Comer investigating news-rating group

House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) announced Thursday he is launching a probe into a news-rating system that seeks to guard against misinformation by scoring news and information sites based on their reliability, trustworthiness and financial conflict of interest.

Comer said the probe will focus on “the impact of NewsGuard on protected First Amendment speech and its potential to serve as a non-transparent agent of censorship campaigns.”

In a letter to NewsGuard’s chief executive officers, veteran news executives Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, Comer requested documents on the company’s contracts with federal agencies and “its adherence to its own policies intended to guard against appearances of bias,” including how the company avoids conflicts of interest.

“The Committee seeks to make an independent determination about whether NewsGuard’s intervention on protected speech has been in any way sponsored by a federal, state, local, or foreign government,” Comer wrote in his letter.

“The Committee does not take issue with a business entity providing other businesses and customers with data-based analysis to protect their brands. Rather, we are concerned with the potential involvement of government entities in interfering with free expression. Truthfulness and transparency about the purpose and origin of inquiries and managing conflicts of interest that may impact the public good are also relevant,” Comer added in the letter.

NewsGuard is a web extension that rates the reliability of news sources, in what appears as a nutrition label. The scores come from a team of “expert journalists” who rate publishers on a scale of 0-100, based on “a set of apolitical criteria of journalistic practice,” according to the website.

The factors include whether the site repeatedly publishes “false or egregiously misleading content,” whether it presents the information “responsibly,” whether it has “effective practices for correcting errors,” and whether it treats opinion and news differently. Other criteria include avoiding deceptive headlines, disclosing ownership and financing and revealing possible conflicts of interest.

“We look forward to clarifying the misunderstanding by the committee about our work for the Defense Department,” Crovitz said in a statement to The Hill. “Our work for the Pentagon has been solely related to hostile disinformation efforts by Russian, Chinese and Iranian government-linked operations targeting Americans and our allies.”

Crovitz, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, also touted NewsGuard as “the only apolitical service” that rates news outlets, saying, “the others are either digital platforms with their secret ratings or left-wing partisan advocacy groups.”

He noted the rating system has resulted in positive and negative scores for right-leaning and left-leaning outlets.

“Under NewsGuard’s apolitical rating system, many conservative outlets outscore similar left-leaning brands: The Daily Caller outscores The Daily Beast, the Daily Wire outscores the Daily Kos, Fox News outscores MSNBC and The Wall Street Journal outscores the New York Times,” he wrote.

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