Conservative media outlets and journalists are fighting a network of organizations working to kill their advertising revenue by slapping them with misinformation labels.
The World Federation of Advertisers and its subsidiary, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media or GARM, have led the charge in steering blue-chip advertisers away from news outlets whose content it subjectively deems harmful, sensitive or “misinformation.” The British-based Global Disinformation Index and the U.S. company NewsGuard also have developed lists and ratings systems that attack credibility and scare advertisers away from top conservative news outlets.
House investigators have questioned Biden administration officials about funding the efforts and subpoenaed two of the organizations to determine whether their practices are violating antitrust laws.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, subpoenaed top officials from GARM and the World Federation of Advertisers, or WFA, seeking documents related to coordinated efforts to “demonetize and censor disfavored speech online.”
Mr. Jordan said he believes GARM is coordinating with WFA to target mostly conservative outlets, which receive unfavorable rankings and subsequently lose critical advertising dollars.
“GARM and the WFA appear to facilitate collusion among their members in a manner that may violate U.S. antitrust law,” Mr. Jordan said while announcing the subpoenas earlier this year.
The two groups are part of a broad network that has sought to create subjective guidelines to govern what is appropriate media content. Often, conservative websites are ranked poorly.
House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, Kentucky Republican, is investigating reports that the State Department provided $330,000 to the Global Disinformation Index, a British firm that provides “risk ratings” to major advertising companies to steer them away from certain news sites.
The index in 2022 identified Newsmax, the New York Post, RealClearPolitics, the Daily Wire, The Blaze, The American Spectator, Newsmax, Reason magazine and the Federalist as the riskiest sites, encouraging advertisers to avoid them.
The “least risky sites” included NPR, The Washington Post, HuffPost, Insider, ProPublica, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and AP News.
“Taxpayer funds should never be given to third parties with the intent that they are used to censor lawful speech or abridge the freedom of the press,” Mr. Comer wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The network of information censors also includes NewsGuard, an American company that gives clients “reliability ratings and scores” for news and information websites. Scores range from zero to 100 based on nine “apolitical journalistic criteria” that analyze credibility and transparency.
The analysis and rankings are provided by a team of journalists led by Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard’s CEO.
“We help you decide which news sources to trust — with scores from humans, not algorithms,” the company website states.
The conservative-leaning Media Research Center conducted a study of NewGuard’s rating system in December 2021 and found that out of 55 news sites, right-leaning outlets received an average score of 66% and liberal outlets received an average score of 93%.
NewsGuard gave the now-defunct BuzzFeed News a perfect reliability score despite the outlet’s publication of the Steele dossier, which included tawdry and unproven claims by a Russian operative about President Trump. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign funded the initial research for the dossier.
The Federalist received a score of 12.5 from NewsGuard, partly because it wrote about the well-documented questions concerning the efficacy of mask mandates.
The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker and The Guardian, all of which pushed the now-debunked claims that Mr. Trump colluded with the Russians to win the 2016 election, received a perfect 100% rating.
NewsGuard said the Media Research Center’s study is too narrow to represent its overall rating system, which ranks thousands of news and information outlets.
“NewsGuard uses basic, apolitical criteria of journalistic practice to rate news sites,” Mr. Crovitz told The Washington Times. “As a result, many right-wing sites get high scores and many left-wing sites get low scores and vice versa. For example, the conservative Daily Caller gets a higher rating than the liberal Daily Beast, the conservative Daily Wire gets a higher rating than the liberal Daily Kos, and the Fox News website gets a higher rating than the MSNBC website.”
Mr. Crovitz said the company flags false content, including those by sites that declared Hunter Biden’s discarded laptop computer was Russian disinformation.
The New York Post, which broke the news about the discarded laptop computer and its politically damaging contents in October 2020, is among the right-leaning news outlets receiving an average score of 66% from NewsGuard.
News outlets with scores of 60 to 74 are ranked “generally” credible “with significant exceptions.”
Politico, which reported that the laptop was Russian disinformation based on a letter signed by 50 former intelligence officials and also reported extensively on the debunked Trump-Russia collusion narrative, received a 100% score from NewsGuard for adhering to “all nine standards of credibility and transparency.”
NewGuard received a $750,000 grant from the Defense Department in 2021. Officials said the money paid for a licensing agreement for the department to use its artificial intelligence disinformation tracking product and is not funding their rating service.
The WFA is an association for international marketers and national advertiser associations that include Best Buy, Chobani, Dell Technologies, Exxon Mobil, General Mills, Hilton, Kellogg, Levi’s, MasterCard, Nike, PepsiCo and Verizon.
It founded GARM in 2019 to curb “the availability and monetization of harmful content online.”
Influence Watch, a project of the conservative Capital Research Center, said WFA runs a “diversity and inclusion hub” influenced by critical race theory, has produced a guide to “progressive gender portrayals in advertising” and suggests that its members reach out to LGBTQ advocacy organizations.
The WFA called for companies to stop using the terms “blacklist” and “whitelist” in media and advertising campaigns.
Mr. Jordan first wrote to WFA and GARM in March to express concern that the two entities were violating antitrust law through their coordination to eliminate certain online content.
Members of GARM include more than 60 leading advertisers and major social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Snapchat, TikTok and LinkedIn.
In 2022, GARM boasted that it “drove an agreement across advertisers, agencies and platforms to set a framework that limits advertising support” for content it determined did not belong online.
It set the standards with categories of “harmful and sensitive content” that included “misinformation,” “debated sensitive social issues,” “arms and ammunition,” “death, injury, or military conflict,” and “hate speech and acts of aggression.” Each category has a “suitability” level for social media platforms to restrict content or a “safety floor [for] where ads should not appear.”
Dan Schneider, vice president of the Media Research Center’s Free Speech America, said if advertisers wanted to eliminate illegal content from the internet, such as child pornography or the advocacy of terrorism, they would have strong allies in the conservative news media.
Mr. Schneider said the goals go far beyond policing such content and align with environmental, social and governance investing, or ESG, which is now experiencing a consumer backlash and legal troubles.
“The WFA is desperately trying to dry up revenue streams of pro-American organizations who oppose this administration’s left-wing agenda,” Mr. Schneider said. “The ESG companies and woke CEOs think that American consumers will lie down for this. They are wrong.”
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