Monday, the independent website Consortium News filed suit against the United States of America and Newsguard Technologies. The complaint targeting both the government and a private media ratings service is an important one, putting the censorship-by-proxy system on trial.
On September 7, 2021, the U.S. Department of Defense gave an award of $749,387 to Newsguard Technologies, a private service that scores media outlets on “reliability” and “trust.” According to the suit, roughly 40,000 subscribers buy Newsguard subscriptions, getting in return a system of “Nutrition Labels” supposedly emphasizing “safe” content. Importantly, Newsguard’s customers include universities and libraries, whose users are presented with labels warning you that CBS is great and Tucker Carlson is dangerous:
Consortium News was labeled a purveyor of “disinformation,” “misinformation,” and “false content,” and, worst of all, “anti-U.S.” This is despite the fact that, according to the suit, Newsguard only flagged six articles out of the tens of thousands Consortium News has published since the late award-winning reporter Robert Parry founded it in 1995. As Consortium News points out, Newsguard downgrades its entire 20,000+ library of available online articles with these flags based on the handful of edge cases, all of which involve criticism of U.S. foreign policy.
A particular irony is that Parry, a decorated AP and Newsweek reporter, founded Consortium News specifically to address topics suppressed by mainstream editors. Now Parry’s old site is being downgraded for dissenting reports on subjects like the 2014 Ukrainian coup and neo-Nazism in Ukraine, coincidentally topics that are “the subject of NewsGuard’s ‘Misinformation Fingerprints’ project that is under contract with the Cyber Command,” as the suit reads.
Newsguard denies it’s influenced by the government. In fact, its denials are part of the reason for the suit. When Michael Shellenberger and I testified before Congress in March, we mentioned Newsguard as a “government-funded” ratings service. I was quickly contacted by email by co-CEO Gordon Crovitz, who hastened to correct me: Newsguard isn’t government-funded, but merely an organization that receives government funds. He wrote:
As is public, our work for the Pentagon’s Cyber Command is focused on the identification and analysis of information operations targeting the US and its allies conducted by hostile governments, including Russia and China.
Our analysts alert officials in the US and in other democracies, including Ukraine, about new false narratives targeting America and its allies, and we provide an understanding of how this disinformation spreads online. We are proud of our work countering Russian and Chinese disinformation on behalf of Western democracies.
Crovitz added that “contrary to claims made in the hearings, we oppose any government involvement in rating news sources,” saying Newsguard “is entirely independent and free of any outside influence, including from the U.S. or any other government.”
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