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The MRC's Loud And Lame War On NewsGuard, Part 5

Media Research Center writers continue to rage that NewsGuard exposes the shoddiness of right-wing media outlets -- and continue to refuse to demonstrate why the media-ratings service should rank them higher.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 4/3/2024

Joseph Vazquez

The Media Research Center's loud and lame war against NewsGuard got an assist from its favorite social media-ruining multibillionaire, as Joseph Vazquez gushed in an Oct. 19 post:
X owner Elon Musk came out swinging against the leftist media hall monitor NewsGuard and called for the whole company to be “disbanded immediately.”

Musk responded to criticism from WikiPedia co-founder Jimmy Wales who whined in a post Oct. 17 about the X platform allegedly removing “all the core features that made it even remotely possible to tell real journalists from fakes.” Through discussion on the X thread, Foundation For Freedom Online Executive Director Mike Benz pointed out to Musk that Wales was an advisor to the leftist NewsGuard, “which is knee deep in a plot to get gov’ts to bankrupt alternative news.” Musk did not hold back in his response to Benz’s revelatory Oct. 19 post: “This is crazy!” 

Podcaster Tim Pool joined the conversation, stating that his website’s rating by NewsGuard was dinged because “we ran 5 stories out of nearly 5,000 that quoted Trump.” Meanwhile, as Pool noted, legacy and liberal media outlets that “ran fake stories out of Gaza” like The New York Times get perfect 100/100 scores. 

Musk was having none of it. “What a scam! ‘Newsguard’ should be disbanded immediately,” he rebuked.

Vazquez didn't mention that Benz had been exposed a couple weeks earlier as a creator of videos promoting racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories while posting under the name Frame Game, which undermines his credibility as any sort of cheerleader for "freedom." Instead, he took stenography from his MRC superiors reciting their NewsGuard-bashing narratives:

“There are a number of these politicized, so-called ratings outfits that exist to direct consumers away from conservative media and drive advertisers into the arms of the left,” said MRC Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider. “Every one of these groups, whether it’s NewsGuard, Ad Fontes or others, needs to be exposed, and the public needs to understand that they are anything but reliable.”


MRC Free Speech America Director Michael Morris piled on, adding to Musk’s retort. “Musk is absolutely right,” said Morris. “And the American people also deserve an explanation. Speech and thought police have no place in the United States of America. Such business models are antithetical to the vision our Founding Fathers had when they made clear the importance of free speech and a free press when they underscored these fundamental liberties as part of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

The MRC has repeatedly shown through its analyses how skewed to favor the left NewsGuard’s ratings system has been.

Yeah, not so much. Those "analyses" are mostly whining that right-wing media was rated as high as non-right-wing media without bothering to demonstrate why right-wing media actually deserved better ratings, and it was much more about lame gotchas than presenting any sort of credible evidence.

Vazquez rehashed another related attack: "But NewsGuard isn’t the only leftist entity trying to act as a Ministry of Truth on the internet. MRC Free Speech America also recently exposed an leftist, so-called media ratings firm Ad Fontes. MRC laid bare Ad Fontes’s penchant for elevating leftist media while throttling right-leaning media with its own skewed scoring system." As ConWebWatch has documented, the MRC's hit job on Ad Fontes was just as shoddy as its attacks on NewsGuard, demanding false balance while refusing to demonstrate why it should exist and falsely framing legitimate and credible criticism of right-wing media as "censorship."

Vazquez concluded by ranting: "One thing is clear: leftist website ratings firms like NewsGuard and Ad Fontes have no business policing the internet given their demonstrable biases. Both should be disbanded." Which, of course, is the entire point of the MRC's jihad: to silence critics they don't agree with.

The next day, Vazquez was back to playing gotcha against NewsGuard:

Radical internet traffic cop NewsGuard has shown once again why its bona fides as a supposedly unbiased journalism referee are hot garbage in light of how it treats leftist outlets that peddled Hamas agitprop to attack Israel. 

The New York Times, TIME magazine, Politico and Reuters are just four of a number of leftist news outlets that haphazardly gobbled up the Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry’s claim that an “Israeli” airstrike blew up a Gaza-based hospital, allegedly killing 500 people on Oct. 17. A U.S. intelligence assessment later concluded that Israel was not responsible for the bombing. Both the U.S. House and Senate intelligence committees absolved Israel. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) instead placed the blame squarely at the feet of a “failed rocket launch by militant terrorists.” Later reports also put the estimated death toll at a much lower count than what Hamas initially claimed.

But liberal media outlets across the internet just took the Hamas talking points and ran with them, which helped fuel mass anti-Israel protests and regional governments’ fury across the Middle East. MRC Free Speech America dug out the archived versions for each of the four outlets that originally smeared Israel in their reporting before later stealth-editing their stories and headlines. Then MRC researchers checked NewsGuard’s scores for the four respective outlets. In the three days that have passed since the incident, NewsGuard maintained the perfect 100/100 scores for all four outlets.

Vazquez offered no evidence that NewsGuard renders immediate judgments on news stories, and the headlines Vazquez himself is quoting about the incident make sure to attribute the death toll to the Gaza health ministry and not presenting it as indisputable fact, and he largely ignored how these outlets treated questions about the health ministry's veracity and efforts to correct the record. He also failed to provide an example of a right-wing media outlet that he believed presented that information in a way he approves of. A real, credible researcher would have done those things, but Vazquez is a partisan activist, not a researcher.

Another attack came in an Oct. 30 post by Autumn Johnson:

MRC Free Speech America has exposed NewsGuard for its rank bias in favor of the left, but a new lawsuit reveals more information about an alleged conspiracy between the flawed media ratings firm and the Pentagon to censor speech online.

Consortium News, an independent news site, filed a damning lawsuit against the federal government of the United States and NewsGuard Technologies, Inc, alleging First Amendment violations and defamation. As part of its lawsuit, Consortium News cited NewsGuard’s contract with the Department of Defense to “identify, report and abridge the speech of American media organizations that dissent from U.S. official positions on foreign policy.” The news website accused NewsGuard of “acting jointly or in concert with the United States to coerce news organizations to alter viewpoints” and thus “imposing a form of censorship and repression” of free speech.

Funny how Consortium News became an "independent news site" for the MRC's current purposes; in 2011, it dismissed the operation as being run by "wackier liberals." And the MRC has not "exposed NewsGuard for its rank bias in favor of the left" -- it has merely whined that it exposed the shoddiness of right-wing websites. Also, as it usually does, it falsely portrays efforts to expose online falsehoods and misinformation as "censorship."

Tom Olohan unsurprisingly did the latter as he uncritically repeating the rantings of one of the MRC's favorite dishonest transphobes in a Nov. 9 post:

The Daily Wire host Matt Walsh tore into the anti-free speech firm NewsGuard after one of its employees reached out to him about so-called “misinformation.”

Walsh wrote in a Nov. 8 post that an employee of NewsGuard, a website ratings firm with a demonstrable bias against conservatives, had reached out to him. Walsh wrote, “Some hack with a ‘fact checking’ organization called NewsGuard emailed a lengthy list of questions after monitoring my podcast for ‘misinformation.’” During the Nov. 8 edition of The Matt Walsh Show, Walsh laid into NewsGuard as well, describing NewsGuard as “a core component of the left’s evolving censorship apparatus.”

Walsh described NewsGuard as, “a powerful and influential organization, one that you are funding with your tax dollars. They recently received a massive grant from Biden’s Department of Defense for nearly $750,000. As Michael Shellenberger testified before Congress earlier this year, ‘Both The Global Disinformation Index and NewsGuard are U.S. government-funded entities who are working to drive advertisers’ revenue away from disfavored publications and towards the ones they favor.’”


Walsh noted that NewsGuard has targeted a number of organizations, including Breitbart, Revolver News, The Federalist, Fox News, Redstate, Life News, PragerU and The Daily Wire in “transparently partisan” fashion. 

Olohan gave no evidence of these purportedly "transparently partisan" attacks on right-wing websites -- he simply parroted the complaint. Given Walsh's record of falsehoods, as exhibited in the lies he spread (and the MRC uncritically repeated) in attacking Target for not hating LGBT people as much as he does, there's little reason to take him seriously.

Catherine Salgado served up her anti-NewsGuard hate in a Nov. 20 post:

Twitter Files investigations uncovered biased ratings firm NewsGuard’s pitch bragging of government ties.

Journalist Lee Fang explained in collaboration with RealClearInvestigations Nov. 15 that the Twitter Files unearthed a pitch from NewsGuard CEO L. Gordon Crovitz to Twitter in 2021. In the pitch, Crovitz described NewsGuard as a “Vaccine Against Misinformation” that largely drew from government sources, particularly the very government agencies that contracted with NewsGuard! These disturbing findings come after MRC Free Speech America twice exposed NewsGuard’s anti-right bias.

Again, the MRC exposed nothing except its determination to turn NewsGuard into a political target. Salgado then played the TikTok card because it's apparently a customer of NewsGuard:

NewsGuard’s “nutrition labels” arbitrarily rating dozens of sites in multiple languages and its reports on specific regions have garnered praise from the likes of CNN and are moving into schools, libraries, and internet service providers. Crovitz markets “BrandGuard” for advertisers, too, Fang wrote. NewsGuard’s investors include the firm that represents pharma giant Pfizer and an individual tied to ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, in which the Chinese Communist Party government owns a board seat and maintains a financial stake.

Of course, the MRC is leaning into its longtime anti-vaxxer arguments by singling out Pfizer as another client.

Vazquez wrote a Nov. 21 screed demanding that NewsGuard be barred from government contracts, regurgitating his employer's bogus claim that NewsGuard is "biased" against right-wing media:

Leftist internet traffic cop NewsGuard is the farthest thing from being the unbiased media referee it purports to be. It is a government-funded operation designed to attack right-leaning media by going after their advertiser funding.

There are at least five core reasons why Congress should strip funding from NewsGuard in the latest National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) since it received a $750,000 federal grant from the Department of Defense. The state funding of a leftist, so-called journalism gatekeeper that deceptively bills itself as “apolitical” is case in point. Such efforts by the government to censor media it does not approve of through the funding of a private organization is on its face unconstitutional. Moreover, NewsGuard’s inherent bias against right-leaning media and rubber-stamping of left-wing publications, its financing by special interests that compromise its objectivity, its apparent legitimization of communist Chinese government propaganda and its open celebration of its collusion with government make it little more than an Orwellian Ministry of Truth of the first magnitude.

Couple all that with the MRC’s analysis across two studies on NewsGuard’s media ratings and “Nutrition Labels” showing how the so-called media ratings firm is nothing more than a leftist political tool intended to silence the right and the problem becomes all too clear. It’s time for America’s legislators to finally take action.

Vazquez went on to screech "five core reasons why Congress should ensure that NewsGuard doesn’t receive another cent in taxpayer dollars" that rehashed many of its old, lame attacks, then bizarrely claimed that it's unconstitutional for it to get funding:

In particular, the government is prohibited from censoring speech protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. These are basic, obvious, principles which the Biden administration has blatantly disregarded in its unlawful arrangement with NewsGuard, under contract to do the dirty work of government censorship.

An even more fundamental maxim is that what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly. The Biden administration and its minions at NewsGuard are violating constitutional rights; this needs to be stopped.

Vazquez failed to explain what constitutional right protects liars and misleaders or why it is "unlawful" to point out those who lie and mislead, nor did he detail why it is "unconstitutional" to do so. He went on to whine that NewsGuard identified those who spread misinformation about COVID and its vaccines, alleging a conflict of interest because it has received funding from a group in which one participant received funding from vaccine-maker Pfizer:

The [Washington] Times noted that The Daily Sceptic, another publication whose skepticism of vaccines drew the ire of NewsGuard’s web traffic monitors, got its score dinged down to a failing 37.5/100. “The site gets 1.8 million views every month, [Daily Sceptic Editor-in-Chief Toby] Young said, but its advertising has dried up since NewsGuard’s blacklisting.” NewsGuard’s “Nutrition Label” for the site updated Aug. 23, 2023, also openly defended Pfizer without disclosing the apparent conflict of interest.

You don't have work for NewsGuard to know that the Daily Sceptic, a British website, is unreliable -- others have documented the false and misleading COVID-related claims it has made, and Media Bias Fact Check called the website "a far-right biased quackery level pseudoscience website that frequently publishes false and misleading information regarding covid-19 and science in general." In short, Vazquez is dishonestly trying to give credibility to a thoroughly discredited conspiracy site, claiming that he merely offers "skepticism of vaccines" when it actively lies to and misleads readers.

Vazquez also rehashed an old complaint that NewsGuard rated "Chinese state propaganda to be more credible than American publications" but, of course, is devoid of any details surrounding that claim, including the fact that one of the right-wing websites he tried to defend, Newsmax, is currently being sued by Dominion and Smartmatic over false claims it made about election fraud after the 2020 election. He concluded by ranting: "Why would the federal government proceed to continue funding any outfit that considers communist agitprop to be more credible than U.S. media?" He didn't explain why known liars and misleaders deserve better rankings simply for being American, and he didn't prove that any of those sites deserved to be treated as credible by anyone outside his right-wing bubble.

Luis Cornelio also uncritically peddled the corporate line in a Nov. 22 post:

Members of the Free Speech Alliance and pro-free speech allies are calling on Congress to once and for all ensure that the Biden administration is prohibited from unconstitutionally funding Ministry of Truth operations like leftist internet traffic cop NewsGuard.

MRC and others signed the four-page letter addressed to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), urging congressional leaders to keep Rep. Richard McCormick (R-GA)’s free speech amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The amendment effectively bars the Department of Defense from contracting and funding infamous leftist tech entities like NewsGuard and the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) which are intent on crushing right-leaning media entities.

Signed by 36 pro-free speech advocates, the letter drew attention to disturbing revelations miring both NewsGuard (which received a $750,000 payout from the Department of Defense in 2021) and GDI which is also funded by government entities, including the Department of State.

Like Vazquez, Cornelio failed to back up his claim that NewsGuard is "leftist" with any sort of credible evidence.

Unsurprisingly, the letter begins with the dishonest statement that "Our federal government never should have spent time and taxpayer money on censoring conservatives," despite a complete lack of proof that anyone is "censoring" conservatives solely for being conservative or even that NewsGuard is doing the purported censoring.

The list of signatories includes a little corporate padding -- not only is it signed by MRC chief Brent Bozell, he's joined by Dan Schneider of MRC division Free Speech America and Bozell's son David, who operates the meme factory ForAmerica out of the MRC's headquarters. It also includes representatives of a few low-reliability right-wing outlets: One America News Network, ConservativeHQ and the Western Journal. Also, Brigitte Gabriel (not her real name) of the anti-Muslim ACT for America is for some reason identified as "Lady Brigitte Gabriel."

Strike three: Another lame, biased study

For the third year in a row, the Media Research Center has issued a so-called study purporting to attack NewsGuard as having a political bias against right-wing websites. And unsurprisingly, it's as loud and lame as the first two. Vazquez huffed in a Dec. 12 post:

Internet traffic cop NewsGuard has gotten worse. A new MRC Free Speech America analysis shows the notorious leftist media ratings organization is more biased against the right than ever before.

MRC Free Speech America investigated NewsGuard for a third year in a row, finding that its 0/100 ratings scale has once again overwhelmingly favored left-leaning outlets over right-leaning ones. “NewsGuard is just another leftist group trying to censor conservatives,” said MRC President Brent Bozell. “We have the proof.”

Using the media list provided by AllSides that classifies publications based on their “right” to “left” bias, MRC researchers determined that NewsGuard provided a stellar average “credibility” rating of 91/100 for “left” and “lean left” outlets (e.g. The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, Vox). At the same time, it dinged “right” and “lean right” outlets like Fox News, the New York Post and The Daily Wire with an outrageously abysmal average score of 65/100. The latest analysis denotes a 26 point disparity.

NewsGuard’s rating for right-leaning outlets in particular was worse than the still-low 66/100 average rating it slapped on right-leaning media across the prior two MRC studies released Jan. 6, 2023 and Dec. 13, 2021.
First of all, AllSides is a right-leaning organization that promotes the MRC's work, so its list is a bit suspect, given how it places most mainstream media outlets on the "left" side of the ledger and still lists Newsweekly as in the "center" despite its undeniable move to the right. And of course, the disparity in group scores is not, in and of itself, evidence of bias, and Vazquez makes little attempt to prove that it is. Indeed, he follows that by rehashing old grievances about how the media handled Hunter Biden's laptop (ignoring that the New York Post did not offer any independent corroborating evidence to prove the laptop's authenticity, making it easy for non-right-wing media to dismiss the story as an October surprise by a pro-Trump rag) and complaining yet again that "NewsGuard still gives leftist outlet BuzzFeed a perfect 100/100 score despite the expired site continuing to host the widely discredited Steele dossier (ignoring the fact that BuzzFeed never claimed the dossier was accurate).

Vazquez's unprofessional bias is splayed throughout his so-called study, such as when he ranted about "NewsGuard’s perfect scores for blatantly liberal outlets like the explicitly left-wing New York Times"; by contrast, he refused to identify the New York Post as "blatantly conservative" or "explicitly right-wing," even though such descriptions would be warranted and accurate. He also portrayed coverage of the Israel-Hamas war and related protests over it as being between "anti-Israel media" and "right-leaning media" -- a ridiculous comparison -- going on to whine that non-right-wing media coverage didn't adhere to right-wing narratives. That's another sign this is a political hit job, not a serious piece of "media research."

Vazquez also gave right-wing outlets space to complain about their relatively low ratings -- but he offered few specific examples to explain why they were so low. He did cite one instance, though, which comes off as whiny nitpicking (prefaced by more whining):

The Heritage Foundation, one of the most prominent think tanks in the U.S. also received NewsGuard’s ire, getting hit with a 69.5/100 score. “The political hacks from NewsGuard claim they’ll help you decide what news outlets you can trust. In reality, you shouldn’t trust anything from this overtly biased organization,” said The Heritage Foundation Communications Director Rob Bluey. “Thanks to MRC, we now have proof that left-leaning outlets fare better than their conservative counterparts.”

One of NewsGuard’s nonsensical quibbles was The Heritage Foundation’s repudiation of the $80 billion earmarked in Biden’s extremist $749 billion Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) towards hiring 87,000 new Internal Revenue Service “agents.” NewsGuard split hairs by arguing that the onerous Biden bill simply allows the IRS to hire “86,852 full-time employees — not all audit agents, as the article suggested.” The headline of The Heritage Foundation’s article was “Fact-Checking Team Biden on Who Those 87,000 New IRS Agents Would Audit,” but NewsGuard didn’t disclose that The Heritage Foundation did note in its piece how “Calculations conservatively assume that only 57.3% of the Treasury Department’s estimated 86,852 new IRS agents (49,754 in total) would be assigned to enforcement.” In other words, The Heritage Foundation did specifically note that not all of the new “agents” would serve in auditing functions.

Of course, the fact that Vazquez referred to the Inflation Reduction Act as "extremist" further shows his disqualifying bias. He does seem to hint that Heritage showed its own inaccuracy in referring to "87,000 New IRS Agents" in the headline, but the article continued to refer to all 87,000 as "agents" throughout, and no evidence is provided to back up its alleged "calculations" about which new hires would be doing what. Further, that statement didn't appear until the 13th paragraph and wasn't mentioned at all in the bullet-point "key takeaways" at the top of the piece, further showing the shoddiness of Vazquez's defense.

Vazquez, however, failed to discuss how Fox News was exposed as knowingly lying to its viewers about election fraud through evidence released in the Dominion lawsuit -- resulting in a $787 million settlement with Dominion -- and how that blatant dishonesty may have affected its NewsGuard score. He was also silent about how Fox News quietly deleted a false story about a Gold Star family purportedly having to pay for a soldier's remains to be returned to the U.S. after being killed in Afghanistan without issuing a public retraction or apology. Instead, he defended Fox News by portraying its reporting on an incident involving the bombing of a hospital in Gaza to be "much more accurate" than the purportedly "anti-Israel" media. If Vazquez can't even bring up the biggest news-fraud story of the year, it shows how worthless this "study" is.

Vazquez refused to give NewsGuard an opportunity to respond to any of his bad-faith partisan attacks. He closed by rehashing his earlier screed demanding that NewsGuard not receive any federal contracts -- again showing the manufactured hit-job nature of his so-called study.

Meanwhile, what better place to promote such a wildly biased and flawed study than on the very accuracy-challenged right-wing outlets it's defending? That's what MRC chief Brent Bozell did in running to Fox Business, as Luis Cornelio dutifully transcribed in a Dec. 13 post:

MRC President and Founder Brent Bozell delivered a scorching rebuke of self-anointed internet traffic cop NewsGuard following the release of another report exposing the media ratings firm’s extreme leftist bias.

Speaking to Fox Business host Stuart Varney on Wednesday, Bozell highlighted an MRC Free Speech America report that exposed NewsGuard’s ratings as being disproportionately harsher to right-leaning media. “You've got this group … that calls itself, ‘objective,’” Bozell said of Newsguard, which gave left-leaning media an average credibility rating of 91 percent, while rating right-leaning media only an average of 65 percent.

Bozell ripped the legacy media for decades of tilted coverage under the guise of objectivity. “For years and years and years, the media has been telling the American people that they were objective,” Bozell told Varney on Varney & Co. The reality, Bozell warned, “They were left wing.”

Bozell blasted NewsGuard as a “new way to attack conservatives.” Indeed, MRC released a scathing report — for the third year in a row — that found NewsGuard provides consistently better ratings to leftist media on average while generally slapping down the scores of right-leaning media.

One can assume Varney and Bozell did not discuss how Fox News trashed its reputation for objectivity and accuracy by lying to its viewers. Meanwhile, MRC executives Tim Graham and Dan Schneider ran to Newsmax to spout the same talking points, transcribed in a Dec. 14 post by Catherine Salgado:

MRC’s Dan Schneider joined Newsmax to highlight explosive MRC research on how ratings firm NewsGuard has become more biased than ever.

For the third year in a row, MRC Free Speech America exposed NewsGuard’s worsening bias against right-leaning media. MRC researchers used the AllSides Media Bias Chart to analyze that NewsGuard provided a stellar average “credibility” rating of 91/100 for “left” and “lean left” outlets while slapping a low average of 65/100 on “right” and “lean right” outlets. MRC Free Speech America Vice President Schneider and NewsBusters Executive Editor Tim Graham went on Newsmax’s The Chris Salcedo Show to discuss NewsGuard’s real goals: choking off right-leaning media’s ad revenue and promoting leftist narratives. 

Schneider began, “NewsGuard, for years, has been silencing conservatives, directing ad revenue to liberals instead, choking off the life blood of conservative media outlets.” Schneider analyzed how NewsGuard’s gambit to silence the right was based on its overarching “zeal to defeat Donald Trump and any other conservative who wants to stand for basic American principles.”

Similarly, Graham and Schneider did not bring up how Newsmax is currently being sued by both Dominion and Smartmatic for the false claims it made about those companies in promoting falsehoods about election fraud in 2020.

Salgado concluded by whining that "NewsGuard targets free speech — it is not an objective arbiter of truth," despite the fact that none of the MRC's partisan attacks actually prove this beyond empty right-wing ranting.

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