Tens of millions of American school children will soon rely on a liberal media watchdog group to determine what counts as misinformation.
The American Federation of Teachers this week struck a deal to license NewsGuard web browser extensions to its 1.7 million union members. Students across the country will soon rely on NewsGuard's tools to determine the reliability of hundreds of websites. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said her union will use NewsGuard to help students to "separate fact from fiction" and "develop their critical-thinking and analytical skills."
But while NewsGuard claims to be nonpartisan, one analysis of its rating system found it skews heavily in favor of liberal outlets. The Media Research Center found NewsGuard rates liberal sites 27 points higher in terms of trustworthiness than conservative outlets. Nine out of the 10 websites on NewsGuard’s misinformation list are conservative or pro-life websites. NPR, which came under fire last week for an inaccurate story about the Supreme Court, is listed as one of its most trustworthy sites, along with other establishment media outlets.
The deal comes amid an intense debate over the spread of left-wing curricula in America’s schools, as well as school lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic. Parent groups have protested against the infiltration of progressive ideology, such as critical race theory, into the classroom. They have also blamed the American Federation of Teachers for supporting school closures during the pandemic. Weingarten has been accused of pushing inaccurate studies about the effectiveness of masks in classrooms.
NewsGuard insists it is politically neutral, noting that it has given negative ratings to liberal news outlets.
"Our rating process is designed to be apolitical and to mitigate the bias of any individual reporter or editor on our team from affecting a site's review," said NewsGuard general manager Matt Skibinski.
NewsGuard executives have bungled evaluations of major news stories in recent years. Steve Brill, NewsGuard’s founder, asserted in 2020 that the New York Post’s story about Hunter Biden’s laptop was likely false and based on Russian disinformation. "My personal opinion is there’s a high likelihood this story is a hoax, maybe even a hoax perpetrated by the Russians again," Brill said in an interview with CNBC.
Brill said that NewsGuard had a negative rating of the Post because the newspaper tended to favor Donald Trump and had "published irresponsible stuff in the past."
Emails from Biden’s laptop have since been validated, and there is no evidence that Russia was linked to the Post’s story. Hunter Biden announced in December 2020 that he was under federal investigation for his taxes and foreign business dealings, topics that are widely discussed in emails from his laptop.
Skibinski told the Washington Free Beacon that NewsGuard did not downgrade the Post's rating based on the Biden laptop story. He said Brill's remarks were made before the laptop's veracity was confirmed.
One of NewsGuard's biggest funders is the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a philanthropy that backs numerous left-wing causes, including a journalism department at Howard University headed by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones is the author of the "1619 Project," which pushes a distorted view of America’s founding. Another NewsGuard backer is Jules Kroll, the founder of the intelligence firm that helped Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein compile dossiers on women who accused him of sexual assault.
Other details of NewsGuard’s arrangement with the American Federation of Teachers were not immediately clear. Weingarten, the head of the teachers' union, hosted a book party for Brill in 2011, the New York Times reported. Brill, a one-time critic of Weingarten, recommended she serve as chancellor of the New York City public school system.