A media literacy group, which the nation's largest teachers' union tapped to help millions of school children identify online misinformation, employs a number of staffers who once worked in Democratic politics.
In January, the American Federation of Teachers agreed to license NewsGuard's web browser extension to its 1.7 million members. The company, founded by former journalists, awards reliability scores to thousands of websites to help identify fake news. Conservative groups have accused NewsGuard of having an anti-conservative bias. The company has denied the allegations, citing an advisory board that includes Democrats and Republicans.
But a review of NewsGuard's employee roster shows a leftward tilt among staff members. The group's deputy general manager volunteered for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, according to the NewsGuard website. One staff analyst volunteered for Obama's 2012 campaign, and another served on a Democratic political committee in Connecticut. NewsGuard's general counsel has served on the board of the League of Conservation Voters, a Democrat-aligned environmental group. The lawyer, Cynthia Brill, has also contributed thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates. None of the NewsGuard staffers listed online have worked for Republicans.
A review of political donations also suggests a liberal bias at NewsGuard. Twenty NewsGuard executives and advisers have contributed to Democratic candidates since 2015, with only six giving to Republicans, according to Federal Election Commission records. Nine gave more than $10,000 to Democratic candidates, while just three Republicans surpassed that threshold.
Conservative groups say NewsGuard's partnership with the Democrat-aligned American Federation of Teachers will further indoctrinate American school kids. Conservatives have accused Randi Weingarten, the union's president, of pushing dubious science in support of mask mandates and school closures during the coronavirus pandemic. Weingarten was forced to apologize last year after she spoke at a Democratic party forum without a mask, in violation of local ordinances at the time.
"NewsGuard and the AFT are attempting to indoctrinate the next generation through censorship and by implementing partisan political tools in the classroom," said Ian Prior, a former Trump Justice Department official who serves as executive director of the Fight for Schools. "Given that the AFT finds NewsGuard to be a suitable partner, it's no surprise that NewsGuard is staffed and run by individuals who previously worked for Democratic campaigns."
A group of conservative publishers last month signed an open letter urging state governors to block the NewsGuard-AFT partnership. The signatories, including Washington Free Beacon president Aaron Harison, said the partnership would force an "ideologically driven agenda" into American classrooms.
While NewsGuard says it treats liberal and conservative websites the same, the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group, found the company rates liberal websites 27 points higher in terms of trustworthiness than their conservative counterparts. The watchdog also found NewsGuard rates Chinese state-sponsored media outlets higher than some conservative outlets.
Steven Brill, NewsGuard's cofounder and husband of the group's general counsel, also bungled an assessment of one of the biggest political stories of the 2020 election in favor of Democrats. He asserted the New York Post's reports about Hunter Biden's laptop were likely the product of Russian disinformation. Brill touted NewsGuard's negative rating for the Post, which he said had "published irresponsible stuff in the past."
"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 in October 2020, the Free Beacon reported.
NewsGuard's general manager Matt Skibinski insists the company's rating system is free of bias. "NewsGuard's ratings are based on nine basic, apolitical criteria that have nothing to do with a site's political leaning," Skibinski told the Free Beacon. He also said the political activities of NewsGuard's analysts—which he described as "minimal"—are disclosed on scorecards the company publishes for individual websites.
Skibinski also noted that NewsGuard cofounder Gordon Crovitz has served on the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization. Crovitz has also served as publisher of the Wall Street Journal.
Update April 18, 2022, at 4:20 p.m.: This piece has been updated to correct an attribution.