Sunday, August 06, 2023

TrialSite in the Crosshairs: NewsGuard Attacks Any Media Countering “Official Truth”

Billing itself as “TRANSPARENT TOOLS TO COUNTER MISINFORMATION FOR READERS, BRANDS, AND DEMOCRACIES,” the nominally privately-owned NewsGuard is a fact-checker and browser tool which purports to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to truthful information. This firm has come under fire from both conservative and progressive media sources for its single-minded focus on allowing only one official version of reality to be presented to the public. Recently, NewsGuard contacted TrialSite (TSN) for the second time, essentially threatening to defame the site if it fails to take down or correct specific stories. All of this occurs in the context of 1) TrialSite currently suing the Trusted News Initiative for antitrust violations, and 2) a federal judge ordering the Biden administration to quit communicating with social media in efforts to stifle the First Amendment.

This article takes a look at the ”fact checker” and finds an obviously state-sponsored entity. Notably, while NewsGuard has critiqued TrialSite for publishing stories about problems with the COVID-19 vaccines, TSN has in fact, been one of the very few willing the publish the good, the bad, and the ugly about these medical products. In other words, TrialSite is one of the few objective media specializing in biomedical and health research producing unbiased news and analysis covering a range of points of view and data sources. TrialSite’s founder brings over two decades of direct experience developing FDA-compliant systems for clinical trials for the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies; this compares to the NewsGuard health editor that has exactly zero pragmatic real-world experience not only in life sciences but in healthcare generally. Why would this group try to harass TrialSite? How about what appears as blatant attempts of censorship?

Former CIA Director on advisory board

The Federalist, a conservative media source, offered us some insights into NewsGuard in 2022. They reported on NewsGuard advisory board member Michael Hayden, the “former” Central Intelligence Agency director (many folks believe there is no such thing as an ex-spy). Hayden is quoted as saying he is “perfectly fine” with misinformation as long as it serves purposes he approves of. The ex-spook served in the George W. Bush administration and also presided over the National Security Agency during the intelligence failure that was 911; a failure of cataclysmic proportions.

He commented on the fact that he was one of 50 intelligence veterans who signed a group letter prior to the 2020 election asserting that the indisputably true Hunter Biden laptop story was actually Russian propaganda. And the laptop contents tend to show that “then-candidate Joe Biden was lying when he denied ever discussing Hunter’s business with him, ‘or with anyone else.’”

The Federalist reports that actually, Joe Biden had met with Hunter’s partners and also “stood to personally profit from his son’s potentially criminal overseas ventures.” Also, NewsGuard is, “being deployed in schools to indoctrinate students regarding acceptable news sources.” As per this outlet, the “claims of Russian disinformation surrounding the laptop were disputed by the FBI, the Department of Justice, then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, and the Department of State all before Election Day.”

Report from the left

From the other side of the political spectrum, all the way back in 2019, The Black Agenda Report offered more scathing critiques of NewsGuard. Billing itself as “News, commentary and analysis from the black left,” this outlet argued that “it will soon become almost impossible to avoid this neocon-approved news site’s ranking systems on any technological device sold in the US.” In one example, MintPress Editor-in-Chief Mnar Muhawesh was “informed that it was under review by an organization called NewsGuard Technologies, which described itself to MintPress as simply a ‘news rating agency’ and asked Muhawesh to comment on a series of allegations, several of which were blatantly untrue.”

Yet an examination of the fact-checker shows that it is both funded by and connected to “the U.S. government, neo-conservatives, and powerful monied interests, all of whom have been working overtime since the 2016 election to silence dissent to American forever-wars and corporate-led oligarchy.”

The Report notes that NewsGuard was then lobbying hard to get its news site rankings “installed by default on computers in U.S. public libraries, schools, and universities as well as on all smartphones and computers sold in the United States.” And “Tom Ridge, the former secretary of Homeland Security…is on News Guard’s advisory board.”

Mainstream media misinformation given a pass

Per this left-wing media, NewsGuard’s bias can be seen in its high marks for CNN and the Washington Post, both of which have a history of their own misinformation. For example, in 2016, CNN reported that it was illegal for folks to read WikiLeaks releases and also “illegally colluded with the DNC to craft presidential debate questions.”

This CNN-Hillary Clinton collusion was quite clear at the time to savvy media consumers. Then in 2017, CNN published “a fake story that a Russian bank linked to a close ally of President Donald Trump was under Senate investigation. That same year, CNN was forced to retract a report that the Trump campaign had been tipped off early about WikiLeaks documents damaging to Hillary Clinton when it later learned the alert was about material already publicly available.”

And the Washington Post, “whose $600 million conflict of interest with the CIA goes unnoted by NewsGuard, has also published false stories since the 2016 election, including one article that falsely claimed that ‘Russian hackers’ had tapped into Vermont’s electrical grid.” Other NewsGuard advisors included Richard Stengel, a former Undersecretary of State who called his old government job “chief propagandist.”

And he has said that he is “not against propaganda. Every country does it and they have to do it to their own population, and I don’t necessarily think it’s that awful.” Hypocritically, while NewsGuard judges media firms for transparency, its own “Securities and Exchange Commission Form D — which was filed March 5, 2018 — states that the company ‘declined to disclose’ the size of its total revenue.”

$749,387 from the Department of Defense

Further lack of transparency can be seen in the fact-checker’s “our investors” webpage. That page’s statement is, “Revenue Sources: NewsGuard’s revenue comes from Internet Service Providers, browsers, search engines, social platforms, education providers, hospital systems, advertising agencies, brand safety providers, researchers, and others paying to use NewsGuard’s ratings and Nutrition Labels and associated data.”

Yet publicly available data shows a $749,387 award from the US Department of Defense in 2021. Was this to vet COVID-19 information covering for Big Pharma?

And yet another conservative source, PragerU, has pointed out that “NewsGuard is partnered with Big Tech companies (like Microsoft), Big Pharma (like the PR firm for Pfizer—the maker of the COVID vaccine), government agencies (like the Department of Defense), and even national teachers unions (like the American Federation of Teachers) ‘to combat disinformation, especially around COVID-19 and elections’ according to the World Economic Forum.

They want to control the narrative on any and every topic—from climate change, COVID-19 treatments and vaccines to elections, Planned Parenthood, and the WEF (to name just a few!).”

Military contractor

Despite its limited description of its “investors” NewsGuard does acknowledge being a military contractor. Its own site says that its purview includes, “Equipping defense and military personnel with tools to track state-sponsored narratives---NewsGuard’s analysts are experienced journalists trained to identify and track state-sponsored disinformation sources and narratives targeting Western democracies. Using OSINT [Open-Source Intelligence] methods and a thorough, journalistic approach, NewsGuard’s team captures data and insights about disinformation sources and narratives that can be used by defense personnel as an early warning system about emerging threats and layered on to existing open-source collection and analysis tools to provide an additional layer of human-intelligence insights.” They go on to state that, “In 2020, NewsGuard was selected as a winner of a contest run by the National Security Innovation Network, a joint State Department and Department of Defense group seeking solutions that would help the agencies ‘evaluate disinformation narrative themes in near real-time.’ In the ensuing project, NewsGuard’s Misinformation Fingerprints were combined with AI/ML social listening tools to monitor content containing state-sponsored mis- and disinformation and to identify state-sponsored sources publishing those false narratives.”

NewsGuard censored lab-leak theory of COVID-19

It has been noted by a US House Judiciary Committee witness that “NewsGuard and the Global Disinformation Index, both taxpayer-funded, are urging advertisers to boycott disfavored publications and direct their funding to favored ones. The organizations have been caught spreading disinformation, including that the COVID lab leak theory is a debunked conspiracy theory, and seeking to discredit publications which accurately reported on Hunter Biden’s laptop, such as the New York Post[.]” A military contractor with the CIA director on its advisory board deciding what we are allowed to hear---What could go wrong?

Finally, the chap who harasses TrialSite this time is the group’s health editor. This questionable organization’s health editor is a graduate from Columbia College in Chicago and has exactly zero healthcare experience. Couple that with TrialSite’s founder who has spent over two decades developing FDA-compliant clinical and regulatory systems for some of the largest pharmaceutical companies on the planet including a sizable Pfizer contract in 2006. TrialSite's network of experts know far more about FDA-regulated research than anything NewsGuard can muster. Plus, how can the organization hire a health editor with no pragmatic healthcare experience? Well, that tells you something else about NewsGuard. This serves as a front to protect the markets of the largest media companies, and likely, as a front for more nefarious state-sponsored censorship, although this is not conclusively proven just because a key advisory director is ex-CIA director and they get sizable DoD contracts. It most certainly smells and doesn’t bode well for democracy.




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