect the left. In fact, one of the KKK’s founding members was Confederate veteran Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, a Democrat. But according to NewsGuard’s nutrition label, “[A]voids deceptive headlines” and “[g]athers and presents information responsibly.”

Note that Vazquez actually conceded that USA Today was correct by pointing out that the KKK was not "officially started" by the Democratic Party. He didn't explain how it was "propagandistic" to state something even he admits is accurate.

The results of MRC Free Speech America’s latest analysis are especially damning in light of NewsGuard’s latest expansion into rating TV shows. Variety reported Dec. 1 that NewsGuard’s ratings of “140 cable, streaming, and network television shows and networks will be available to advertising agencies, marketers, and others starting January 2, 2023.” NewsGuard’s TV show ratings are structured based on a 0-10 scale as opposed to the 0/100 scale used for websites. NewsGuard scored Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Tonight at rock bottom, giving the show a 0/10. NewsGuard claimed Carlson’s show “regularly advances false, misleading, and unsubstantiated claims on topics of importance such as COVID-19 and U.S. and international politics.”

By comparison, CNN’s Inside Politics received a NewsGuard rating of 9/10, because host John King supposedly provides “multiple viewpoints in his reports, mostly through his own summary of dissenting views on a story, and interviews with prominent Republican lawmakers, pollsters, and consultants.” But King is blatantly biased. For example, King and his panel recently used Trump’s dining with Ye (formerly known as “Kanye West”) and Ye’s guest, white supremacist Nick Fuentes, and the GOP’s quiet response to imply that Republicans are an anti-Semitic party that encourages hate crimes. King ignored the fact that Trump is transparently pro-Israel, while certain Democrats consistently spread anti-Israel rhetoric.
That's right -- just a few paragraphs after getting mad that USA Today wouldn't equate Democrats who founded the KKK with the entire Democratic Party, Vazquez got mad that the leader of the Republican Party hanging out with anti-Semites was elevated to reflect the entire Republican Party. Be consistent in your arguments, Joey! Also, one can criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic, and one can harbor anti-Semitic sentiments (Trump frequently invokes anti-Semitic tropes when talking about Jews) while also supporting Israel as part of a political agenda.

The MRC's anti-NewsGuard propaganda got repeated in a Feb. 6 podcast in which Paiten Iselin declared that "I exposed NewsGuard and its checkered past of bias" by parroting her employer's earlier attacks. She even repeated one of the MRC's lamest attack lines: "NewsGuard also rated several Chinese Communist Party-controlled media outlets as more credible than independent American outlets such as One America News Network (OANN), Newsmax and LifeNews." Again, Newsmax and OAN are being sued for defamation, while anti-abortion propaganda operation LifeNews has reported numerous falsehoods.

The next attack came in the form of a particularly lame March 20 gotcha post by Catherine Salgado and Gabriela Pariseau:

Leftist ratings firm NewsGuard claimed that it’s not federally funded after journalists accused the organization of receiving government money at the recent Twitter Files hearing. But NewsGuard lists the Department of Defense and State Department as Partners and received a substantial Department of Defense “grant” in 2021.

NewsGuard’s co-CEO Gordon Crovitz claimed in the wake of the recent Twitter Files Congressional hearing that the leftist ratings firm is “not a non-profit funded by government grants,” according to an email screenshot tweeted March 10 by Washington Examiner Investigative Reporter Gabe Kaminsky.” But a payout of nearly $750,000 from the Department of Defense (DoD), which NewsGuard itself previously called a “grant,” seems to indicate otherwise. NewsGuard also lists DoD and the State Department as “partners” on its website.

MRC Free Speech America reached out to NewsGuard General Manager Matt Skibinski about the DoD funding it had received. Skibinski did not deny the government contract, and then doubled down on the co-CEO’s claim that NewsGuard is “not” government funded.

“That’s like saying the Wuhan laboratory wasn’t government funded,” said MRC President Brent Bozell. “They were just providing a service for the government.”

Salgado and Pariseau are trying to exploit imprecise wording to attack NewsGuard, seizing on a clearly mistaken description of the DoD contract as a "grant" to claim that NewsGuard is lying. They even trotted out an old trick it has previously used in attacking Planned Parenthood for taking federal money for non-abortion-related services, the "fungible" canard:

MRC Free Speech America & MRC Business Vice President Dan Schneider said, “All money is fungible. Whether it’s a contract or a grant, NewsGuard still received funds from the federal government and has exhibited an obvious leftist bias.”

Salgado and Pariseau concluded by regurgitating the MRC's usual whining that NewsGuard rated right-wing outlets lower than "left-leaning" ones for accuracy without providing any evidence that the ratings are in any way wrong.

The bogus narrative spreads

The MRC's shoddy attacks on NewsGuard got a boost when right-wing columnist Ben Shapiro regurgitated it in his Aug. 2 column (reprinted by the MRC, of course):

NewsGuard is an organization that formulates ratings for American media. They rank news sites on a 0-to-100 scale based on nine supposedly apolitical criteria. These criteria are anything but apolitical. They often align with left-wing positions.


The Media Research Center, a free-speech nonprofit, studied NewsGuards’ ratings. The study found glaring examples of bias by NewsGuard.

The Left’s BuzzFeed managed a 100 out of 100 perfect score, despite its reporting on the Steele dossier and alleging collusion between former President Donald Trump and Russia.

The study found that The Global Times, a Chinese propaganda government outlet, scored a 39.5 -- that is 27 points higher than the U.S.-based conservative outlet The Federalist. Despite a scandal at USA Today revealing the publication of multiple fabricated sources in their stories and their own fact-checking operation misleading readers on the history of the Democratic Party and the KKK, USA Today maintained the 100 out of 100 rating by NewsGuard.

As ConWebWatch noted when the MRC previously attacked USA Today over the "fabricated sources" scandal, it identified the problem and corrected the situation while explaining to readers what happened. And that fact-check was correcting a false claim that the Democratic Party created the KKK, which even the MRC sorta conceded (while still trying to blame all Democrats for the KKK). Also, Shapiro's description of the MRC as a "free-speech nonprofit" is laughable considering how it works to censor speech that doesn't advance right-wing narratives.

A post later that day by Catherine Salgado gushed over how Shapiro did even more work to boost the MRC's dishonest anti-NewsGuard narrative:

The Daily Wire host Ben Shapiro championed research against leftist ratings firm NewsGuard during a July 29 segment exposing globalist organizations that try to control online narratives and ad money.

Shapiro noted in the first episode of new series “Facts” that there’s clear bias when one compares NewsGuard’s ratings of right-leaning versus left-leaning outlets. He cited exclusive research from the Media Research Center’s MRC Free Speech America, published January 6, 2023. MRC Free Speech America found that the average score for left-leaning outlets was 91/100, versus 66/100 for right-leaning outlets. That’s a 25-point difference. This comes over a year after MRC originally exposed NewsGuard’s bias, and the ratings firm claimed to have corrected mistakes in downgrading 21 outlets during the COVID-19 pandemic.


“[NewsGuard] help[s] ensure that ad-buyers and users looking for news can be in safe and suitable places,” Shapiro said sarcastically. As MRC Free Speech America exposed, NewsGuard is politically biased, not an objective arbiter.

“The [MRC] study found glaring examples of bias by NewsGuard,” Shapiro said. “The left’s BuzzFeed managed a 100/100 perfect score, despite its reporting on the Steele Dossier and alleging collusion between Trump and Russia.” These stories were not substantiated and ultimately proved false.

Again, while BuzzFeed published the Steele dossier, it never vouched for its accuracy, stating that it "includes specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations" and that it published 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."

The MRC and Shapiro teamed up again a couple weeks later when Shapiro's video was briefly demonetized by YouTube for pushing conspiracy theories. Luis Cornelio huffed in an Aug. 11 post:

YouTube is working overtime to punish individuals who dare to expose groups that seek to suppress conservatives.

Ben Shapiro, the editor emeritus of the Daily Wire and popular podcast host, decried YouTube on August 11 for reportedly demonitizing the first episode of his new series called “Facts.” Citing an MRC Free Speech America exposé on NewsGuard, the video blasted organizations like NewsGuard for unleashing rating systems aimed at discouraging readers and advertisers from right-leaning outlets. When MRC Free Speech America reached out to YouTube for an explanation the platform admitted no wrong but claimed the video is now monetizable.

It can't possibly be that the MRC's "exposé" is so shoddy that it was so easily debunked. The issue was resolved a few days later, so Cornelio cheered in an Aug. 16 post:

MRC Free Speech America successfully confronted YouTube after the platform targeted a bombshell video by Daily Wire Editor Emeritus Ben Shapiro, exposing entities aiming to manipulate Americans.

Shapiro praised MRC Free Speech America on Tuesday for successfully challenging YouTube’s demonetization of his video, which led to the platform reversing its arbitrary punishment. Researchers at the Media Research Center confronted the platform over dubious claims that the video, which blasts leftist internet traffic cop NewsGuard, violated YouTube’s policies on conspiracy theories.

“Media Research Center pressed YouTube about why monetization was suppressed,” Shapiro said. “Apparently, YouTube effectively refused to acknowledge the platform had limited the video in the first place. A YouTube spokesperson said. ‘In order for a video to monetize on YouTube, it must comply with our advertiser-friendly guidelines, which are publicly accessible and apply to all creators. Upon review the video in question is currently monetizing.’”

In other words: the MRC's lame and dishonest attacks on NewsGuard continue, albeit with a somewhat larger megaphone.

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