It turns out the web browser extension guiding users toward news sources like Fox News and MSNBC and urging them to "proceed with caution" when viewing WikiLeaks has as a major investor a company tied to Saudi Arabia's media campaigns in the United States.
On NewsGuard's "About: Why Trust Us?" page, a section named "Our Investors" states who has invested capital into the company. The third-largest owner of NewsGuard is Publicis Groupe, a Paris-based multinational communications firm, as first reported by Breitbart News.
One of Publicis Groupe's subsidiaries is Qorvis Communications, a Washington-based communications firm that has earned tens of millions representing Saudi Arabia since early 2002, the Intercept has reported. Qorvis is the "consulting firm hired by the Saudi Embassy [in Washington] to shape the media coverage of Saudi Arabia" ever since the months after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Intercept noted.
Qorvis came under fire by US citizens expressing concerns that the agency offered American military veterans free trips to the Trump Hotel in Washington to exploit them as props in Riyadh's effort to crush the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), Sputnik has reported. "US military veterans say Qorvis Communications tricked them into unknowing lobbying on behalf of Saudi Arabia," 28 Pages reported last fall.
Alan MacLeod, PhD, a member of the Glasgow University Media Group, said in emailed comments to Sputnik News Tuesday that "sometimes it is the very companies claiming to protect you from PR and lies are themselves PR merchants. This is in itself problematic — would you trust a fox to guard your hens?— but the fact that they try to conceal this information from their users is especially alarming."
"I would advise people to be very cautious with media claiming to help you decide what media is trustworthy," said MacLeod, who researches propaganda and fake news. His first book, "Bad News from Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting," was published in 2018, and his upcoming book is titled "Still Manufacturing Consent: the Propaganda Model in the Information Age."
Other groups hired by the embassy for Riyadh's spin machine include the NATO-backed Atlantic Council, the Clinton Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, according to the Intercept.
Qorvis was recently tasked with whitewashing Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. The website www.OperationRenewalOfHope.com was created by Qorvis; the "operation" is a Qorvis-led initiative to "promote" Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, the Intercept noted.
The United Nations has called the situation in Yemen the world's worst humanitarian crisis, where Saudi-coalition fighter jets firing missiles at school buses, "markets, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities" probably amounts to war crimes, according to a report commissioned by the UN last year.
Despite claims that the company is a neutral arbiter of what is and is not responsible journalism, NewsGuard has selected advisory board members like Michael Hayden, a retired US general and former chief of the NSA and CIA, who the Columbia Journalism Review noted has a "long history of making misleading and outright false statements" during his career in public service.
NewsGuard co-founder Steven Brill told Breitbart News the firm's ties to Qorvis should not undermine the public's trust in the web browser extension, saying that Publicis Groupe "has a small stake in the company" and that "Gordon [Crovitz] and I have the controlling interest."
"Given its political positions and who is funding it, my fear is that NewsGuard will have the effect of discrediting good-quality independent media while bolstering the most powerful corporate outlets," MacLeod told Sputnik, noting that "the news about Russian-sponsored fake news is often Western government-sponsored fake news itself! There is a silent war for control over the internet being waged right now."