NewsGuard, the establishment “news-rating” project that presents itself as a source of expert knowledge on which news sources can be trusted and which ones cannot, will be rolling out to millions of American schoolchildren due to a partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
Per Axios, the AFT will purchase NewsGuard licenses for all of its 1.7 million teachers, in a major deal for the news-rating project.
“The hope is that students with the skills to spot disinformation will grow into more thoughtful and better-informed citizens and voters,” writes Axios.
NewsGuard has had a reputation as a project of the political establishment since its inception. Formerly prominent neoconservative Bill Kristol, who is seen as an archetypal establishment conservative, said of Newsguard in 2019: “I guess the counter-argument to what you’re doing is, well, this is a bunch of establishment people deciding they like establishment websites.”
NewsGuard maintains a list of news outlets it considers “trustworthy” and “untrustworthy,” data which it uses in a browser extension that users can add on to various mainstream browsers, including Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge.
When the extension is installed, it displays red warning labels alongside links to websites NewsGuard considers untrustworthy, and green labels next to links to websites it considers trustworthy.
In 2019, NewsGuard partnered with Microsoft in a deal that made it a default extension on Edge Mobile browsers.
NewsGuard gives a “green” rating to websites like Rolling Stone, which has repeatedly published high-profile hoax stories. The magazine was responsible for one of the biggest media scandals in recent memory, when it published fraudulent rape claims against a fraternity at the University of Virginia in 2014.
More recently, the magazine ran a story containing the false claim that hospitals in Oklahoma were overflowing due to Ivermectin poisoning cases, as well as a news story claiming Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was “determined to put kids in danger.” NewsGuard still claims the Rolling Stone website “adheres to basic standards of credibility.”
BuzzFeed News, which published the infamous, debunked “pee dossier” in 2017, also gets a green rating from NewsGuard.
Meanwhile, NewsGuard gives Breitbart News a “red” rating, falsely claiming that the website does not “regularly correct or clarify errors,” and that it does not “handle the separation between news and opinion responsibly.” (All Breitbart News opinion articles, which represent less than 10 percent of the website’s content, are clearly distinguished from news articles by the presence of the author’s name in the headline.)
NewsGuard also makes the same allegation about news and opinion of the Epoch Times, an independent newspaper founded by dissidents against the Communist regime in China. Yet the Times does separate news and opinion, with a clearly-labeled “opinion” section and a “commentary” label for all opinion columns.
In a comment to Breitbart News, NewsGuard general manager Matt Skibinski defended the ratings.
“NewsGuard’s rating of each website includes a detailed explanation of our reasoning,” said Skibinski. “If we claim a site repeatedly publishes false claims, uses deceptive headlines, fails to correct errors reliably, or otherwise fails one of the nine criteria we assess, we provide numerous specific examples demonstrating that. We also contact the publication and give them a chance to resolve any issues or provide a response, which we include in our written explanation. The purpose of this transparent approach is so that each reader can see not only our ratings, but also the reasoning and evidence behind each rating and ultimately make their own decision about how much to trust the site.”
“You can see detailed explanations of our rationale for our ratings of the sites you’ve asked about through our browser extension–and each user of the extension has access to exactly the same information,” Skibinski continued. “You’ll also see, if you look up our rating and explanation for Breitbart.com, that we include extensive comments from Breitbart’s Editor-in-Chief that challenge our assessment and provide Breitbart’s perspective on why the site should get a higher score. We think our rating is accurate, but we also trust that readers are smart enough to see all of the evidence laid out in detail and make up their own minds–whether they ultimately agree with us or not.”
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. He is the author of #DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election.