Americans’ trust in the media is at an all-time low. According to a 2017 Survey on Trust, Media and Democracy1 by the Knight Foundation, 43 percent of Americans have a negative view of news media compared to 33 percent reporting a positive view, while 66 percent believe “most news media do not do a good job of separating fact from opinion.”
Seventy-three percent believe the proliferation of “fake news” on the internet is a major problem, and only half feel confident that readers can get to the facts by sorting through bias.
However, individual perception about what is true and what actually constitutes fake news varies. As reported by Medium,2 “A majority of Americans believe people knowingly portraying false information as if it were true ‘always’ constitutes fake news.”
NewsGuard — The New Strategy Used to Deceive You
All of this brings me to the topic at hand, and the strategy the media is using to restrict your access to the truth from websites like mine, namely the latest self-appointed arbiter of trustworthiness in online media, NewsGuard.3 According to the group’s website:4
“NewsGuard uses journalism to fight false news, misinformation and disinformation. Our trained analysts, who are experienced journalists, research online news brands to help readers and viewers know which ones are trying to do legitimate journalism — and which are not.
Our Green-Red ratings signal if a website is trying to get it right or instead has a hidden agenda or knowingly publishes falsehoods or propaganda.”
Currently, the NewsGuard “SWAT team” is only focusing on U.S.-based media brands, but is planning on expanding “to serve the billions of people globally who get news online.”
In other words, NewsGuard is setting itself up as the self-appointed global arbiter of what information is “trustworthy” — based on nine “credibility and transparency” factors — not only for information viewed on private electronic devices, but also for information accessible in public libraries and schools. Librarians will even provide instructions to patrons on how to install the NewsGuard extension on their personal computers, tablets and cell phones.
Once you’ve installed the NewsGuard browser plugin on your computer or cellphone, the NewsGuard icon rating will appear on all Google and Bing searches and on articles featured in your social media news feeds:
These icons are meant to influence readers, instructing them to disregard content with cautionary colors and cautions. While the warnings may be enough to prevent someone from clicking these links, I believe the true intent will be to bury this content entirely from search results and social media feeds.
NewsGuard’s Own Transparency Is Wanting
Fake news is certainly a problem. But determining who should have the final word on credibility and what is “truth” is not a simple one. Who is going to verify the credibility and transparency of the verifiers, i.e., NewsGuard?
It was hard to believe multibillion-dollar companies would rely on the likes of Snopes or Web of Trust to be the guardians of truth and credibility, and in fact they didn’t. Over time, most people using the internet learned to disregard article and website ratings dispensed by either Snopes or Web of Trust.
But now, enter NewsGuard, which for all its promises to vet any and all independent online media for conflicts of interest, credibility and transparency, apparently does not expect you to put them under that same scrutiny. On NewsGuard’s United States Securities and Exchange Commission Form D filed March 5, 2018, there is an option for disclosing the size of its revenue, but that box was checked, “Decline to disclose.”6
Shouldn’t a corporation setting itself up as the judge and validator of the transparency of others be 100 percent transparent as well? NewsGuard also claims a Rule 506(b) exemption,7 which among its benefits allows for an unlimited amount of money to be raised from an unlimited number of accredited investors.8
Well, in doing some digging of our own, aside from internet giants Microsoft9 and Google — one of the largest monopolies in the world — it appears NewsGuard is backed by companies that are presently involved, or have been in the past, in advertising and marketing of pharmaceutical products, cigarettes and unhealthy junk food to kids.
Are we to believe that the profit preferences of such entities will have no influence on NewsGuard’s ratings of individuals, organizations and companies that criticize the safety or effectiveness of those products?
NewsGuard and Microsoft are also partners in the Defending Democracy Program, a program aimed at safeguarding electoral processes by working with government.
According to Microsoft’s April 2018 announcement,10 “The Defending Democracy Program will work with all stakeholders in democratic countries globally” to protect campaigns from hacking, increase transparency in political advertising, exploring technological solutions to protect electoral processes and remediate cyber threats, and ward against disinformation campaigns.
Overall, it appears NewsGuard is just another big business aimed at keeping the chemical, drug and food industries, as well as mainstream media, intact by discrediting and eliminating unwanted competition, which likely includes yours truly and many others who empower you with information that helps you take control of your health.
What You Need to Know About NewsGuard Backer, Publicis Groupe
NewsGuard’s $6 million startup was funded in part by the Publicis Groupe,11 the “third largest global communications group,” according to the Publicis website.12 Publicis was founded in 1926 by Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet, a French entrepreneur, with the goal of improving the image of advertising and turning it into “a real profession.” In fact, Publicis Groupe’s name is derived in part from the French word for advertising.13
The Publicis Groupe has been manipulating what people think about commercial products for nearly a century. Over that century, this advertising and communications firm bought or partnered with targeted advertising avenues, beginning with newspapers, followed by radio, TV, cinema and the internet. Some of its self-described accomplishments include:
The first press advertising appeared in 1927
In 1930, Bleustein-Blanchet pioneered the first radio advertising
In 1935 Publicis started acquiring cinemas
In 1958, after becoming heavily involved in newspapers and expanding into partnerships with major industry names like Colgate, he created the “industrial information” department
In 1972, he entered the technology world
In 1983, he introduced the concept of global communication driven by marketing
With revenue avenues secured, Publicis’ clients and partners built a global presence that dominated the advertising world. Be it tobacco or junk food, Publicis Groupe found a way to promote and strengthen big industries. Within the Publicis Groupe are four networks serving its clients,14 including Publicis Health,15 which boasts its clients are “some of the biggest and most exciting names in health and wellness.”
The wallpaper on the Publicis Health site shows Lilly, Abbot, Roche, Amgen, Genentech, Celgene, Gilead, Biogen, Astra Zeneca, Sanofi and Bayer, to name a few of those clients. The Publicis Health board also consists of a power pack of high-profile individuals with Big Pharma position backgrounds or affiliations.16,17,18,19,20,21
Leo Burnett, the ad company famous for creating the Marlboro man ad campaigns that made Marlboro the best-selling cigarette in the world and led to the nicotine addiction of millions, many of whom died from smoking, is also part of Publicis.22,23
If a company such as NewsGuard has such atrocious conflicts of interests, they should take their own advice and be transparent about their investors’ sources of income. How can you trust a group associated with funders known for promoting cigarettes, drugs and junk food?
The Fourth Estate
While pro-industry advertising worked well for decades, there was still the irksome problem of the Fourth Estate, a term that refers to the press.
The problem was that professional investigative journalists working for magazines, newspapers and broadcast outlets would write in-depth exposés, outing the truth behind deceptive advertising and countering industry propaganda with science, statistics and other documented facts — and when a free press with honest reporting based on verifiable facts actually does its job, ineffective or toxic products are driven off the market.
So, the answer that industry came up with in the late 20th century to combat truth in journalism was, pure and simple: Control the Fourth Estate with advertising dollars. By partnering with the “big guns” of media, such as The Paley Center for Media, Publicis and its industry clients were able to influence and, essentially, control the press to restrict or virtually eliminate your ability to ever hear the truth on many important issues, especially ones that affect your health.
The Paley Center, by the way, is composed of every major media in the world, including Microsoft, AOL, CBS, Fox, Tribune Media and entertainment — and those are just a handful of the big-name media. One of The Paley Center’s activities is to sponsor an annual global forum for industry leaders.24
NewsGuard, founded by journalists Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, is housed in The Paley Center in New York City and, in November 2015, Publicis’ chairman of North America, Susan Gianinno, joined the Paley Center’s board of trustees.25 Additionally, Brill’s and Crovitz’s former business partner in a different venture, Leo Hindery,26,27 was a prior trustee and director of The Paley Center, adding up to some fairly influential connections that NewsGuard has with the Center besides being a tenant in their building.
Publicis and Google are also partners, forming an interlocking triangle with NewsGuard. Publicis and Google joined forces with Condé Nast in 2014, creating the marketing service La Maison, “focused on producing engaging content for marketers in the luxury space.”28
The Rise of Fake News
In the 21st century, industry advertorials are looking more like editorial writing in mainstream publications, while news stories increasingly parrot press releases with no probing questions to balance industry perspectives. And, when news reporters like Sharyl Attkisson dare to tell the truth, they are bullied, threatened and/or fired to prevent damage to the bottom line.
Simultaneously, another proverbial fly in the ointment for industry has emerged — the growth of alternative internet media, beginning in the early 1990s. It’s easy to imagine how these independent, online news sources posed problems for the brand marketing initiatives that Publicis and similar mass communication corporations had worked so hard to develop for their industry clients.
So, consider how distraught those industry giants must have grown over time, as alternative internet media grew into a whole New Fourth Estate, with sourced analyses and investigative reporting that reflected what the old Fourth Estate used to do. Additionally, this alternative internet media has become a place where news and exchange of opinions are free, and where people all over the world can talk to each other in real time without being controlled by advertising dollars.
These alternative online news sources attract people who want to know more than what they see on TV or in paid subscription magazines and newspapers — they are people who don’t take everything at face value and who intelligently question marketing and propaganda tactics.
But, as more and more independent-thinking people gravitate toward alternative journalism in ever-growing numbers, everything these Wall Street corporations have built to influence mainstream media is at stake. Again, you can imagine what they were thinking: They had to come up with a way to stop the wide reach of these New Fourth Estate internet sites.
Their answer was to create a policeman, an arbiter of truth and credibility who appears upstanding and trustworthy but who, under the radar, with a single tap on a keyboard, can “undercut” those alternative websites, independent journalists and consumer advocates. That policeman is NewsGuard. And better yet, when they chose a policeman, they made sure those heading up this final arbiter of “truth” and “fake news” came from the original Fourth State itself.
This trend of industry infiltrating the Fourth Estate — the press — was in many ways the very root and beginning of the fake news problem. So, it’s ironic that NewsGuard, fronted by Publicis, connected to The Paley Center, is now cashing in on the fake news trend the press itself fostered.
Another irony is that NewsGuard’s cofounders, Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, have both written in the past, or supervised articles, about Big Pharma’s influence on the health care industry (Brill as an award-winning journalist and Crovitz as publisher of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal — which is a business-friendly publication as it is.29,30,31
But now, drug industry money is being used to fund the “fact-checking” Brill and Crovitz do of websites that expose the abuse of the people’s trust and health by the pharmaceutical industry.
Is NewsGuard Industry’s Ace Up the Sleeve?
We already have evidence that those of us providing free information and perspective that do not conform with what industry and media giants like Publicis want the people to think, believe and do, have been targeted for elimination by big search engines and social media platforms that label our information as “fake news.”
Is NewsGuard a very clever new media strategy influenced by industry and designed to further discredit and block public access to websites like ours? Is their real purpose a plan to squelch websites like ours that publish referenced information questioning the safety and effectiveness of commercial products aggressively marketed by industry, government and mainstream media? It appears that it is.
As I already mentioned, NewsGuard was founded by two Fourth Estate veterans: Gordon Crovitz32 is an attorney and former Wall Street Journal publisher and executive vice-president of Dow Jones; Steven Brill33 is an attorney “journalist-entrepreneur” who founded The American Lawyer magazine and the Court TV cable channel.
With plans of world domination as the arbiter of the “trustworthiness” of information published online, NewsGuard completes industry’s ring of power. With the help of NewsGuard, Wall Street-dominated media firms like Publicis can go on as before and industry can keep selling products to an unsuspecting public that has no clue they’re just pawns in the game.
While many fake news sites will be eliminated by the Google and Microsoft-backed NewsGuard rating system, many legitimate news sources and information-based nonprofit organizations publishing online will also get buried by it.
The Wheel of Industry Fortune
To make sense of why NewsGuard may not be in the best interest of truth seekers, it’s important to realize the key role of Publicis Groupe. By methodically acquiring and partnering with media, it has kept the wheel of industry profits going.
With the addition of the school system (Google’s domination in schools being one example), the circle was nearly complete when the stumbling block in the form of alternative media emerged. That’s where NewsGuard comes in — to destroy alternative media that might detract customers from Publicis Groupe’s clients — industry and their products, which include but are not limited to vaccines, drugs and junk food.34,35
At the center of this circle is industry — from agriculture to junk food to the drug and technology industries, and more. The Paley Center for Media is connected to all the major media companies, while the Fourth Estate represents the press at large, both big and small.
The school system is an important cog in this wheel, as that’s where indoctrination and generation of new customers begins. With NewsGuard’s partnering with public libraries and schools, this lagging cog is now being brought fully into the fold.
To this wheel you could add a number of other players as well, such as the legislative branches of government, government health agencies and governmental consumer protection agencies, the medical community, the internet as a whole, and institutions of higher education.
But regardless of how many spokes you add, Publicis Groupe is the organizer and therefore the anchor of this wheel of industry fortune. It helps pave the way in various ways to allow industry to generate revenue. As mentioned, Publicis Groupe consists of four separate but interconnected networks that service industry clients:36
- Publicis Communications, where the client’s brand image and message are skillfully and creatively crafted37
- Publicis Sapient, specializing in the design of digital business platforms38
- Publicis Media, where “the power of the modern media landscape” is harnessed “to drive business transformation”39
- Publicis Healthcare Communications Group
Now add NewsGuard, funded by Publicis and physically headquartered in The Paley Center.
Indebted to Big Industry through its funding, it appears that NewsGuard is being positioned as a “competition eradicator” that will allow Publicis and Big Industry to maintain their undisputed reign as shapers of public opinion about health-related issues, including the safety of food, air and water, medical devices and products, prescription drugs and vaccines, as well as public health policies that endorse the use of those products.
If I’m right about this, the influence of NewsGuard’s ratings of websites could pose a serious threat to freedom of the press across the world. With a simple check mark, this Wall Street corporation will have the power to direct online readers to industry-approved sources of information, and to block readers from accessing sources of information that enable them to make fully informed decisions about how to take control of their health.
Blowback from censorship and bias has plagued many of these platforms for years. NewsGuard is the third party the media and social platforms have been looking for to make nonconformist views disappear altogether.
The age of electronic book burning is advancing quickly as corporate elitists are losing control of the people. NewsGuard has become the latest weapon to fortify the crumbling walls of the Wall Street castle.