House Republicans are sounding the alarm over an anti-misinformation partnership between news rating tool NewsGuard and the American Federation of Teachers that put NewsGuard rating tools on the devices of millions of American teachers and school children.
In a letter to both organizations on Wednesday, Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina and Burgess Owens of Utah said both AFT and NewsGuard’s “history of demonstrating left-wing bias” raises concern that they aim to politicize the classroom.
“As members of Congress, it is our duty to investigate these efforts to politicize classrooms across the United States with a biased misinformation rating system,” the lawmakers wrote. “We hope you agree that American parents and students deserve full transparency and that this extends to the information delivered to students.”
The lawmakers gave NewsGuard and the AFT 30 days to respond to a list of demands, including details behind the events leading to the partnership and whether parents can opt out of installing NewsGuard on their children’s devices.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said it is “ironic that committee members charged with finding out the truth would attack a website dedicated to discerning fact from fiction.”
“These members may prefer to read Russia Today, but with NewsGuard kids can spot propaganda with the click of a mouse,” she said.
NewsGuard bills itself as an unbiased, apolitical tool to assess the “credibility and transparency” of news and information through its scoring system which can warn users of problematic web content through the use of plugins installed on their web browsers.
According to a press release announcing the NewsGuard partnership with AFT in January, 1.7 million schoolteachers and the millions of kids who they teach, were given free access to its “traffic light” news ratings and “Nutrition Label” reviews via a licensed copy of NewsGuard’s browser extension.
The lawmakers, however, say NewsGuard tips the scales in their ratings, citing a Media Research Center analysis that showed “clear liberal bias in NewsGuard’s misinformation scoring system.”
According to the analysis cited by the lawmakers, NewsGuard has scored left-leaning news outlets 27 points higher, on average, than right-leaning outlets.
MRC is a nonprofit research and education organization with a self-described “commitment to neutralizing leftist bias in the news media and popular culture” through its news monitoring capabilities and “sophisticated marketing operation.”
The lawmakers also say the company has ranked Chinese state-run media outlets as more trustworthy than U.S.-based conservative news outlets.
“These factors taken together demonstrate that NewsGuard is not qualified to determine the veracity of any news, let alone determine the truth for millions of American school children,” the lawmakers wrote.
NewsGuard CEO Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher and opinion columnist for The Wall Street Journal, rejected the lawmakers’ claims that his company leans left.
“NewsGuard’s rating process is nonpartisan and apolitical, and NewsGuard rates many conservative outlets […] as credible,” Mr. Crovitz said in a statement to The Washington Times.
Mr. Crovitz called the MRC study “unscientific” and said the group “cherry-picked” data to skew the results.
He also said the lawmakers’ claim that it has rated Chinese state media outlets as credible is “simply false.”
“There are no Chinese state-run media outlets rated as credible by NewsGuard,” he said.