An in-depth investigation into Ad Fontes Media, a “media literacy” organization, found that the for-profit company is making money by actively encouraging Big Tech platforms, advertisers, and educators to deplatform, boycott, and exclude conservative commentators and media organizations, including The Federalist.
“Masquerading as a ‘media literacy’ organization, Ad Fontes Media is the left’s newest weapon to erase conservative speech while bolstering legacy media,” wrote the investigators at Media Research Center (MRC) Free Speech America.
Ad Fontes, founded in 2018, claims to be impartial. According to its website, it is continuously updating its “Media Bias Chart,” which includes over 3,000 media sources graded on their own “bias” and “reliability” metrics. The organization insists it is objective because its evaluations stem from the consensus of anonymous analysts who are supposedly politically diverse. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Ad Fontes analysts evaluate individual news articles and other forms of media content in groups of three. Even though the three analysts are supposed to include one individual on the left, one on the right, and another in the center, Ad Fontes’ founder and CEO Vanessa Otero brags that “99% of the time,” the three allegedly diverse analysts arrive at a single score.
Promoting False, Leftist Narratives
Purportedly “Impartial” Ad Fontes promotes indisputably false left-wing narratives, such as the claim that the highly credible Wuhan lab leak theory is a “baseless” and “fringe theory.” Indeed, Ad Fontes gave the infamous 2020 Washington Post article “debunk[ing]” the lab leak theory its highest reliability rating.
Ad Fontes also gave a “reliable” rating to an article from The Root, which claims that Stacey Abrams won the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, which she did not. It gave another “reliable” score to a story from The New York Times that said, “There’s no evidence of a wiretap” at Trump Tower. Trump Tower was indeed wiretapped.
Ad Fontes gave a perfectly “balanced” rating to an article by the CCP propaganda publication, China Daily, which lobbied for a reduction in trade restrictions between the United States and China. Ad Fontes also gave a perfectly balanced score to a New York Times puff piece on former YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki headlined “The Most Measured Person in Tech.”
“By the time the article was published, Wojcicki—now infamous for her far–reaching censorship policies—had already been caught targeting pro-life groups, demonetizing journalists critical of the left, and systematically removing Republican campaign ads,” reported the MRC.
Misleading Its Clients
MRC found that Ad Fontes’ executives “rigged” a cherry-picked and condensed version of its “Media Bias Chart” to fool clients into thinking the organization is unbiased. The colorful chart makes it appear like Ad Fontes is critical of just as many left-wing sources as it is critical of right-wing sources.
MRC’s analysis, however, “shows a completely different story.” The majority (64 percent) of media Ad Fontes labeled “left” was deemed fully “reliable.” These “reliable” sources include CNN, The New York Times, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Only one-third of media labeled “right” was deemed “reliable.”
“Ad Fontes is 10 times more likely to give its lowest rating of ‘unreliable’ to media on the right as it is to give this badge of shame to media on the left,” reported the MRC. According to the MRC, “only 2.9 percent of media it considered on the left as ‘unreliable,’ while it rated 29 percent of media it labeled on the right as ‘unreliable.’”
Ad Fontes’ cherry-picked “Media Bias Chart” is described by the MRC’s Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider as “a veneer of objectivity.” It draws advertisers in and then persuades them to spend their money on left-wing, predominantly legacy media organizations.
Radical Left-Wing Leadership
“Both Otero and her top lieutenant Brad Berens are documented left-wing political activists,” reported the MRC. Both admit to being political ideologues and have consistently contributed to leftist political candidates.
Berens has referred to Tucker Carlson as “a sexist pig” and called President Trump a “white supremacist” and “the worst president in the history of this great country.”
He even wrote an open letter imploring Big Tech platforms to permanently ban then-President Trump, saying in the letter that he has “a persistent fantasy of seeing Donald Trump’s favorite color on a jumpsuit he is forced to wear.”
Berens’ political views on Trump appear to be shared by Ad Fontes as a whole. After Trump was indicted in Georgia, Ad Fuentes sent out a gleeful email that read, “The wheels of justice, however slow, had turned in the general direction that they are supposed to turn.”
Ad Fontes has recently added a Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) “media filter.” This new feature “allow[s] advertisers to segregate media by race and sexual orientation of both ownership and audience,” reported the MRC.
To benefit from the DEI filters, sources have to “identify the racial composition of its ownership, hosts or target audience, and then champion it so as to ensure Ad Fontes’s diversity scorers could spot it.”
Since emphasizing people’s immutable qualities rather than their merits is generally considered immoral by conservatives, the filter acts as just another way to penalize conservatives’ voices while elevating leftist ones.
The MRC notes that the DEI filter is also in contradiction to “Ad Fontes’s pledge to focus on analysis of ‘content,’ rather than preconceptions and prejudices about the media’s speaker or viewer.”
Ad Fontes is present in public schools, has contracted with major advertisers, and partners with tech giants like Meta and Microsoft. “Tragically,” concludes the MRC, “every firm bamboozled into outsourcing its advertising decisions to Ad Fontes is complicit in the defunding of real journalism and turbocharging the revenue stream for legacy media propaganda.”