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Who’s Rating the ‘News Raters’?

Who’s Rating the ‘News Raters’?

NewsGuard is a widely recognized media watchdog that rates news agencies on their reliability, transparency, and financial conflicts of interest. Via a web extension, the organization’s team of “expert journalists” provides outlets with “nutrition label” reports that rate outlets on a scale of 0–100 based on “a set of apolitical criteria of journalistic practice,” according to its website.

NewsGuard’s stated purpose is to encourage the public to rely on trustworthy journalism and guard against the threat of misinformation.

That’s all well and good—but what if NewsGuard is itself unreliable, non-transparent, or beset by financial conflicts of interest? If so, is there a watchdog watching the watchdog?

This is the question being asked by House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.), who announced earlier this month that his committee is launching a probe into NewsGuard.

Comer explained that the probe will look at “the impact of NewsGuard on protected First Amendment speech and its potential to serve as a non-transparent agent of censorship campaigns.”

In a letter to the joint CEOs of NewsGuard Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, Comer wrote:

Our inquiry seeks documents on NewsGuard’s business relationships with government entities, its adherence to its own policies intended to guard against appearances of bias, how it tries to avoid and manage potential conflicts of interest arising from its investors and other influences, and actions that may have the impact of delegitimizing factually accurate information.

In particular, advised Comer, “the Committee seeks to make an independent determination about whether NewsGuard’s intervention on protected speech has been in any way sponsored by a federal, state, local, or foreign government.”

The letter referred to NewsGuard’s own ethics policy, under which the watchdog’s employees pledge to “refrain from any political activities, such as participation in or donations to political campaigns, opinionated social media posting, involvement in protests, or other activities that could call into question [employees’] fairness or create the appearance of political bias.”

Comer’s committee has more than a little reason to be concerned.

In his letter, Comer provided multiple examples of X posts by NewsGuard Senior Advisor Richard Sambrook disparaging the UK conservative party and warning about the “global climate risks of another Trump term.”

Other evidence was provided showing NewsGuard Contributing Analyst Melissa Fares reposting the single-word New York Times headline that declared Trump “guilty” following the former president’s highly controversial court conviction. Likewise, the letter included a screenshot of NewsGuard Staff Analyst Coalter Palmer reposting a strongly pro-Palestinian protester editorial piece.

But NewsGuard’s bias runs deeper still. As reported by Newsmax:

In two annual studies, the Media Research Center has found that NewsGuard consistently gives liberal media outlets higher ratings than conservative ones.

The NewsGuard ratings are then used by major ad agencies to deny conservative media outlets advertising revenues. …

NewsGuard claims to be an objective news ratings agency, but the company makes subjective decisions as to what news reports are rated, allowing them to target conservative outlets.

The prime example provided by Newsmax is the Hunter Biden laptop story.

NewsGuard co-CEO and co-Editor-in-Chief Steven Brill have “called Hunter Biden’s laptop Russian disinformation,” the outlet notes.

Shockingly, Newsmax relates that, right up to the present day, “NewsGuard has not given news outlets a low rating for inaccurate reports on the matter”—even though the Department of Justice itself has acknowledged that the laptop did indeed belong to Hunter Biden.

Newsmax also notes that “Brill is a long-time Democrat donor and operative, having backed candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.”

Comer explained to Newsmax that, thanks to the Twitter Files, Americans learned that their government was “involved in a coordinated effort to censor conservative speech.” And given that NewsGuard receives federal funding, it is at least plausible that the watchdog has been corralled for the same purposes by the federal government.

“We have a lot of questions for them, and because they get federal money, they fall under the jurisdiction of the House Oversight Committee,” he said.

Hopefully, answers will be forthcoming.

After all, if NewsGuard is found to be tainted by partisan political interests, its ratings are only as useful as the measurements provided by a cracked thermometer, a broken set of scales, a malfunctioning speedometer, or a defective measuring tape.

We might be living in a post-truth world, but the truth still matters—and Americans deserve to know the truth about the organizations purporting to police it.

Image credit: Pexels

Kurt Mahlburg
Kurt Mahlburg

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