The bewildering number of news organizations has inspired entrepreneurs to create ways to rank them. The most prominent of them is NewsGuard.
It ranks media organizations based on their trustworthiness and then provides these rankings to large corporate advertisers.
NewsGuard’s co-CEOs are Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz. Before starting NewsGuard, Brill had created CourtTV, and Crovitz was the publisher of The Wall Street Journal.
I interviewed them in March.
Gordon Crovitz and Steven Brill of NewsGuard
I have two specific concerns with NewsGuard.
First, it has taken money from the Pentagon.
How could NewsGuard be objective in evaluating news media coverage of the Defense Department if the Defense Department funds it?
Second, NewsGuard wrongly labeled the idea that Covid-19 escaped from a Chinese lab as a “conspiracy theory.”
And given that NewsGuard spread misinformation about covid’s origins, what right does it have to criticize others for spreading misinformation?
To NewsGuard’s credit, it publicly acknowledges that it took money from the Pentagon and got covid origins wrong. On its website, NewsGuard writes, “NewsGuard either mischaracterized the sites’ claims about the lab leak theory, referred to the lab leak as a ‘conspiracy theory,’ or wrongly grouped together unproven claims about the lab leak with the separate, false claim that the COVID-19 virus was man-made without explaining that one claim was unsubstantiated, and the other was false. NewsGuard apologizes for these errors.”
But NewsGuard still claims on its website as “THE TRUTH,” that “Scientific evidence points to the virus originating in bats. A study published in the journal Nature in February 2020 found the new virus’s genome is “96 percent identical” to a bat coronavirus. A March 2020 study published in the journal Nature Medicine concluded that the virus “is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.”
The above information is still on NewsGuard’s web site even though its own standard defines it as “misinformation.”
In fact, as Public and others have shown, the scientific evidence does not point to the virus originating in bats. In fact, in their emails and internal messages, the authors of the March 2020 Nature Medicine paper expressed serious doubts that pangolins were the intermediary host from bats to humans. As late as April 2020, the authors of “Proximal Origin” expressed doubt about the bat theory of covid. Indeed, it now appears that Anthony Fauci oversaw an effort to spread disinformation about covid’s origins, including by instigating the “Proximal Origin” paper.
[ZH: Of course, the "Proximal Origin" paper was not the only 'issue' that NewsGuard screwed up.]
If you thought it was more likely that Russians faked thousands of emails than that a crack addict forgot where he left his laptop, maybe you should get out of the fact-checking biz.
A story in three parts
10/20: NewsGuard CEO says the laptop is “a hoax perpetrated by the Russians”
Pretty obvious what's going on here.]
Conflicts Of Interest
As for NewsGuard’s Pentagon funding, I felt Brill and Crovitz were slippery about what is obviously a conflict of interest.
Shellenberger: You seem to disagree that the $750,000 you received from the Pentagon is funding?
Brill: We didn't form News Guard or do anything that has anything to do with us, you know, approaching the Pentagon, saying, “Hey, if you give us this money, we'll do this.” It's a product that we have.
Crovitz: We provide a service to the Pentagon. They license our data that Steve said, “misinformation fingerprints.” Like others, they're just another licensee. So to say that we're “government-funded” is like saying Verizon is government-funded. Yes, we have a government contract. We're proud of the work that we do with the Pentagon to counter Russian and Chinese disinformation.
But funding is funding. The money creates a conflict of interest.
After all, NewsGuard must rank news media that cover Pentagon “counter-disinformation” efforts, including the kind NewsGuard does. Why would anyone expect NewsGuard to objectively evaluate such news coverage if the evaluation could negatively impact its client at the Pentagon? Why would we expect NewsGuard to objectively evaluate us, Public, given our criticisms of NewsGuard’s Pentagon funding?
The fact that Brill and Crovitz waved away this concern runs counter to the whole premise of NewsGuard, which is that it is objective and above financial conflicts of interest.
I believe Brill and Crovitz suffer from the third-person effect.
They seem to believe that the mass media do not influence them and, indeed, rise above it.
Similarly, they seem to believe that they are uniquely capable of recognizing misinformation but not guilty of spreading it.
Even though they admit that they did spread wrong information on covid origins, they don’t seem to think they might be doing the same with Misinformation Fingerprints™ or with their government contract, which they themselves called a “grant.”
I was glad that Brill and Crovitz agreed to speak with me when so many other organizations within the Censorship Industrial Complex refused to do so.
But I left feeling that they were blind to their own biases and arrogant as a result.
What’s behind the demand for their services, I believe, is a fear of the rise of independent media that might divert advertising revenue from traditional news media organizations.
This fear appears to emerge from traditional news media’s greed and sense of entitlement that only they, and not competitor news media, should receive advertiser money.