By Aaron Kesel
The service NewsGuard, an establishment attempt to silence alternative media and independent media sites, has teamed up with Microsoft to help its effort to destroy free press. Meanwhile, the mysterious firm connected to intelligence agencies and former government officials on their advisory board has also just been linked to Saudi Arabia through Publicis Groupe, an investor in NewsGuard.
NewsGuard is now automatically included in Microsoft’s Edge browser on iOS, Android and Microsoft phones. Microsoft’s press release regarding the partnership states that NewsGuard “will empower voters by providing them with high-quality information about the integrity and transparency of online news sites.” Just one problem, who is providing transparency about the news rating agency?
When a user decides to search the Web, the extension tells the user whether or not a story is credible or not credible with 5 indicators and an information box judging the website.
- Green icon — Sites that follow “basic standards of accuracy and accountability” based on nine criteria,which include full disclosure of possible conflicts of interest, financing, and “notable ideological or political positions held by those with significant financial interests in the site.”
- Red icon — Sites that do not fulfill NewsGuard’s criteria for credibility and transparency.
- Orange icon — Satire and humor sites that mimic real news.
- Blue icon — Sites that primarily host user-generated content.
- Gray icon —Unrated sites.
There is just one problem: the plugin is only blacklisting certain sites and does not actually have fact checkers looking into the story in question. So, in fact, the service is censoring alternative and independent media. But, let’s be honest, that’s exactly what its founders, creators, funders, and advisors want.
About that transparency … the list of advisors for NewsGuard includes Tom Ridge, the former secretary of Homeland Security, Richard Stengel, former editor of Time magazine and Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy (Obama administration), (Ret.) General Michael Hayden, former Director of the CIA, former Director of the National Security Agency and former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence (George W. Bush administration), Don Baer, chairman of Burson, Cohn & Wolfe and former White House Communications Director (Clinton administration), Elise Jordan, political analyst, NBC, and former speechwriter for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Oh and then there are the journalists (traitors of free speech) like John Battelle, co-founding editor of Wired and founding chief executive of Industry Standard and Jessica Lessin, founder, and editor-in-chief of The Information.
If you aren’t worried about a company with a former CIA director (who lied under oath to Congress misleading officials, according to the Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation program) and a former secretary of Homeland Security official as its advisors, you may need a reality check. Please go see Dr. Benn Swann for a checkup stat!
Then there is Richard Stengel, a member of the Atlantic Council (neo-liberal think tank) and former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy under President Barack Obama who deserves a short blurb for his own involvement. Why? Because Stengel admitted his role in life at a previous discussion hosted last May by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). At the event Stengel described his past position at the State Department as a “chief propagandist” and further stated that he is “not against propaganda” and it was needed. H/T Disobedient Media.
“Every country does it and they have to do it to their own population and I don’t necessarily think it’s that awful,” Stengel said.
At a Council on Foreign Relations forum about "fake news," former Editor at Time Magazine Richard Stengel directly states that he supports the use of propaganda on American citizens – then shuts the session down when challenged about how propaganda is used against the third world pic.twitter.com/ClAT5POv7G
— William Craddick (@williamcraddick) May 11, 2018
Investors in NewsGuard — which raised a whopping $6M in funding — include the following people and corporations, according to Finsmes, a website for real-time VC and private equities and news. However, Finsmes appear to have left out a big investing group known as the Publicis Groupe. Publicis Groupe is the third largest global communications company in the world, with more than 80,000 employees in over 100 countries and an annual revenue of over €9.6 billion ($10.98 billion), according to its website.
– Steven Brill
– Gordon Crovitz
– Nicholas Penniman IV and Nicholas Penniman V
– Eijk van Otterloo
– Jules Kroll
– Cox Investment Holdings, Inc.
– John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, Inc.
– Blue Haven Initiative
– Eugene Garrett Bewkes III
– John McCarter
– Fitz Gate Ventures, L.P.
– Leslie Hill
– Charlotte Hill
– Thomas Glocer
– Michael Hill
– John Levy
– Whitney Hatch
Meanwhile, the current CEOs of NewsGuard are Steven Brill and Louis Gordon Crovitz, one of whom has a colorful history; the other is just a journalist. Crovitz is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and he further notes in his bio, available on NewsGuard’s website, that he has been an “editor or contributor to books published by the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation.”
Yes, the infamous Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative think tank.
But it doesn’t end there! In the early 1980s, Crovitz held a number of positions at Dow Jones and at The Wall Street Journal, eventually becoming executive vice president of Dow Jones and the publisher of The Wall Street Journal in 2006-2007.
Ironically, Crovitz “Mr. I want to fix fake news” has consistently been accused of spreading misinformation into his Wall Street Journal columns, with groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation accusing him of “repeatedly getting his facts wrong” on NSA surveillance. And hilariously he falsely claimed that the Internet was invented entirely privately at Xerox PARC, which was exposed as “fantastically false claims” by the same people he cited for them.
TechDirt wrote at the time:
Almost everyone he [Crovitz] sourced or credited to support his argument that the internet was invented entirely privately at Xerox PARC and when Vint Cerf helped create TCP/IP, has spoken out to say he’s wrong. And that list includes both Vint Cerf, himself, and Xerox. Other sources, including Robert Taylor (who was there when the internet was invented) and Michael Hiltzik, have rejected Crovitz’s spinning of their own stories.
According to NewsGuard, the service has rated more than 2,000 news and information sites, while it plans to take its ranking efforts much further by eventually reviewing “the 7,500 most-read news and information websites in the U.S.; also noting that the number accounts for “about 98 percent news and information people read and share online” in the United States in English.
The company is lobbying to have its rankings of news sites installed by default on computers in U.S. public libraries, schools, and universities as well as on smartphones and computers sold in the United States. And its partnership with Microsoft for its Edge browser just helped that effort rigorously.
Several articles represent NewsGuard as using “old-school journalism” to fight “fake news” through its reliance on nine criteria to determine whether a news site is credible or not.
However, as Breitbart pointed out (like them or not the information is credible), the news check extension is marking verifiable FAKE news stories as real news, a worrying prospect. Of course, it’s worth noting that NewsGuard is probably (speculatory) in partnership with select news publications like The New York Times, LA Times, CNN, Washington Post, etc. (All the usual big players.)
Look at how NewsGuard and Microsoft openly and audaciously deceive their readers…
The Washington Post’s debunked hoax about Russia hacking Vermont’s utility grid — credible!!
The lie about first lady Melania Trump being an illegal alien — credible!!
The lie about Trump changing the name of Black History Month — credible!!
The lie about Trump threatening to invade Mexico — credible!!
The lie about Congress investigating a Russian fund with ties to Trump — credible!!
Then there is the lack of mention by NewsGuard about the Washington Post’s founder Jeff Bezos $600 million conflicts of interest with the CIA and Voice of America, the U.S. state-funded media outlet having been involved in propaganda admitted by its acting associate director, Ted Lipien, who said that the outlet produces “fluff journalism.”
Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright has previously stated that VOA, Radio Free Europe, and many others “should be given the opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics.” Fulbright’s amendment to Smith-Mundt was bolstered in 1985 by Nebraska Senator Edward Zorinsky, who argued that such “propaganda” should be kept out of America as to distinguish the U.S. “from the Soviet Union where domestic propaganda is a principal government activity.”
These are obvious red flags for anyone looking for a truly unbiased fact-checking service when such things are hidden and not publicly displayed … that, or they just suck at researching, which would essentially mean they aren’t qualified to determine what is real and fake news.
Digging even deeper into NewsGuard we may find answers as to why they are not fact checking every news story and just giving websites themselves a rating, because the company only has 21-30 employees according to Pitchbook.
If that’s not enough, Publicis Groupe includes a vast number of P.R. firms whose sole purpose is to shape the news and influence the public on behalf of its corporate clients including the drug and tobacco industries. One of those firms connected to Publicis Groupe is Qorvis Group.
The Intercept describes how Qorvis tried to shape American public opinion in favor of Saudi Arabia’s policy.
The Saudi Embassy’s effort to shape media coverage is led by Qorvis, a consulting firm that has worked for the Saudi government since the months following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Qorvis’ recent disclosures under the Foreign Agents Registration Act show that it created an entire website — operationrenewalofhope.com — to promote the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It also “researched potential grassroots supporters in select states” and provided an ongoing effort to reach out to reporters concerning the Yemen war.
In July, the Saudi Embassy announced the launch of Arabia Now, an “online hub for news related to the Kingdom,” according to a press release. Since then, the site has work to promote Saudi Arabia as a bastion for human rights and progress, with posts claiming that the Kingdom is the “most generous country in the world.” While Saudi Arabian war ships blocked humanitarian assistance to Yemen, the Arabia Now news hub claimed that “Saudi Arabia was the only country that responded to the humanitarian assistance appeal launched by the U.N. to help Yemen by extending a donation of $274 million.
Recently filed disclosures show that Targeted Victory, a consulting firm founded by Zac Moffatt, a GOP strategist who served as digital director for Mitt Romney’s campaign, has helped to manage Arabia Now. Moffatt’s firm was brought on by Qorvis.
For more information on NewsGuard, see the more in-depth NewsGuard backstory on MintPress News, about the firm’s connections to Silicon Valley Giants and the government.
This, of course, follows attempts by another service, PropOrNot, to do much of the same, who I ruined when I was working at We Are Change exposing them to the core. So much so they responded to my now-suspended Twitter account An0nkn0wledge. H/T guys! As a reminder, on the last attempt PropOrNot was found to be backed by none other than the Foreign Policy Research Institute. And what is the Foreign Policy Research Institute? A think tank with the mission of indoctrinating the U.S. with its foreign policy agenda:
The Foreign Policy Research Institute is dedicated to bringing the insights of scholarship to bear on the foreign policy and national security challenges facing the United States. It seeks to educate the public, teach teachers, train students, and offer ideas to advance U.S. national interests based on a nonpartisan, geopolitical perspective that illuminates contemporary international affairs through the lens of history, geography, and culture.
So here we have two attempts to censor information, both appearing to come from think tanks and several government officials as advisors on “NewsGuard.” Which, if we’re being honest should have a name change to “Propaganda Guard” because they are guarding propaganda by telling everyone it’s real news, like the examples stated above. You can’t judge sites with a rating of green, orange, blue, gray and red. This isn’t a terror advisory, Tom Ridge (I can only guess the idea came from Ridge). When Ridge was the former secretary of Homeland Security under George Bush, he came up with the coded terror alert system after 9/11. The system is elementary at best and doesn’t really require any type of thinking to come up with, so who knows who came up with it. But it’s extremely flawed.
Knowing that both “Propaganda Guard” (NewsGuard) and PropOrNot had government involvement should scare the shit out of you because both companies are about as unbiased as The Washington Post was towards Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. Both have a stake in the future foreign policy of America; NewsGuard through its former government advisors, and PropOrNot through the more hilariously connected Foreign Policy Research Institute. Neither company has a right to shape the opinions of Americans or anyone else by giving news websites like Activist Post and many others any type of rating. That’s up to the readers themselves to decide, not a shadowy firm with “trained analysts” who are creating a censorship blacklist of information or opinions they don’t like … you know, like the ones that hinder corporations or the military industrial complex’s forever war machine.
In fact, it will be interesting to see where this goes if this plugin is adopted by the mainstream as a default into applications. I foresee class action cease and desist lawsuits against “NewsGuard” for intentionally causing harm to businesses with just a checkmark. This is already pretty well proven with a recent Gallup study that stated 63 percent of news readers were less likely to share a website with a red rating, while a green rating increased the likelihood of sharing by 56 percent. Although the study was funded by NewsGuard themselves, so the results should be taken with a grain of salt. That study actually could be used to bite them in the ass later.
Did anyone think this through before saying, “oh yeah I want to help destroy the livelihoods of other people?”
My well-thought-out trained analytical expert guess is, “no they probably did not.”
Oh wait, further research into NewsGuard and its other products shows they have a BrandGuard, which they market to advertisers as a “brand safety tool aimed at helping advertisers keep their brands off of unreliable news and information sites while giving them the assurance they need to support thousands of Green-rated [NewsGuard-approved] news and information sites, big and small.”
All of this has an interesting timing, right before the 2020 primaries. Who’s to say that this technology couldn’t be used to sway the election far more than Russia, the UK or Israel ever could? Especially since the firm is seeking to have its tech implanted by default into every major technical device.
We don’t need arbiters of truth; what we need are smarter readers who research and dig deeper themselves, instead of blindly believing what they are told or hand fed.
With all that stated, it’s worth mentioning that 90% of U.S. media was owned by 6 different companies in 2012 including GE, NewsCorp, Disney, Viacom, TimeWarner, CBS. Which, as a fun fact, the CFR owns the media. As former Army Major Todd Pierce described, the CFR acts as “primary provocateurs” using “’psychological suggestiveness’ to create a false narrative of danger from some foreign entity with the objective being to create paranoia within the U.S. population that it is under imminent threat of attack or takeover.”
Council on Foreign Relations links to major media holdings
— Defend Assange Campaign (@DefendAssange) January 28, 2018
So with all that in mind, one finds it hard to believe that a CFR member and government cronies — some even connected to think tanks — want to “restore trust and accountability” in journalism.
This is far from the only effort to try and suppress the free flow of information online. In 2017 Activist Post reported that Full Fact foundation, backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and our favorite billionaire tycoon George Soros, were also planning to fight the efforts of “fake news” with their AI-powered “bull shit detector.” Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was also planning to launch a crowd-funded news service called WikiTribune to help combat fake news.
Send your mail to NewsGuard’s Twitter feed and Facebook page, and flood them with your opinion about their efforts. If they ask who sent you, say George Orwell from his grave and make sure to tell them they aren’t the Ministry Of Truth, this isn’t 1984.
Putting the future of what we believe in anyone’s hands, let alone artificial intelligence, seems reckless; but a system backed by Soros and Omidyar or think tanks and government officials seems like a dangerously stupid idea that can only lead to a path paved toward a road of Orwellian censorship the likes of which even George Orwell couldn’t have imagined.
Aaron Kesel writes for Activist Post. Support us at Patreon. Follow us on Minds, Steemit, SoMee, BitChute, Facebook and Twitter. Ready for solutions? Subscribe to our premium newsletter Counter Markets.