Consortium News (CN) has sued the U.S. government and NewsGuard Technologies Inc. alleging that they conspired to censor and defame the online independent news outlet. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, asserts that NewsGuard, working with the government, violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and committed defamation, libel and slander against CN by using a rating system called “misinformation fingerprints.” Utilizing its self-monitored rating system, NewsGuard put warning labels on CN links, claiming that the links led to web pages containing false or misleading information or that the information was not presented responsibly.1 2 3
The Complaint sets forth:
In direct violation of the First Amendment, the United States of America and NewsGuard Technologies, Inc. (“NewsGuard”) are engaged in a pattern and practice of labelling, stigmatizing and defaming American media organizations that oppose or dissent from American foreign and defense policy, particularly as to Russia and Ukraine.4
CN is an organization of journalists, academics, freelance writers and former intelligent agency professionals. The Virginia-based non-profit organization which provides independent news, commentary and analysis, was founded by Robert Parry, former investigative journalist for the Associated Press and Newsweek. By its own admission, CN frequently disagrees with U.S. foreign policy.5
NewsGuard, founded in 2018 by Wall Street entrepreneurs Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz,6 has a staff with influential connections to the government, finance and media.7 The company reportedly has partnerships with Microsoft8 and the U.S. government.9 NewsGuard offers a monthly subscription that allows users to see NewsGuard’s “nutrition labels” showing green checks for websites it deems trustworthy and red X’s for websites it alleges do not report the news responsibly.
NewsGuard provides its rating service to 40,000 subscribers for a cost of approximately $4.95 each month. NewsGuard has partnered with Microsoft, allowing users the option of accessing the rating system. Newsguard has influenced the education system by contracting with schools and libraries and with the American Federation of Teachers to provide its ratings system to educators and students.10
NewsGuard’s Alleged Collusion with the U.S. Government
Referencing a 2021 NewsGuard “Social Impact Report,” the Complaint alleges that NewsGuard was awarded an approximately $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for its program called “Misinformation Fingerprints.”
CN argues that NewsGuard is, “an intelligent proxy of the United States while claiming to be an independent journalistic organization.”11 NewsGuard denies that it received a grant from the DoD, instead claiming that the payment was a licensing fee to use the “Misinformation Fingerprints” program.12
CN alleges that NewsGuard used its “Misinformation Fingerprints” program to censor CN and put warning labels on its news links at the behest of the Pentagon.13
Bruce Afrin, CN’s attorney, said:
The First Amendment rights of all American media are threatened by this arrangement with the Defense Department to defame and abridge the speech of U.S. media groups. When media groups are condemned by the government as ‘anti-U.S.’ and are accused of publishing ‘false content’ because they disagree with U.S. policies, the result is self-censorship and a destruction of the public debate intended by the First Amendment.14
Matt Skibinski, a NewsGuard spokesperson, said:
NewsGuard has never worked with any government to suppress, censor, or block any content of any kind..[NewsGuard’s] limited work with government agencies has been centered on helping to identify and track false narratives emanating from state-sponsored media sources such as Iran, China, and Russia—and these projects are completely separate from and unrelated to our ratings of news sources.15
A 2021 tweet by NewGuard appears to counter this assertion, however. The NewsGuard tweet, which came shortly after then White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki publicly asked social media companies such as Facebook to collude with the government to suppress “misinformation,” read:
When NewsGuard offered @facebook our data on websites that spread misinformation at the start of the pandemic-they didn’t want it. Picking fights with @POTUS won’t fix the misinformation epidemic- working collaboratively will. Our door is open.16
CN points out that despite only having issues with six of its articles and none of its videos out of more than 20,000 published since 1995, NewsGuard slapped warning labels on all of its content stating that there is a lack of responsibility in information gathering and that the content may be misleading.17
The Complaint sets forth that NewGuard acts to control the news narrative by contacting a news organization it disagrees with and, without disclosing its connection to the government, asks the news outlet to correct its false content. Should the media outlet choose not to change or delete the targeted content, NewsGuard will put a red flag on all of the media outlet’s content to discredit the information.18
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1 O’Hare C. Extreme-Left Newguard ‘Fact-Checker’ Sued. America Insider Oct. 25, 2023.
2 yourNEWS Media Staff. Consortium News Files Lawsuit Against NewsGuard and U.S. Government Over Alleged Censorship. Yournews Oct. 12, 2023.
3 Consortium News. US Government & NewsGuard Sued by Consortium News. Consortium News Oct. 31, 2023; 28(298).
4 Consortium For Independent Journalism, Inc. v. The United States of America; And NewsGuard Technologies, Inc. Docket No. 23-cv-07088.
6 NewsGuard. About NewsGuard.
7 Magness PW, Yang E. Who Fact Checks the Fact Checkers? A Report on Media Censorship. American Institute for Economic Research Aug. 11, 2021.
9 Taibbi M. Newsguard Case Highlights the Pentagon’s Censorship End-Around. Racket News Oct. 25, 2023.
10 Fine M. Tucker calls NewsGuard the GLOBAL ‘censorship organization’ that received huge Pentagon contract. American Wire Apr. 30, 2022.
11 Consortium For Independent Journalism, Inc. v. The United States of America; And NewsGuard Technologies, Inc. Docket No. 23-cv-07088.
12 Cleveland M. NewsGuard Claims Not To Be Government-Funded, But A $750K Grant Suggests Otherwise. The Federalist Mar. 13, 2023.
13 O’Hare C. Extreme-Left Newguard ‘Fact-Checker’ Sued. America insider Oct. 25, 2023.
14 Consortium News. US Government & NewsGuard Sued by Consortium News. Consortium News Oct. 31, 2023; 28(298).
15 Chapados A. NewsGuard of working with Department of Defense to ‘coerce news organizations to alter viewpoints. The Blaze Oct. 24, 2023.
16 Magness PW, Yang E. Who Fact Checks the Fact Checkers? A Report on Media Censorship. American Institute for Economic Research Aug. 11, 2021.
17 yourNEWS Media Staff. Consortium News Files Lawsuit Against NewsGuard and U.S. Government Over Alleged Censorship. yourNews. Oct. 23, 2023.
18 Consortium For Independent Journalism, Inc. v. The United States of America; And NewsGuard Technologies, Inc. Docket No. 23-cv-07088.
19 Swanson M. Consortium News Sues NewsGuard, US Government. Newsmax Oct. 23, 2023.
20 Chapados A. NewsGuard of working with Department of Defense to ‘coerce news organizations to alter viewpoints. The Blaze Oct. 24, 2023.