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