- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2023

A State Department-backed group is severing ties with the Soros-funded Global Disinformation Index following reports about its efforts to muzzle conservative media outlets by blacklisting them with advertisers.

The National Endowment for Democracy, a private foundation created by Congress whose annual funding is part of the State Department budget, said it will no longer provide grants to the index after pushback from the right, including congressional Republicans.

“Recently, we became aware that one of our grantees, the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), was engaged in an initiative, funded by a different donor, that focused on specific U.S. media outlets,” the NED said Tuesday in a statement to The Washington Times.

“We recognize the important work GDI has done with NED support in other countries to help preserve the integrity of the information space and counter authoritarian influence,” said the statement. “However, given our commitment to avoid the perception that NED is engaged in any work domestically, directly or indirectly, we will no longer provide financial support to GDI.”

A grantmaking foundation whose mission is to promote democracy abroad, the NED gave $250,000 in grants to the risk-ratings group to identify and combat disinformation in China and other authoritarian regimes.

The NED is one of two State Department-backed groups listed as GDI funders, the other being the Global Engagement Center, which gave the index $100,000.

A State Department spokesperson told The Times that the “Global Engagement Center in no way moderates content on social media platforms; that is not its mission or its intent.”

The GDI’s mission includes assessing “disinformation risk in media markets,” while critics accuse the group of seeking to censor right-of-center voices with a bias-driven ratings system designed to sow distrust in media outlets that veer from the progressive line.

At least one advertising company using GDI blocked advertising dollars from reaching conservative websites and created its own list of 39 media outlets labeled “false/misleading,” “reprehensible/offensive” or “Hate Speech,” according to the Washington Examiner.

The index’s funders include Democratic megadonor George Soros through the Open Society Foundations, his primary grantmaking vehicle.

The NED emphasized that its congressional mandate is “to work around the world and not in the United States.”

“We have strict policies and practices in place so that NED and the work we fund remains internationally focused, ensuring the Endowment does not become involved in domestic politics,” said the statement.

George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley commended the NED for ending its association with the index but said he still has questions, including whether the Biden administration is funding similar programs.

“The concern is still obvious that a congressionally-created and federally funded 501c3 organization like the NED would be engaged, directly or indirectly, in this type of controversial scoring system given its implications for free speech,” Mr. Turley said on his eponymous blog. “It is not clear if the NED secured specific funding for this effort from other donors and, if so, why it did so. It is also not clear if the NED could use federal funds and private funds on an interchangeable and discretionary basis.”

In its December 2022 report, the GDI rated the “10 riskiest online news outlets” as the New York Post, Reason, RealClearPolitics, Daily Wire, the Blaze, One America News Network, the American Conservative, the Federalist, Newsmax and Spectator.

All 10 are popular conservative/libertarian sites. By contrast, the index’s “lowest-risk online news outlets” included leftist platforms like BuzzFeedNews and the Huffington Post.

Mr. Turley said that “many of the sites ranked as most reliable only recently admitted that the Hunter Biden laptop [story] was not Russian disinformation. For two years, these sites spread this false story with little or no opposing viewpoints despite early refutation by American intelligence.”

He noted that the GDI report gave a low rating to RealClearPolitics for “biased and sensational language.”

“Did the reviewers actually visit the sites of Mother Jones and HuffPost in evaluating comparative levels of bias? Were those sites paragons of neutrality and circumspection?” asked Mr. Turley.

The Washington Times has reached out to the GDI for comment.

Correction: The list of the Global Disinformation Index’s “10 riskiest online news outlets” has been corrected to exclude the Media Research Center.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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