NewsGuard: What are They “Guarding”? “Fake” News Ratings Based on Biased Editorial Views – Not Fact Checking
by Brian Shilhavy
Editor, Health Impact News
Health Impact News was recently contacted by John Gregory, a medical reporter working for the company NewsGuard , a self-appointed Internet policing group that awards “nutrition badge” ratings for websites determining if they are “reliable” or not.
Mr. Gregory accused me right up front of publishing “false” claims, and asked me to comment on a list of articles in our network that he determined were “false.”
Curiously, one of the articles he chose to exhibit as something published that was “false” was one of our articles  on the Department of Justice quarterly reports on compensated cases for vaccine injuries and deaths in the U.S. Vaccine Court, submitted every three months to the federal government Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines (ACCV) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The article  is reporting what is public information from government sources. It is not even considered controversial, and in the introduction I even write: “The fact that the annual flu shot is deadly and dangerous is not a fact even in dispute.” The flu shot is by far the most compensated vaccine for settlements in the U.S. Vaccine Court each year, according to these government reports.
The controversial part of the flu shot that is in dispute is how many people are actually injured and killed by the flu shot every year, because government health agencies claim the number is very low, and that the risk of dying from the flu is greater, justifying the continued practice of mass influenza vaccination.
So I asked Mr. Gregory:
My question to you: What is NewsGuard’s criteria for whether something is “false content” and “false claims”?
What are you claiming in this article is “false”? We are, to my knowledge, the only site that publishes the Department of Justice quarterly reports on compensated cases for vaccine injuries and deaths in the U.S. Vaccine Court, at the federal government’s Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines quarterly meetings. Everything in this article is based on verifiable government documents available to the public, including the GAO report.
What is false?
The only reply Mr. Gregory supplied was the canned response from their website:
You can read more about NewsGuard’s nine criteria, which evaluate a website’s credibility and transparency practices, here: https://www.newsguardtech.com/ratings/rating-process-criteria/
To pass the first one, “Does not repeatedly publish false content,” we explain that “The site does not repeatedly produce stories that have been found—either by journalists at NewsGuard or elsewhere—to be clearly and significantly false, and which have not been quickly and prominently corrected.”
So I replied back to Mr. Gregory that this reply still did not answer my question:
Yes, I did read what you have published on your website regarding “criteria,” but that does not answer my question as to how you determine what is “false content” and “false claims.” The normal definition of “false” content or claims would be something like: Person xyz was arrested on charges at x date, when the fact checking would determine that this person never was, in fact, arrested or detained on any charges. Determining that it is “false” is based on the facts, not opinion.
So is NewGuard basically an editorial board rendering opinions, without fact checking?
The best way you could explain your process of determining what is “false” is by answering the questions I posed in my first email regarding the examples of articles you are claiming are “false.” For example, the article about the flu shot that you state is “false” is based on factual evidence supplied in public sources, and those sources are government sources. Do you doubt, for example, that the U.S. Vaccine Court is paying settlements for vaccine injuries and deaths?
Mr. Gregory once again avoided the question and gave another canned response that was not even appropriate to my question, because the article in question was not making health claims but reporting vaccine injuries and deaths:
In determining whether health claims are false or unsubstantiated, the trained journalists at NewsGuard rely on authoritative sources, reporting from major news organizations and reliable, peer-reviewed scientific evidence. We do not rely on limited anecdotal claims and personal testimonies about a treatment’s benefits.
Therefore, it seems that NewsGuard is making editorial decisions, and not fact checking anything.
Pharmaceutical Industry Bias
John Gregory is listed as a “Staff Analyst” on the NewGuard site  and his bio states:
John Gregory is a Staff Analyst for NewsGuard based out of Chicago. He previously served as a senior reporter for TriMed Media’s HealthExec.com, covering health care policy, regulation and business.
HealthExec.com and its parent company, TriMed Media, are trade publications for the medical and pharmaceutical industry.
I noticed that neither website was rated by NewsGuard so I asked Mr. Gregory:
How does NewsGuard determine which sites are “news sites” that need to be monitored by your service? For example, I noticed that your former employer who utilized your journalistic skills, https://www.healthexec.com/, is not rated.
We determine what sites to rate largely based on how often their articles are shared on social media. HealthExec.com generates far less traffic than your sites.
So I asked him:
Do you have this criteria published anywhere that you use to decide which sites to rate and which ones not to?
He did not supply any reference to a section of the NewsGuard website where the criteria is published as to which websites get evaluated and rated and which ones do not.
But judging from the fact that NewsGuard has given negative ratings to any website that presents evidence against the belief espoused in the corporate-sponsored “mainstream” media’s narrative that “the science is settled” regarding vaccines and that no other views besides the view that all vaccines are “safe and effective” should be allowed to be published, I think it is safe to say that the main reason NewsGuard chose to review our websites was because we used our First Amendment rights to publish contrary evidence about vaccines, including articles from medical doctors, scientists, and attorneys who present the other side of the vaccine debate.
I asked Mr. Gregory, as a medical journalist, if the belief that “the science is settled” was ever applied to any other medical products or topics besides vaccines:
You are a journalist, so let me ask you: Have you ever interviewed scientists or other medical professionals who would make such as statement regarding any other topic besides vaccines where the “science is settled”? Is this a factual statement, or is it false? New vaccines are being developed all the time and entering the market, and is the public to understand that the science for all vaccines is settled?
I received no reply to these questions.
MedicalKidnap.com and Created4Health also Rated as “Unreliable”
Curiously, when they gave Health Impact News a negative rating, they even gave a negative rating to Created4Health.org, which is not even a news site but a site where I publish my devotional articles based on Bible studies, a site that receives far less traffic than HealthExec.com.
They also gave a negative rating to MedicalKidnap.com. Mr Gregory accused us of simply taking unverified social media posts from parents who claimed their children were being kidnapped by the state, and asked us if we even bothered to verify their stories. My reply:
We have been publishing Medical Kidnapping (this is a term I originally coined) articles since 2014, and the articles that we break are meticulously vetted.
Not only do we interview the parents and family members, but we also obtain supporting documentation including court documents and attorney statements in the articles where we break the story.
Many times, local news sources or even national news sources (such as Dr. Phil ) also pick up our stories. It can sometimes take weeks, or even months, to research and publish one of these stories.
This answer apparently did not satisfy Mr. Gregory, because he still pointed out two stories where we used Facebook postings, even though I explained to him that these stories were still vetted. One was the video of Charity Lewis in Kentucky  who had her daughter Demiyah die while in foster care, and the video went viral before we even published her Facebook video.
Local news affiliates in Kentucky (rated Green and reliable by NewsGuard ironically) confirmed that her daughter died while in foster care.
How sad that now some unsuspecting readers may be fooled into thinking that NewsGuard’s ratings are based on fact instead of editorial decisions, and may erroneously think that the stories on MedicalKidnap.com are not true.
NewsGuard Demands Transparency without being Transparent Themselves – How Does NewsGuard Make Money?
Mr. Gregory went to great lengths to point out that I own a company that sells coconut oil, and that I do not disclose this fact within articles that I write about the health benefits of coconut oil. He also claimed that we did not disclose who owned Health Impact News.
I replied to him and showed him the About Us section of Health Impact News where we clearly disclose these facts, especially that I am the founder of both companies. They were not satisfied with the word “founder” to equate ownership, so we changed this to make it clear that I am the owner of Sophia Media, LLC.
I also explained that FDA laws prohibited me from promoting my own coconut oil products where health benefits are being made, as the FDA only allows approved pharmaceutical drugs to make disease-curing claims.
He challenged me on this point, so I pointed out to him that in 2005 the FDA sent us a warning letter stating that customer testimonials, links to peer-reviewed literature, and other text on the website where we were selling coconut oil constituted marketing coconut oil as an “unapproved drug” and demanding that we remove them.
We had to hire a regulatory attorney to help us navigate through these FDA issues or have our products seized by U.S. Marshals. We put all the articles about the health benefits of coconut oil on a separate website (coconut-info.com which was later changed to coconutoil.com after we purchased the domain name). This was the genesis of what is today Health Impact News, as we felt the public had a right to this information that was being censored.
Who wouldn’t want to link to their own products from information about how much a product like coconut oil was improving their lives? There is absolutely no logic to the idea that I was hiding this fact to benefit myself somehow, where I was clearly not benefiting from being able to link to my own coconut oil products.
As a result, anyone selling coconut oil could benefit from our information, and that is exactly what happened as the public woke up to truth about the edible oil industry and started demanding more coconut oil, which today can be purchased in just about any store selling groceries now.
But what about NewsGuard? How do they derive their income? Their website states:
Our revenue comes from the platforms and search engines for licensing our ratings in order to include them in their feeds and search results.
So I asked him:
Since Google accounts for more than 90% of all Internet searches, can you please tell us how much revenue you obtain from Google for your services?
His reply was:
We have no business relationship with Google at this time.
So I asked again:
If you do not earn revenue from Google, then which search engines do you receive revenue from? Can you provide a list of companies that pay for your services?
They refused to answer this question.
Who are NewsGuard’s clients? This seems to be a closely guarded secret, as on their United States Securities and Exchange Commission Form D filed March 5, 2018, there is an option for disclosing the size of its revenue, but that box was checked, “Decline to disclose.” (See Dr. Mercola’s article on NewsGuard below for more info.)
The NewsGuard Browser Add-on is Not Popular: More 1 Star Ratings than 5 Star
Since starting with great fanfare with the corporate-sponsored media in 2018, NewsGuard’s browser add-on has had time to be used by Internet users, and the reviews are not very good. There are generally more 1 star reviews than 5 star reviews in the four browsers where their add-on is available to rate websites.
A quick survey of user reviews shows that those giving a low rating are generally critical of the browser add-on being biased. Here are some samples:
Its worse than fake news, i’ve tested it and believe me its as biased as hell .
This extension is BIASED. Ridiculous. I’m not sure who this stupid app is even intended for: if I wanted my information to reflect reality I wouldn’t even need NewsGuard, I would be getting all my news from mainstream sites to begin with…
When you first see this, you have a small hope that it wouldn’t be biased. But of course this is just another piece of the existing media machine to give legitimacy to the news websites who do as they are told and report events from the perspective of the Established Narrative. Those who report from a different perspective, who objectively speaking are no better or worse, get lower ratings.
For the few positive reviews posted, it appears that they agree with the ratings system because it reflects their own views. Here are some samples:
Stop getting your news from The Blaze, Breitbart and Drudge Report. They are correctly flagged as unreliable news sources. It’s nothing to do with bias – they’re simply deceitful and dishonest sources of news.
This really has the potential to make the world a better place. Great work and the score cards are fascinating. I have heard people call this service biased towards left wing news sites but I as far as I can see Newsguard base their score cards on good accurate factual analysis. The “bias” appears to be highlighting that right wing new sites are more likely to produce misleading news. That’s not a bias, its just reality.
What Can You Do to Fight Corporate Censorship?
Walter Cronkite was one of the most famous TV journalists and perhaps one of the most trusted men in America in the 1960s and 1970s. He read the news on the CBS TV network each evening Monday through Friday from 1962 through 1981.
This is what Walter Cronkite wrote in the introduction to the 1996 book Censored – The News That Didn’t Make the News- And Why, by Carl Jensen. Walter Cronkite wrote:
A handful of us determine what will be on the evening news broadcasts, or, for that matter, in the New York Times or Washington Post or Wall Street Journal…. Indeed it is a handful of us with this awesome power… a strongly editorial power.
…we must decide which news items out of hundreds available we are going to expose that day. And those [news stories] available to us already have been culled and re-culled by persons far outside our control.
There is strong evidence that NewsGuard is comprised of these “old-school journalists” who represent corporate interests, and are doing everything they can to squelch free speech on the Internet, especially in social media platforms.
In 2009 the corporate “mainstream” media was singing the praises of social media, specifically Twitter, as Twitter users in Iran were taking to the social media platform with pictures and videos that allegedly painted a different picture of Iran’s elections than what was being portrayed in the State-sponsored media coming out of Iran. Here’s what CBS wrote in 2009 :
An opposition activist spreads word of an upcoming protest in the streets of Tehran. Another posts pictures of clashes between demonstrators and police.
As Iran’s government cracks down on traditional media after the country’s disputed presidential election, tech-savvy Iranians have turned to the microblogging site Twitter.
Its use to organize and send pictures and messages to the outside world – in real time as events unfolded – was a powerful example of how such tools can overcome government attempts at censorship.
“When I’m not connected to Twitter it means that I’m disconnected from the world because the state TV doesn’t report many things!” wrote one Twitter user who identifies himself as “hamednz” and communicated with The Associated Press through e-mail. (Source .)
Fast forward to 2016, when the corporate “mainstream” media’s ordained candidate to win the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections, Hillary Clinton, is reported to have near double digit leads in the polls heading into election day.
Whoops! For perhaps the first time in U.S. history, the corporate media got it wrong, and the unthinkable happened: the other guy won, mainly because of support and the flow of news outside traditional corporate media outlets. (Note: Health Impact News is non-political and does not endorse either major political party in the U.S.)
All of a sudden, those social media platforms that were praised for reporting events in Iran in 2009 that contradicted the dominate national media, were vilified for publishing “fake news.”
So what can you do to stop companies like NewsGuard from trying to censor the independent alternative media like Health Impact News?
The browsers that support their add-on have a section to report “abuse.” Let them know that NewsGuard is misrepresenting their app, and is not a trustworthy source for evaluating “news.”
Mozilla’s Firefox browser is probably the most receptive to hearing your views on the NewsGuard add-on, as they are not owned by one of the top technology companies in the world like the other three browsers are (Chrome-Google, Edge-Microsoft, and Safari-Apple.)
To file a complaint, install the add-on, test it to see for yourself if they are what they claim “to fight false news, misinformation, and disinformation,” or if they are biased.
In the add-on section of Firefox, where you can manage your browser extensions, click on the three dots to the far right to see a menu:
Click on “Report” and then click on fourth option – “Pretend to be something it’s not”
Then click “Next” and on the next page use your own words to explain why Firefox should not include this add-on.
The other three browsers have similar ways for you to voice your displeasure with NewsGuard, and even if they may not be as receptive to your views due to the fact that they are well-funded and tend to represent the same views as the corporate media, they still need to hear your voice!
Health Impact News provides a service to the public that often is seldom found elsewhere, and that is especially true with our Medical Kidnapping stories, where we are one of the few places parents can come to and find a platform to tell the world what is happening to America’s children who are being kidnapped by the State, and often end up being sexually trafficked.
What a shame it would be if the corporate censorship forces get their way.
To learn more about who is behind the company NewsGuard, Dr. Joseph Mercola’s investigative report is worth reading.
Americans’ trust in the media is at an all-time low. According to a 2017 Survey on Trust, Media and Democracy by the Knight Foundation, 43 percent of Americans have a negative view of news media compared to 33 percent reporting a positive view, while 66 percent believe “most news media do not do a good job of separating fact from opinion.”
Seventy-three percent believe the proliferation of “fake news” on the internet is a major problem, and only half feel confident that readers can get to the facts by sorting through bias.
However, individual perception about what is true and what actually constitutes fake news varies. As reported by Medium, “A majority of Americans believe people knowingly portraying false information as if it were true ‘always’ constitutes fake news.”
NewsGuard — The New Strategy Used to Deceive You
All of this brings me to the topic at hand, and the strategy the media is using to restrict your access to the truth from websites like (Mercola.com), namely the latest self-appointed arbiter of trustworthiness in online media, NewsGuard.
According to the group’s website:
“NewsGuard uses journalism to fight false news, misinformation and disinformation. Our trained analysts, who are experienced journalists, research online news brands to help readers and viewers know which ones are trying to do legitimate journalism — and which are not.
Our Green-Red ratings signal if a website is trying to get it right or instead has a hidden agenda or knowingly publishes falsehoods or propaganda.”
In other words, NewsGuard is setting itself up as the self-appointed global arbiter of what information is “trustworthy” — based on nine “credibility and transparency” factors — not only for information viewed on private electronic devices, but also for information accessible in public libraries and schools.
Librarians will even provide instructions to patrons on how to install the NewsGuard extension on their personal computers, tablets and cell phones.
Once you’ve installed the NewsGuard browser plugin on your computer or cellphone, the NewsGuard icon rating will appear on all Google and Bing searches and on articles featured in your social media news feeds:
These icons are meant to influence readers, instructing them to disregard content with cautionary colors and cautions. While the warnings may be enough to prevent someone from clicking these links, I believe the true intent will be to bury this content entirely from search results and social media feeds.
NewsGuard’s Own Transparency Is Wanting
Fake news is certainly a problem. But determining who should have the final word on credibility and what is “truth” is not a simple one. Who is going to verify the credibility and transparency of the verifiers, i.e., NewsGuard?
It was hard to believe multibillion-dollar companies would rely on the likes of Snopes  or Web of Trust to be the guardians of truth and credibility, and in fact they didn’t. Over time, most people using the internet learned to disregard article and website ratings dispensed by either Snopes or Web of Trust.
But now, enter NewsGuard, which for all its promises to vet any and all independent online media for conflicts of interest, credibility and transparency, apparently does not expect you to put them under that same scrutiny.
On NewsGuard’s United States Securities and Exchange Commission Form D filed March 5, 2018, there is an option for disclosing the size of its revenue, but that box was checked, “Decline to disclose.”
Shouldn’t a corporation setting itself up as the judge and validator of the transparency of others be 100 percent transparent as well? NewsGuard also claims a Rule 506(b) exemption, which among its benefits allows for an unlimited amount of money to be raised from an unlimited number of accredited investors.
Well, in doing some digging of our own, aside from internet giants Microsoft and Google — one of the largest monopolies in the world  — it appears NewsGuard is backed by companies that are presently involved, or have been in the past, in advertising and marketing of pharmaceutical products, cigarettes and unhealthy junk food to kids.
Are we to believe that the profit preferences of such entities will have no influence on NewsGuard’s ratings of individuals, organizations and companies that criticize the safety or effectiveness of those products?
NewsGuard and Microsoft are also partners in the Defending Democracy Program, a program aimed at safeguarding electoral processes by working with government.
According to Microsoft’s April 2018 announcement, “The Defending Democracy Program will work with all stakeholders in democratic countries globally” to protect campaigns from hacking, increase transparency in political advertising, exploring technological solutions to protect electoral processes and remediate cyber threats, and ward against disinformation campaigns.
Overall, it appears NewsGuard is just another big business aimed at keeping the chemical, drug and food industries, as well as mainstream media, intact by discrediting and eliminating unwanted competition, which likely includes yours truly and many others who empower you with information that helps you take control of your health.
What You Need to Know About NewsGuard Backer, Publicis Groupe
NewsGuard’s $6 million startup was funded in part by the Publicis Groupe, the “third largest global communications group,” according to the Publicis website.
Publicis was founded in 1926 by Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, a French entrepreneur, with the goal of improving the image of advertising and turning it into “a real profession.” In fact, Publicis Groupe’s name is derived in part from the French word for advertising.
The Publicis Groupe has been manipulating what people think about commercial products for nearly a century. Over that century, this advertising and communications firm bought or partnered with targeted advertising avenues, beginning with newspapers, followed by radio, TV, cinema and the internet.
With revenue avenues secured, Publicis’ clients and partners built a global presence that dominated the advertising world. Be it tobacco or junk food, Publicis Groupe found a way to promote and strengthen big industries.
Within the Publicis Groupe are four networks serving its clients, including Publicis Health, which boasts its clients are “some of the biggest and most exciting names in health and wellness.”
The wallpaper on the Publicis Health site shows Lilly, Abbot, Roche, Amgen, Genentech, Celgene, Gilead, Biogen, Astra Zeneca, Sanofi and Bayer, to name a few of those clients.
The Publicis Health board also consists of a power pack of high-profile individuals with Big Pharma position backgrounds or affiliations.
Leo Burnett, the ad company famous for creating the Marlboro man ad campaigns that made Marlboro the best-selling cigarette in the world and led to the nicotine addiction of millions, many of whom died from smoking, is also part of Publicis.
If a company such as NewsGuard has such atrocious conflicts of interests, they should take their own advice and be transparent about their investors’ sources of income.
How can you trust a group associated with funders known for promoting cigarettes, drugs and junk food?
The Fourth Estate
While pro-industry advertising worked well for decades, there was still the irksome problem of the Fourth Estate, a term that refers to the press.
The problem was that professional investigative journalists working for magazines, newspapers and broadcast outlets would write in-depth exposés, outing the truth behind deceptive advertising and countering industry propaganda with science, statistics and other documented facts — and when a free press with honest reporting based on verifiable facts actually does its job, ineffective or toxic products are driven off the market.
So, the answer that industry came up with in the late 20th century to combat truth in journalism was, pure and simple: Control the Fourth Estate with advertising dollars. By partnering with the “big guns” of media, such as The Paley Center for Media, Publicis and its industry clients were able to influence and, essentially, control the press to restrict or virtually eliminate your ability to ever hear the truth on many important issues, especially ones that affect your health.
The Paley Center, by the way, is composed of every major media in the world, including Microsoft, AOL, CBS, Fox, Tribune Media and entertainment — and those are just a handful of the big-name media. One of The Paley Center’s activities is to sponsor an annual global forum for industry leaders.
NewsGuard, founded by journalists Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, is housed in The Paley Center in New York City and, in November 2015, Publicis’ chairman of North America, Susan Gianinno, joined the Paley Center’s board of trustees. Additionally, Brill’s and Crovitz’s former business partner in a different venture, Leo Hindery, was a prior trustee and director of The Paley Center, adding up to some fairly influential connections that NewsGuard has with the Center besides being a tenant in their building.
Publicis and Google are also partners, forming an interlocking triangle with NewsGuard. Publicis and Google joined forces with Condé Nast in 2014, creating the marketing service La Maison, “focused on producing engaging content for marketers in the luxury space.”