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Congress To Probe Media Rating Firm NewsGuard For Possible Taxpayer-Funded Censorship

  The House Oversight Committee is probing whether a firm that purports to rate which news outlets are trustworthy is using federal funds to...

 The House Oversight Committee is probing whether a firm that purports to rate which news outlets are trustworthy is using federal funds to try to put conservative news outlets out of business.

Rep. James Comer (R-KY) said the committee he chairs has opened an investigation into NewsGuard, a for-profit business with multiple ties to the federal government that makes lists of which news outlets it deems trustworthy, then sells those lists to advertisers.

NewsGuard has received nearly a million dollars from the federal government, largely from the Department of Defense. The State Department also co-sponsored a “COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation” tech challenge that gave a prize to NewsGuard.

Advertisers often use the lists from NewsGuard to avoid doing business with companies that supposedly peddle in “misinformation,” under the implied threat that liberals will boycott their products if they do.

“This appears to be a very biased, very unfair service that’s getting federal funds. It could be another backdoor attempt at censoring conservative media outlets,” Comer told One America News. “What’s their criteria that just happen to give networks like MSNBC and CNN tremendous grades, and then networks like OAN, Newsmax and Fox very poor grades?”

“We want to know why they’re doing this, what the basis is for the criteria that they use to determine these grades. Because then they turn around and they offer their grades to advertisers, and this is a form of, I believe, trying to discourage advertisers from advertising on conservative networks,” he said.

“There’s a concerted effort by the federal government to censor conservative media outlets,” he added, saying the probe into NewsGuard would “determine whether there’s been any criminal laws broken.”

Gordon Crovitz, the company’s co-CEO, told The Daily Wire in an email that the investigation is based on a “misunderstanding.”

“We look forward to clarifying the misunderstanding by the committee about our work for the Defense Department,” Crovitz said. “Our work for the Pentagon has been solely related to hostile disinformation efforts by Russian, Chinese and Iranian government-linked operations targeting Americans and our allies. We also look forward to explaining that NewsGuard is the apolitical service rating news sources — the others are either digital platforms with their secret ratings or a left-wing partisan advocacy group. As a result, the Daily Caller outscores The Daily Beast, the Daily Wire outscores the Daily Kos, Fox News outscores MSNBC and The Wall Street Journal outscores the New York Times.”

Despite saying its mission is to provide “transparent tools to counter misinformation for readers,” the company previously refused to allow The Daily Wire to view the data it sells to advertisers, even for a fee.

NewsGuard said in a press release that it planned to “help” the State Department by flagging COVID “hoaxes.” One of the “hoaxes” flagged by NewsGuard was that COVID might have come from a Chinese lab, a scenario now viewed by U.S. agencies to be likely.

Its mission — to have a small staff fact-check independently-reported stories on a wide variety of topics hours after their publication — inherently requires essentially enforcing conformity with authorities’ previous statements, since it is not equipped to re-report every news story or match confidential sourcing.

NewsGuard also has a partnership with a teachers union aimed at getting its public tool onto school computers. That browser plugin annotates search pages to flag news stories which should be avoided.

The Daily Wire and the Federalist are suing the State Department for backing NewsGuard and other similar entities, alleging that it is promoting censorship technology designed to bankrupt domestic media outlets with disfavored political opinions.

The State Department responded by trying to have the federal lawsuit moved from Texas to the District of Columbia. But Judge Jeremy D. Kernodle denied the motion and recalled that “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

The investigation represents mounting danger for the media censorship industry, which has sought captive markets via legislation and through advertising associations like the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), which forces advertisers to avoid outlets that promote “misinformation,” creating a demand for someone to make that determination.

The House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), is investigating GARM for potentially violating anti-trust laws. The controversy has led mainstream consumer brands, selling the likes of candies, to second-guess whether their advertising departments roped them into divisive conduct, with one insider squirming that the companies “want to avoid any kind of public qualm that has a partisan signature like the plague.”

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