‘A Front’: NewsGuard ‘News Rating Agency’ Guided by US Spies, ‘Propagandists’

© AP Photo / CBS News, Chris UsherFormer CIA and and National Security Agency director Michael Hayden
Former CIA and and National Security Agency director Michael Hayden - Sputnik International
A startup seeking to protect the public from a wide range of perspectives has launched a vendetta against nontraditional media outlets, alleging bias. But the firm has a slant of its own: its advisory board features a former intelligence agency boss and a former State Department official who called himself the US’ “chief propagandist” last year.

"NewsGuard claims to be this nonpartisan news rating agency. But instead, when we looked into them, they were really a front for more powerful forces in the government and the corporate world," Whitney Webb, staff writer at MintPress News, told Radio Sputnik's Fault Lines Friday.


​"There's a browser plugin you can download for free, and that will tell you NewsGuard's ranking of the news website. When you see a link to an article on social media or a search engine, its rankings are color-coded. So green is a trustworthy site, and red is an unreliable site."

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Only people who download the Google Chrome extension are currently guarded by NewsGuard.

But the New York-based company is working to change that, Webb explains. "NewsGuard is trying right now to make its ranking involuntary for internet use for everyone in the United States," she said, "and after that, globally."

"They are in negotiations with Facebook and Twitter to have NewsGuard permanently integrated into those sites. They have already partnered with Microsoft, who agreed to make NewsGuard a built-in feature of all of its future products."

"This organization has already sealed deals with state governments, and they claim there are more that are about to be finalized," she said.

NewsGuard, a so-called news rating agency attempting to suppress alternative media under the guise of transparency, recently went on the attack against MintPress, a Minnesota-based news publication covering foreign affairs and the military industrial technological complex, with some reporting on American politics sprinkled in.

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"MintPress only heard about this group because they contacted my boss, Mnar Muhawesh, with a series of loaded questions that were really biased," she said. "It was clear they hadn't looked at our site at all."

MintPress hit back hard against NewsGuard's questionnaire in a piece entitled "NeoCons Test Drive Newest Weapon to Crush Indie Media, Put MintPress in Their Crosshairs."

NewsGuard accused MintPress of failing to disclose a "liberal bent," failing to attribute the sources of images and failing to disclose its ownership structure. Editor Mnar Muhawesh fired back, saying none of NewsGuard's claims were well-researched. Image attributions are at the bottom of the articles, and Muhawesh is the sole owner of Mint Press News. "This information is public and has never been concealed," Webb said.

"The questions were not at all ‘loaded,'" Matt Skibinski, general manager at NewsGuard, said in emailed comments to Sputnik Friday. "Often, the comments we get point us to facts we might have missed or factors we might not have adequately considered. This is called journalism."

The latest attack on nontraditional information sources is a follow-up operation to the social media purge of sites like Anti-Media, The Free Thought Project, RT correspondent Rachel Blevins and others, on which Sputnik has reported.

Neocon insider Jamie Fly, director of the Future of Geopolitics and Asia programs at The German Marshall Fund, confirmed the purge was a targeted maneuver aimed at alternative media outlets. At GMF, Fly works with neocon think tank Alliance For Securing Democracy. "Russia, China and other foreign states take advantage of our open political system. They can invent stories that get repeated and spread through different sites. So we are just starting to push back. Just this last week Facebook began starting to take down sites. So this is just the beginning," Fly said, as reported by Jeb Sprague and Max Blumenthal last October.

Retired US Air Force General Michael Hayden, who served as director of the National Security Agency (aka "No Such Agency") from 1999 through 2005 and as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006 to 2009, is on NewsGuard's advisory board for reasons that remain unclear.

NewsGuard's advisors provide "advice" on "broad policy issues, such as the general criteria we use, and act as a sounding board as we consider ways to enhance what we're doing," said Skibinski, who declined to address a specific inquiry into Hayden's career of playing journalists for fools. 

Columbia Journalism Review's Trevor Timm wrote in 2017 that it's "time to stop treating former CIA chief Michael Hayden as an arbiter of truth," noting that the former US official has a history of "making misleading and outright false statements, and by the estimation of many lawyers, likely committed countless felonies during the Bush administration."

Regarding US allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election to help current President Donald Trump, Hayden said during an October 2016 appearance at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, "A foreign intelligence service getting the internal emails of a major political party in a major foreign adversary? Game on. That's what we do. By the way, I would not want to be in an American court of law and be forced to deny that I never did anything like that as director of the NSA."

The Russian government has refuted allegations that it colluded with Republicans or otherwise interfered in the election.

After whistleblower Thomas Drake alerted the New York Times to the NSA's warrantless surveillance program for a 2005 bombshell story written by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, Hayden defended the decision to trample the Fourth Amendment protection against search and seizure of US persons and their effects unless the government has a warrant. Risen and Lichtblau won the 2006 Pulitzer prize for exposing then-President George W. Bush's illegal wiretapping program.

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When asked during his confirmation hearing to lead the CIA about authorizing the clandestine collection of the phone records of everyone in the US, Hayden said, "When I had to make this personal decision in October 2001… the math was pretty straightforward. I could not not do this." (Apparently when you lead a spy agency, nullifying the Fourth Amendment rights of 330 million people becomes a "personal decision" instead of one that's based on a common sense understanding of respect for individual rights.)

When Hayden had to answer for the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" program, the Washington Post found a litany of his statements to be "incongruent with CIA records" or downright "inaccurate."

Another NewsGuard adviser is Richard Stengel, former editor of Time magazine and undersecretary of state for public diplomacy during the Obama administration. Stengel has outed himself publicly as someone who is very comfortable with governments lying to reporters.

"My old job at the State Department was what people used to joke as the ‘Chief Propagandist' job," Stengel said at a 2018 Council on Foreign Relations event.

The startup's advisory board members "don't play any role at all in the operations and management of NewsGuard," Skibinksi told Sputnik News Friday. He said the company has no bias "at all" on issues relating to foreign affairs and foreign policy.

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