Self-Anointed Media Gatekeeper Lowers 'Free Beacon' Quality Rating After Critical News Coverage

Steven Brill's NewsGuard demands answers. We don't owe ya nothing! 

NewsGuard co-CEO Steven Brill / Getty Images
August 5, 2022

Three months after the Washington Free Beacon revealed the Democratic leanings of NewsGuard employees—several of whom have worked in Democratic politics and contributed to Democratic candidates—the self-anointed arbiter of media credibility docked the Free Beacon's score on its trust ratings.

The company, which claims to "have no political axes to grind," on Wednesday lowered the pro-freedom website's score to 80 from 87.5 out of a possible 100 points, citing an alleged failure to disclose the company's ownership in a "user-friendly" way. The Free Beacon's disclosure of its ownership by FreeBeacon LLC on its "Terms of Use" page is apparently insufficient.

The revision came after NewsGuard analyst Macrina Wang, who as a student at Yale told a student publication the Brett Kavanaugh saga taught her that if she is ever sexually assaulted, "I won't get the justice that I deserve," asked the Free Beacon questions about its founding editor "David Continetti [sic]" and its "practices regarding distinguishing between news and opinion." Free Beacon founding editor Matthew Continetti did not respond to a request for comment.

NewsGuard general manager Matt Skibinski told the Free Beacon the ratings change was "based entirely" on its "nine journalistic criteria and nothing else."

NewsGuard sells subscriptions for its web browser plug-in to the general public, schools, and federal agencies to provide "trust ratings" on thousands of websites. The company also sells its services to corporations and ad agencies to ensure they do not advertise on sites that fail to meet NewsGuard's arbitrary standards.

The political leanings of NewsGuard's employees raise questions about its claim to provide "apolitical" analysis of the websites it covers. A Free Beacon report in April indicated that a number of NewsGuard employees have worked in Democratic politics. And 20 NewsGuard executives and advisers contributed to Democrats since 2015, while only 6 gave to Republicans. Sarah Brandt, a NewsGuard analyst who coauthored the Free Beacon's "report card," contributed both to Joe Biden's and Pete Buttigieg's presidential campaigns.

The Free Beacon, which according to NewsGuard "mostly adheres to basic standards of credibility and transparency," also reported in January that NewsGuard cofounder Steven Brill pushed the conspiracy theory that emails from Hunter Biden's abandoned laptop were fabricated by Russian agents.

"My personal opinion is that there's a high likelihood that this story is a hoax, maybe even a hoax perpetrated by the Russians again," Brill told CNBC, citing NewsGuard's rating of the New York Post, which in October 2020 exposed the contents of Biden's laptop. Brill said the Post had "published irresponsible stuff in the past."