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The Disinformation Police Are Even More Incompetent And Dishonest Than You Imagine

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The Federalist was asked by NewsGuard to respond to its concerns we are ‘inaccurate and misleading’ — so we did. Proudly and publicly.

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In America, we have the First Amendment and have long prided ourselves on having a free press, but the reality is that it’s becoming harder and harder to exist as an independent publication on the internet. One major reason for this is that lots of bad actors are trying to weaponize concerns over “misinformation.” While misinformation is a problem, in practice the attempts to police it are often wholly incompetent and even more damaging than the alleged misinformation being addressed. Above all else the goal is to keep people from saying things that undermine the authority of America’s obviously foundering left-leaning institutions.

Anyway, The Federalist recently got an email from “NewsGuard Technologies” — a relatively new service that’s popped up in the last few years that purports to rate websites on their credibility based on some established criteria. It then sells its ratings services to schools, various corporate entities, and advertisers looking for someone to tell them what news outlets they can supposedly trust or what websites they don’t want to advertise on for fear of damaging their brand.

So how does NewsGuard go about making those ratings for websites? Well, it starts with firing off a series of hostile questions to the editors of a website about weirdly specific aspects of its coverage and demands you answer them in a vain attempt to improve whatever rating NewsGuard’s going to give you. Now it’s bad enough that this is an extortion racket, but it’s downright insulting to see NewsGuard’s team wheel around a website that publishes over a million words a year, cherry-pick some example of what they think is problematic coverage, and still demonstrate an inability to think critically or fairly about what they’re reading. If it questions a dominant narrative, it does not compute with these people. Anyway, let’s take a look at what we’re dealing with.

My name is Chiara Vercellone and I’m an analyst at NewsGuard Technologies, a service that reviews news and information websites based on a set of credibility criteria, and monitors misinformation trends online.

I am reaching out because we are in the process of updating our analysis of TheFederalist.com and I have a few questions about the content published on the site. I am also attaching our currently-published analysis of The Federalist for your reference.

Just for reference, Vercellone apparently has a graduate degree in journalism from Northwestern, which generally vies with Columbia for the best journalism program in the country. Previously, she worked as a “fact checker” for USA Today. I used to work at a publication that, like USA Today, was also a participant in Facebook’s fact-checking program. Facebook funds the fact-checking programs at these publications, even though these same publications are often required to cover Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg objectively in their news pages despite being financially compromised by this.

Facebook/Meta then brags that when a “fact checker” it helps pay for rates a story as false, it uses that rating to downrank and kill 80 percent of the internet traffic to that story. That’s what it says in its own corporate communications. Given how often we’ve seen Facebook-funded fact-checkers produce politically distorted nonsense, the power given to these people ought to be alarming.

Vercellone and everyone else involved in these rackets have convinced themselves they’re performing a valuable public service fighting “misinformation” that nearly always conveniently aligns with ideological priors, but I’m not sure they’ve had anyone be blunt: Between her time as a “fact checker” and her new gig at NewsGuard, Vercellone is a censor pure and simple. The business model she’s participating in is to make a profit by narrowing the range of acceptable opinions.

Anyway, keep all that in mind when we delve into the quality of analysis that she expects The Federalist to respond to. She gets right into it.

For instance, we recently found some articles that further false or misleading information. For example, this article repeated claims that the IRS was hiring “a new army of IRS agents that will be used to audit middle-class Americans.” However, the Inflation Reduction Act roughly allocated $80 billion to the IRS over 10 years, and most of the new hires would fill customer service and technology roles — not IRS agent positions.

OK, so the Inflation Reduction Act allocated $80 billion to the IRS, and $45 billion of that was specifically allocated for tax enforcement, including “litigation,” “criminal investigations,” “investigative technology,” and “digital asset monitoring.” The IRS has pledged to use that money to hire 87,000 new people. Most of the money is going to tax enforcement, so why wouldn’t most of the hires being made be related to tax enforcement in some way? Is it just that we’re hung up on the precise definition of “agent” in this context? Fine, we’ll assume the IRS is going to hire some agents specifically for auditing. What number specifically constitutes an “army,” which last I checked, does not have a precise numerical definition?

Let’s say they hire 10,000 agents for auditing and the remaining 77,000 are IT and answering phones. Well, 10,000 people is enough for an infantry division … is that comparable to an “army”? It’s even dumber than that sounds because the original Federalist article NewsGuard is singling out specifically linked to another article about how the IRS is currently advertising for jobs that require IRS agents to be “[carrying] a firearm and [being] willing to use deadly force, if necessary” when it referenced an “army” of IRS agents. The IRS currently employs more than 2,000 people that carry firearms. Is that an “army”? By the way, there are more armed federal bureaucrats now than U.S. Marines — is THAT fair to compare to an army? Or is NewsGuard engaged in a really stupid semantic debate?

What happened was this: Republicans were opposed to Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, and one of the criticisms they leveled was against its provision beefing up tax enforcement, which is politically unpopular. Republican leader Kevin McCarthy went out and said, “Democrats in Washington plan to hire an army of 87,000 IRS agents so they can audit more Americans like you.” Fearing that this criticism might resonate with the public, “fact checkers” immediately sprung into action and tried to establish a counter-narrative quibbling with McCarthy’s use of the word “agents.” (See here, here, here, here, etc.) Note that The Federalist article being singled out by NewsGuard did not specify how many agents were being hired or make a specific numerical claim related to the bill like McCarthy did. It just said that an “army” of agents was being hired.

The Federalist was not misleading. What’s really misleading here is supposed fact-checkers running PR campaigns for the IRS and Democratic legislation and leaving people the false impression that spending $45 billion on tax enforcement is just going to result in IT and customer service hires, not more audits of middle-class taxpayers.

These two articles claim that Jacob Chansley, commonly known as the QAnon Shaman, was escorted throughout the U.S. Capitol by Capitol Police on Jan. 6, 2021. However, Chansley’s guilty plea agreement states that he was repeatedly ordered by police officers to leave the Capitol. Moreover, in court filings related to the trial of other alleged Capitol rioters, prosecutors stated that the televised footage by Tucker Carlson showed Chansley’s movements from four minutes, which did not accurately depict Chansley’s behavior.

Is she under the impression that the first two sentences above are mutually exclusive? There is video footage of at least nine Capitol Hill police officers escorting Chansley around the Capitol peacefully. Maybe they did ask him to leave and Chansley was clearly breaking the law — but the footage does not show Chansley rampaging or acting violently. He got 41 months in prison.

But “prosecutors stated that the televised footage” that undermines their case wasn’t accurate? Do journalists always show such deference to the word of federal prosecutors? Or regard plea agreements, which are often coerced or signed under duress, with such factual deference? Especially when there’s four minutes of video evidence blowing a hole in their presentation of facts?

The Federalist made no claims that the footage exonerated Chansley. But given the hyperbolic media narrative that surrounded the Jan. 6 riot and the clear prosecutorial double standards for violent left-wing protesters, the American people deserved to see this footage, and The Federalist was right to present and amplify it.

This article claims that New York Mayor Eric Adams would place caps on the amount of meat and dairy served by city institutions. However, Adams did not propose banning meat or dairy in his April 17, 2023 announcement. Furthermore, a City Hall spokesperson said these claims are “100 percent false.”

The Federalist article in question did not say Adams was going to ban meat. It did say that, under Mayor Adams, an evangelistic vegetarian, the city would “place caps” on the amount of meat and dairy. It linked to a New York Times article headlined “Why New York’s (Mostly) Vegan Mayor Wants to Cut the City’s Meat Budget.” It also linked to the city’s own website about the city’s plans to reduce the city’s “food emissions” by 33 percent. The carbon emissions linked to food sources are disproportionately related to meat production. Under Adams, city schools have instituted an optional “plant-powered Friday” menu.

Adams took a lot of public criticism when this plan to cut the meat budget was announced, so of course his spokesman was doing damage control. Regardless, when the mayor’s spokesman said that the accusations against Adams were “100 percent false” he was specifically referring to the claim that Adams was going to ban meat. That was not a claim The Federalist article ever made, and even The New York Times agrees the city’s plan is to limit the amount of meat the city serves.

This article stated women who have abortions are at a higher risk for breast cancer. However, large studies and established organizations have found no direct link between developing breast cancer and having an abortion.

Who could argue with “large studies and established organizations”? Well, for starters, pro-life activists have long complained, with good reason, that many “established organizations” that report on and do research on these issues are themselves pro-abortion activists. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, for instance, has an entire page on its website about how “abortion is essential health care” and offers resources and training for abortion activism.

In any event, the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute compiled a list of 74 studies done between 1957 and 2013 on the link between breast cancer and abortion — 53 of those studies showed a positive correlation. I’m sure there are abortion activists that want to argue the individual methodology of each of those studies, but it’s not unfair to assert a link, and I seriously doubt anyone at NewsGuard knows what they’re talking about here.  

These articles claimed that a California bill would legalize, or decriminalize, infanticide. Several news reports have shown that the misrepresentation of the bill came from the measure’s language referring to “perinatal death.” However, the bill was amended to clear up that the bill’s immunity provision is intended to apply to a perinatal death after a live birth when the cause of death is directly attributable to pregnancy.

Let’s get this straight. The California bill didn’t allow post-birth infanticide except the language had to be revised to … not allow post-birth infanticide? And in doing so, the need to amend the bill essentially validated the original concerns it would allow infanticide?

We’ve also seen that articles generally embrace a conservative agenda, which is not disclosed on the site. And articles not categorized as “Opinion” often feature opinionated language. For example, this article stated, “Every week, the president of the United States says something completely bonkers, and everyone goes on with their day. We’re not talking about his propensity to lie about politics or his blustery lifelong fabulism. … We are talking about his inability to articulate simple ideas without notes – and often with notes.” The article’s categorization as “Politics” may not convey to readers that the story is opinionated in any way. Why aren’t articles categorized as opinion, when applicable, in a clear way so that readers may be aware of the content? Similarly, does The Federalist agree that it regularly embraces a conservative perspective? Why isn’t it disclosed somewhere accessible on the site so that readers are aware?

The Federalist is a conservative, right-leaning news and opinion website. This is not being hidden from anyone. The article quoted above is headlined, “Joe Biden Is Not OK.” If you stumble across this website randomly and you are persuaded of something, well, that’s great. But there is no intentional deception involved. Anyone staring at the home page with a few brain cells to rub together can deduce this quickly, and this is a ridiculous criticism. Does The New York Times openly declare it is a leftist paper somewhere? Or are we still laboring under the delusion it is objective?

Speaking of the Times, I would also note that in recent years, the vaunted “paper of record” has defended itself in two separate libel lawsuits by asserting that its reporters can insert their opinions into news stories, without labeling or distinguishing the opinion from fact — even though this is against the Times’ own internal policies. Last I checked, The New York Times had a perfect 100 percent rating from NewsGuard. The Federalist was given a score of 12.5 out of 100, even though we’re far more transparent about our ideological perspective.

We see that the site has left numerous inaccurate or misleading articles on the site uncorrected, despite having a practice of publishing corrections as notes at the end of articles. Does The Federalist have a corrections policy in place? If so, why are articles with inaccurate claims left on the site unchanged?

Well, so far NewsGuard hasn’t provided any persuasive evidence of any, let alone “numerous,” inaccurate or misleading articles. Has the Stephen Brill, the founder of NewsGuard, admitted he was wrong to go on TV and dismiss the reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop as “misinformation” right before the 2020 election? Let us know so we can update The Federalist’s rating of NewsGuard. It’s currently hovering around zero.


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