* Organization that professes to rate the accuracy and trustworthiness of thousands of online news sources
* Aims to combat what it describes as “misinformation” and “disinformation”
* Awards much higher “trust scores” to far-left and left-leaning news sources, than to conservative sources
NewsGuard is a computer browser extension that professes to rate the accuracy and trustworthiness of various online news sources. Its software provides “human-curated data [that] equips technology platforms and content moderation teams with intelligence to protect users from online harms and control the spread of misinformation.” As of late 2022, NewsGuard claimed to have “rated more than 8,400 websites, representing 95% of engagement with news and information online in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Austria.”
NewsGuard prides itself on utilizing “trained journalists” rather than artificial intelligence to rate the trustworthiness of news outlets. These journalists assign each outlet a trust score ranging from zero to 100 percent, based upon “nine apolitical criteria” that are weighted, respectively, according to their relative importance as determined by NewsGuard:
NewsGuard displays green checkmarks next to the names of websites that it considers to be trustworthy, vs. red exclamation points to denote sites it regards as untrustworthy.
NewsGuard claims that one of the princiopal benefits of its product, is that it helps large advertisers to reliably direct their advertising dollars toward “legitimate online news organizations while not funding hoax healthcare or propaganda sites.”
With the support of Microsoft, NewsGuard officially launched its operations in August 2018 under the direction of co-founders Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz. NewsGuard’s partnership with Microsoft was part of the tech giant’s newly created “Defending Democracy Program,” which was “dedicated to countering state-sponsored computational propaganda and junk news.”
Upon the release of NewsGuard’s newly developed software, Steven Brill touted the project as “the logical, classic, free market American way to solve the problem of unreliable journalism online.” At the same time, Brill emphasized the urgency of combatting false news information:
“In a world in which 10 or 15 percent of people think Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States and another 10 or 15 percent probably still think 9/11 was an inside job, obviously not everyone is going to believe it…. We think more people will than won’t, or at least, more people will be more informed and maybe more hesitant about sharing.”
As noted by Breitbart.com, NewsGuard employs, among others, a number of “establishment” figures from the presidential administrations of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Those who identify politically as either Republicans or Independents — e.g., Tom Ridge and Michael Hayden — tend to harbor a deep personal animus for former Republican President Donald Trump.
In the aftermath of a January 2019 incident in Washington, D.C., during which a group of white Covington Catholic High School students attending a pro-life rally were falsely accused, by countless news outlets, of attempting to intimidate an elderly Native American man, NewsGuard continued to award outstanding trust scores to many of those same outlets – e.g., The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN.
In March 2019, Donald Trump Jr. noted that NewsGuard’s favorable rating of the left-wing website Media Matters for America — in spite of the latter’s inaccurate reporting of the January 2019 hate-crime hoax by black actor Jussie Smollett — was reflective of “the problem with leftists policing ‘the news.’”
NewsGuard likewise declared GQ magazine to be a trustworthy news source, even though that publication, like Media Matters, had presented the phony Smollett story as though it were true. Indeed, a February 2019 GQ article titled “The Racist, Homophobic Attack on Jussie Smollett Is Far-Right America’s Endgame,” not only accepted Smollet’s false claims of having been a hate-crime victim, but also asserted that “Americans who do not fit the white, straight, male, or Christian mold of the ruling class are being targeted [for violence] with concerning regularity.”
Other left-leaning sites that published similarly inaccurate articles asserting Smollett’s innocence and America’s allegedly pervasive white racism, included Vanity Fair and Salon. Yet both of those publications — like Media Matters and GQ — nevertheless continued to receive high trust scores from NewsGuard.
In March 2019, Breitbart.com noted that NewsGuard’s green check marks — indicative of news sources deemed to be “reliable” — still appeared alongside many article headlines and links that promoted inaccurate coverage of debunked Trump-Russian collusion allegations.
In April 2019, Breitbart News published a list of the top 51 debunked Russia Collusion Hoax stories that had been spread by the establishment media during the preceding few years, and noted that 9 of the first 12 stories on that list bore the green checkmarks signifying NewsGuard’s approval. The publications in which those stories appeared included such notables as Buzzfeed News, McClatchy, The New York Times, National Review, PBS, Bloomberg News, ABC News, and NBC News.
NewsGuard continued its partisan bias against conservative outlets, while still providing positive ratings to major liberal-left sources, throughout 2021. Notable examples included NewsGuard’s unwillingness to decrease the trust scores of The New York Times or Rolling Stone despite their misleading coverage of fraudulent stories like:
Nor did NewsGuard lower the trust scores of media outlets which had falsely reported that the Hunter Biden laptop scandal – which had first emerged just three weeks before the Election Day 2020 — was a fake news story. Indeed, upon the story’s release in October of 2020, NewsGuard co-founder Steven Brill suggested on CNBC that the scandal was likely “a hoax perpetrated by the Russians again.” Similarly, NewsGuard board member Michael Hayden denounced the story as “Russian disinformation.”
In 2020, NewsGuard increasingly blacklisted conservative publications amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the U.S. presidential race. “Misinformation about COVID-19 is spreading quickly across the internet and endangering lives,” said co-founder Steven Brill at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020. “We’re enlisting a wide range of companies and organizations to help address this with an urgent but simple public service campaign to help fight back” he added. The “misinformation” to which Brill referred, included suggestions that: (a) the drug hydroxychloroquine might serve as an effective treatment for coronavirus infection; (b) surgical masks might not be very effective in preventing the transmission of coronavirus; and (c) the COVID pandemic may have originated in a Chinese virology laboratory, rather than by natural processes or in a Chinese wet market.
In May 2020, Turnitin.com — an online plagiarism-detection service — partnered with NewsGuard to “help millions of students and teachers spot and avoid misinformation, improve their research abilities, and develop critical media literacy skills.”
In September 2020, Microsoft announced it had “significantly expanded [its] implementation of NewsGuard” as part of its “New Steps to Combat Disinformation” initiative.
Just days ahead of the November 2020 presidential election, NewsGuard issued a report on what it called “super-spreaders” of “blatant misinformation about voting and the electoral process.” Cited in the report were a host of conservative web pages like: GlennBeck.com, TheFederalistPapers.org, Donald Trump Is My President, 100 Percent FED Up, President Donald Trump Fan Club, Law Enforcement Today, Trumpian Republicans, Gateway Pundit, The Common Sense Conservative, The Tea Party, Stars and Stripes Forever PAC, President Trump Has My Vote, Viral Patriot, Rush Limbaugh Radio, MAGA Revolution, Republican Patriots, Taking Back America, Fed Up Americans, Donald Trump for President, Women for Trump, Conservative Renaissance, Conservative Momma, Conservative Firing Line, Team Trump, The Federalist, and America Supports Law Enforcement. In a similar vein, NewsGuard endorsed a June 2020 article by The Economist on why “Fake news is fooling more conservatives than liberals.”
In December 2020, Axios.com reported: “In 2020, nearly one-fifth (17%) of engagement among the top 100 news sources on social media came from sources that NewsGuard deems generally unreliable, compared to about 8% in 2019.” For example: “NewsGuard found that its top-rated ‘unreliable’ site, [the conservative] Daily Wire, saw 2.5 times as many interactions in 2020 as 2019. [And] Bongino.com [headed by conservative author and commentator Dan Bongino] increased engagement by more than 1700% this year.”
Following President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2021, NewsGuard’s 2020 Election Misinformation Tracking Center identified the following as some of the top “myths” about the 2020 presidential election:
According to Newsbusters, a watchdog group that monitors liberal-left media outlets, in December 2021 NewsGuard awarded “left-leaning outlets” an average trust score of 93%, vs. just 66% for “right-leaning outlets.”
Some far-left sites that received high trust scores from NewsGuard during its first few years of operation ncluded: Buzzfeed (100%); the openly Marxist website Jacobin.com (near the 90% range); Huffington Post (87.5%); The Nation (92.5%); and Mother Jones (87.5%).
Similarly, left-leaning mainstream outlets such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Tampa Bay Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Politico, The Guardian, and NBC News all received perfect trust scores of 100%. Newsday received a near-perfect score of 92.5%.
By contrast, conservative outlets received much lower trust scores. Some examples: The Federalist (12.5%); One America News Network (17.5%); LifeSiteNews (30%); The Epoch Times (49.5%); Breitbart.com (49.5%); Fox News (57%); and Prager University, founded by the author, broadcaster, and scholar Dennis Prager (57%). In February 2022, Newsbusters.com pointed out that some of these scores were lower than those of Chinese Communist Party state-run propaganda outlets such as the Global Times (39.5%) and the China Global Television Network (44.5%).
In January 2022, Breitbart.com reported: “Only two outlets that ‘lean right’ received a 100 percent rating [from NewsGuard]: Deseret News, an outlet [that the Media Research Center] found to favor Democrats, and the libertarian Reason magazine. Anti-Trump, ‘lean right’ outlet the Dispatch received a 92.5 percent rating.”
From its earliest days, conservatives noted NewsGuard’s very obvious leftwing bias. In early 2019, for example, Republican National Committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon rebuked the plug-in as a deceptive “scheme”:
“Who are the approved ‘green check mark’ news sources? The left-leaning, establishment media outlets you would expect: CNN, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, and so on. These are the same sites that rushed to publish dozens of demonstrably false stories about Catholic high schoolers harassing a Vietnam veteran — and wound up putting those teenagers and their families in the crosshairs of a vicious internet hate mob — and then, largely refused to apologize for getting the story completely wrong.
“Other members of the ‘good news’ club include Rolling Stone, responsible for making a cover story out of the most destructive rape hoax since the Scottsboro Boys, and BuzzFeed News, responsible for the report accusing President Trump of committing a felony by allegedly telling Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. The story was so outrageously false that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office issued a rare public statement to disavow it.
”Which media sources are arrayed on the other side of this equation, the ‘bad news’ bears designated on NewsGuard with red exclamation points? Exactly who you’d expect: Breitbart News; Drudge Report; the Daily Mail, Britain’s third-largest newspaper; and other outlets popular outside the Acela corridor.
“In the end, this scheme is really no different than the dubious ‘fact checks’ that holier-than-thou establishment media outlets have used to belittle their competitors and silence people who see the world a little differently than the folks in newsrooms in New York, Washington, and Los Angeles.”
In August 2021, the CEO of the conservative website Prager University, Marissa Streit, reacted to NewsGuard’s negative assessment of PragerU’s trustworthiness by saying: “PragerU is not even a news organization. We share information. We share truth, but apparently NewsGuard is now the new guardian of the Internet. They are a self-appointed group, mostly composed of political elites and people with deep pockets and deep connections. They decided to self-appoint themselves as this organization that gets to say who speaks the truth and who speaks lies.”
Ms. Streit then proceeded to describe NewsGuard’s modus operandi as follows:
“They take these little reports that they make about different websites, predominantly focusing on people who they don’t agree with, and then they go to the Big Tech companies and say, ‘Hey guys, you don’t want to service these horrible liars that are propagating terrible information. You would never want to do that. Allow us to investigate whether these websites are clean or dirty, and once we provide you with a report, the ones that are bad, the ones that are in the red, you should kick off immediately, otherwise you guys are just as bad as they are.’
“Maybe some of these Big Tech companies are actually hiding behind NewsGuard to use them as a third party fact-checker to remove ideas that they don’t like, or simply, they’re pressured by NewsGuard to kick people off, because [it] is information that the political elite clearly doesn’t want out there. Somehow this group of self-appointed folks has been the backbone of censorship.”
In a similar vein, the Editor-in-Chief of the conservative Breitbart News website, Alex Marlow, noted in August 2021 that “fact-checking” entities like NewsGuard are largely political-censorship projects that operate in bad faith on behalf of the Left. Some selected quotes by Marlow:
In January 2022, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced the start of a partnership with NewsGuard to “help educators and their students navigate a sea of online disinformation.” “NewsGuard reminds us of the importance of an independent press that students can rely on to form their own views and opinions so they can participate as active citizens in our democracy,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten. An AFT press release, meanwhile, stated that “Weingarten hailed the [partnership] as a game-changer for teachers and families drowning in an ocean of online dishonesty.”
From September 2021 through December 2022, the Department of Defense awarded NewsGuard $749,387 in exchange for access to the company’s so-called “misinformation fingerprints,” described by NewsGuard as “data about each narrative in machine-readable format,… links containing the false claim, and related keywords and hashtags.”
“The group’s deputy general manager volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, according to the NewsGuard website. One staff analyst volunteered for Obama’s 2012 campaign, and another served on a Democratic political committee in Connecticut. NewsGuard’s general counsel has served on the board of the League of Conservation Voters, a Democrat-aligned environmental group. The lawyer, Cynthia Brill, has also contributed thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates. None of the NewsGuard staffers listed online have worked for Republicans.
“A review of political donations also suggests a liberal bias at NewsGuard. Twenty NewsGuard executives and advisers have contributed to Democratic candidates since 2015, with only six giving to Republicans, according to Federal Election Commission records. Nine gave more than $10,000 to Democratic candidates, while just three Republicans surpassed that threshold.”
In August 2022, Former CIA and NSA director and current NewsGuard advisor Michael Hayden tweeted “I agree” in response to a statement made by Financial Times associate editor Michael Luce, who said: “I’ve covered extremism and violent ideologies around the world over my career. [I] Have never come across a political force more nihilistic, dangerous & contemptible than today’s Republicans. Nothing close.”
One of the leading individual investors in NewsGuard is John McCarter, an International Advisory Board member of the Atlantic Council, a think tank that has advised Facebook on how to identify and discredit fake news stories from around the world.
 Breitbart News reporter Kristina Wong wrote in a January 2019 article:
“Video first began circulating Saturday showing a student wearing a Make America Great Again hat staring into the face of 64-year-old Nathan Phillips, a Native American man beating a drum. The short clip made it appear that the student, Nicholas Sandmann, was staring down Phillips, trying to intimidate him. An interview with Phillips after the confrontation showed him wiping away tears, talking about how he was intimidated by the students. Voices on the left — and some on the right — rushed in to condemn the boys, some even calling for them to be physically hurt.
“However, by Sunday, a fuller video of the incident emerged, showing ‘Black Israelite’ protesters taunting the students with insults and gay slurs, and then Phillips approaching the boys where they were waiting for their bus to leave. The video showed that Phillips approached the group of boys, drumming, as the Black Israelites egged on a confrontation. Phillips approaches Sandmann, who does not move away, but stands still, looking at Phillips. After that video, and statements from the students, some of those same voices that called for the boys to be punished began backtracking.”