Steven Brill’s NewsGuard and the “Fact-Checking” Scam

Who watches the watchmen?

In their ongoing efforts to discredit, marginalize, and silence all those who dissent from their agenda, Leftists are increasingly trying to fool the public by establishing ostensibly neutral “fact-checking” organizations that purport to identify “fake news,” but which actually apply that label only to those who don’t parrot their nonsense. One of the most notorious examples of this is Snopes, which claims to be an objective arbiter of the accuracy of news reports, but which I have shown to be a deeply biased and misleading site: see here and here.

Recently I was contacted by John Gregory, an underling from a new entry in this field, NewsGuard, an initiative of the hard-Left self-appointed news arbiter Steven Brill. It was obvious that Gregory’s pen was sweating blood, and in my answers, I asked him about his own biases and those of NewsGuard. Gregory, as you’ll see below, ducked my questions, but his biases (and NewsGuard’s) are nonetheless obvious from his invocation of the Southern Poverty Law Center, his claim that it is inaccurate to say that the UN supports jihad, and more. He claims that his opinions are not relevant, but of course they couldn’t be more relevant, because they inform how he regards and evaluates Jihad Watch and other news sites. His refusal to acknowledge that, and to explain how he claims to overcome his own biases and produce an objective evaluation, is evidence of either astonishing naivete or craven dishonesty.

Here is my back-and-forth with Gregory:

1. John Gregory to Robert Spencer

My name is John Gregory, an analyst for NewsGuard, a new company researching and evaluating news sites to separate those which are performing real journalism.

             In reviewing Jihad Watch, I had several questions about your editorial policies:

1) Does the site have a policy of correcting mistakes in its initial reporting? If so, could you point me to a recent example where a mistake was corrected and the original error was disclosed to readers?

2) Why is no biographical or contact information provided for writers other than Mr. Spencer?

3) How does the site disclose when articles are presenting the opinions of Mr. Spencer and other writers? Are those opinions presented as fact?

4) How does the site disclose its ownership by the Horowitz Freedom Center? The only mention I could find is the mailing address at the bottom of the homepage.

Thank you in advance for taking some time to answer these questions.

2. Robert Spencer to John Gregory

Some questions for you:

             1. What is the political bias of NewsGuard?

2. Are you asking these questions of sites that minimize and/or deny the problem of jihad terror and Sharia oppression of women, gays, and other groups, or only of sites that call attention to it?

3. How do you distinguish what is “real journalism” as opposed to putative fake news?

4. Have you found any error of fact regarding Islam or jihad, or any demonstrably false news story, on Jihad Watch? Or do you simply object to the sources being cited? If so, on what grounds?

5. If you render a negative judgment on Jihad Watch, does Jihad Watch have any recourse and appeal? If so, how?

             6. Who funds NewsGuard?

Thanks in advance for your answers.

Your answers:

1. Yes. https://www.jihadwatch.org/2018/04/active-shooter-at-youtube-headquarters-in-california-is-woman-wearing-headscarf

2. I am the primary writer and editor for the site. I operated it alone for several years, and so this is not some conscious decision, it just happened that no one thought to add this info. You have a good idea, however, and I’ll add info for Hugh Fitzgerald, Christine Douglass-Williams, and Andrew Harrod asap.

3. Opinions are never presented as fact. The commentary that goes above every article is clearly the analysis of the author, and is generally backed up with references from authoritative Islamic sources and/or other relevant material.

4. The affiliation between Jihad Watch and the Freedom Center is no secret. The mailing address listing at the bottom of page is an obvious recognition of that fact. Jihad Watch is listed as a program of the Freedom Center in my bio page on Jihad Watch, and at the bottom of every article I write, as well as in Freedom Center publications.

3. John Gregory to Robert Spencer

Thank you for clearing that up. I’ll keep checking to see if the new writer bios are added.

             In response to your questions:

            Some questions for you:

             1. What is the political bias of NewsGuard?

             We aspire to have none.

2. Are you asking these questions of sites that minimize and/or deny the problem of jihad terror and Sharia oppression of women, gays, and other groups, or only of sites that call attention to it?

We are asking these types of questions to all types of news sites, from those run by major newspapers to small market local TV stations as well as blogs, specialty publications, everybody.

3. How do you distinguish what is “real journalism” as opposed to putative fake news? 

We adhere to the same standards in dealing with all sites and our criteria are found on our site, Newsguardtechnologies.com.

4. Have you found any error of fact regarding Islam or jihad, or any demonstrably false news story, on Jihad Watch? Or do you simply object to the sources being cited? If so, on what grounds?

I can’t speak to this yet as we haven’t finished our research. In cases where we cite fact checks done by other sites to which you have responded in the past, like in the case of Snopes, your response would be included.

5. If you render a negative judgment on Jihad Watch, does Jihad Watch have any recourse and appeal? If so, how?

Yes, you can make your case that our assessment is wrong

6. Who funds NewsGuard?

A full list of our investors can be found here: https://newsguardtechnologies.com/our-investors/

4. Robert Spencer to John Gregory

The new writer bios were added several days ago. You should have seen them by now.

Steven Brill, eh? Yes, sure, you’re not biased. You’re as even-handed as the day is long. Steven Brill.

5. John Gregory to Robert Spencer

Ah, I was looking in the wrong place. Our evaluation will be updated with info about the new writer bios.

Circling back on your previous question, we have found several instances where Jihad Watch has published misleading claims, failed to correct errors in its headlines and presented opinion as fact for which I’d like to offer you a chance to respond.

1. An April 2018 story entitled “Muslima nurse practitioner beheads her 7-year-old son near Rochester, New York” seems to dismiss the quote from the county sheriff about this attack having “zero indicators of anything religious, zero indicators in anything cultural,” and presents a Qur’an verse as proof of the religious nature of the attack. Your story also says this alleged perpetrator is a Muslim, but I can’t find mention of her religion from any of the local news outlets covering the story. Did Jihad Watch independently confirm her religion? Was there some other source pointing to a religious motive?

2. A July 2015 story based on Pamela Geller’s tweet about an ISIS-linked account tweeting minutes before a shooting in Chattanooga was later found to have occurred hours after the attack. Your story was updated to acknowledge this, but the original headline and story based on the false information remain unchanged. Does your corrections policy not include changing headlines later found to be incorrect?

3. A Dec. 2015 story entitled “House Democrats Move to Criminalize Criticism of Islam.” That headline ignores how the resolution as proposed was non-binding, meaning no new criminal statutes would have been enacted as your headline said. Was this story ever corrected or retracted?

4. Among the instances where stories on Jihad Watch have presented opinion as fact is a June 23 story by Christine Douglass-Williams calling the United Nations “jihad-supporting.” What factual basis was there for attaching that description to the U.N.?

5. We will be including the Southern Poverty Law Center’s labeling of Jihad Watch as a hate group in our evaluation. I know you’ve written about this assessment before, but do you have any statement now as to why you think the SPLC’s judgment on your site is unfair or unjust?

Again, thanks in advance for taking the time to answer these inquiries.

6. Robert Spencer to John Gregory

None of these are misleading or false — except, of course, to someone who opposes efforts to oppose jihad terror and who considers such efforts to be “Islamophobia.”

Also, why were the staff bios important to you? I don’t mind having them there, but fail to see how they comport with your stated mission. The number of sites that don’t include bios of all the staff writers must be in the thousands or more. Are you making similar demands of Leftist sites? Or is this question simply designed to demonize sites that oppose jihad terror and Sharia oppression of women, gays, and others?

1. The story does not present a Qur’an verse as “proof of the religious nature of the attack.” It presents a Qur’an verse as an indication that a religious background was a possible element. There are many, many instances in which authorities have dissembled in cases involving jihad terror; see, for example, here: https://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/262826/global-outbreak-mental-illness-robert-spencer. It was on this basis that the sheriff’s statement was regarded with suspicion. It is unlikely that he had the background or competence to determine such a question in any case. Your misrepresentation of our reporting on this is a predictable indication of the inherent unfairness of self-appointed “news guards” that are in reality only attempts to smear and defame those who do not accept the establishment Leftist perspective on important current issues.

2. Your link doesn’t work, so I cannot evaluate your claim here. I doubt it is true or accurate; we have corrected plenty of headlines that have been found to be inaccurate. If one remained uncorrected, it was an oversight. If you’re trying to make something out of an article that carries a correction, your case is exceedingly weak indeed.

3. The article notes that the resolution only “condemns” what it calls “hateful rhetoric.” It discusses no criminal penalties, as there were none. What your inquiry fails to note is that the headline says that the “House Democrats Move to Criminalize,” not that they “Criminalized,” criticism of Islam. Issuing non-binding resolutions of this kind is a step toward issuing binding ones, and outlawing categories of speech. Your enterprise itself is a step down the same road, attempting to defame honest news reporting when it disagrees with your perspective.

4. You would think that a supposed news watchdog organization would be better informed. What Christine Douglass-Williams wrote was 100% accurate. See, for example, these articles: https://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/Minister-Erdan-The-UN-serves-as-the-Hamas-Foreign-Office-547688 and https://www.timesofisrael.com/un-agency-no-longer-employing-gaza-staffer-accused-of-hamas-ties/ and https://www.jta.org/2017/10/29/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/hamas-terror-tunnel-discovered-under-un-school-in-gaza and https://www.unwatch.org/130-page-report-unrwa-teachers-incite-terrorism-antisemitism/

There are plenty of other stories similar to these. You’re a news watchdog organization, you say?

5. NewsGuard is clearly engaged in the same defamation and demonization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has engaged in for years in attempting to destroy foes of jihad mass murder and Sharia oppression of women, gays, and others. The SPLC includes few Leftist and jihad groups among its “hate group” listings, while defaming Jihad Watch and other groups that stand for the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and the equality of rights of all people before the law because we dissent from its hard-Left agenda. NewsGuard is a new and marginally more sophisticated attempt to defame pro-freedom groups by claiming on spurious grounds that what we report is inaccurate. We have published over 50,000 posts since 2003, and NewGuard took issue with exactly five of them, none of them on any factual grounds. We can only hope that discerning readers will be able to see through NewGuard’s false claims to be an objective evaluator of the accuracy of news reported, and not fall for this latest Leftist attempt at defamation and, ultimately, censorship.

7. John Gregory to Robert Spencer

Your responses will be noted. My apologies about the non-working link in #2, this was the story I was referencing:
https://www.jihadwatch.org/2015/07/isis-tweets-chattanooga-as-gunman-begins-shooting-there-4-murdered

As for the staff bios, we are asking that question of every site we review. We have come across quite a few where stories don’t have bylines or don’t provide information about who’s creating the content beyond a name. Your site meets that standard.

8. Robert Spencer to John Gregory

There is nothing inaccurate about that headline. They did tweet Chattanooga soon after the attack. I expect you are unaware that this was a jihad attack inspired by foreign jihadis — see this AP story: https://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2015/12/16/navy-concludes-chattanooga-shooting-was-inspired-by-foreign-terrorists/

It’s noteworthy that you have nothing to say in response to my pointing out your own obvious biases. I’ll be publishing these exchanges when your hit piece on Jihad Watch appears.

Also: re your claim that “we are asking that question of every site we review,” I happen to know that that is false, as I know of at least one site that you have not asked that of.

9. Robert Spencer to John Gregory

I’m writing an article about the “fake news vetting” scam, and have the following questions for you. Thank you in advance for your answers:

1. How does NewsGuard plan to disclose its own biases and the perspectives of those who are claiming to be objective assessors of the accuracy of various news sites?

2. In vetting the accuracy of Jihad Watch’s reporting, did you take into account your own biases and perspectives on the subject matter treated at the site? If so, how? If not, why not?

3. Have you ever read the Qur’an in whole or part? The Hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim? The tafasir of Ibn Kathir and the Jalalayn? If not, how can you judge the accuracy of Jihad Watch’s analysis of how jihadis use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence and oppression of women, gays, and others?

             4. Which do you think is the larger problem: jihad terror or “Islamophobia”?

5. Which do you think are more severely threatened: women who wear the hijab in the U.S. or women who do not wear the hijab, chador, or other coverings in Iran and Saudi Arabia?

6. Does NewsGuard plan to assess the reliability of sites that reflect the Leftist agenda, or only sites that oppose that agenda?

7. Are you familiar with the Latin phrase “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes”? If so, what is your answer to it?

8. Your questions to me appeared to show that you consider the Southern Poverty Law Center a reliable guide to what constitutes a “hate group” and what does not. Are you aware of the widespread challenges to the SPLC’s credibility in this regard? Are you familiar with Maajid Nawaz? What do you think are the implications of the SPLC’s removal of Nawaz from its list of “anti-Muslim extremists” for those who remain on the list?

10. Robert Spencer to John Gregory

             Just in case you missed these questions over the weekend, I am re-sending.

One more also: How does NewsGuard respond to charges that it is simply an attempt to defame and marginalize sites that dissent from a hard-Left agenda?

            Thanks again in advance for your answers.

11. John Gregory to Robert Spencer

My apologies for getting these to you late.

Dear Mr. Gregory:

I’m writing an article about the “fake news vetting” scam, and have the following questions for you. Thank you in advance for your answers:

  1. How does NewsGuard plan to disclose its own biases and the perspectives of those who are claiming to be objective assessors of the accuracy of various news sites?

    We will be running full professional bios of all staff and contributors on our website.
     
  2. In vetting the accuracy of Jihad Watch’s reporting, did you take into account your own biases and perspectives on the subject matter treated at the site? If so, how? If not, why not?

    We aspire to be as fair and objective as possible, and multiple people are involved in every review. As soon as we learn we made a mistake, we will correct it publicly and transparently.
     
  3. Have you ever read the Qur’an in whole or part? The Hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim? The tafasir of Ibn Kathir and the Jalalayn? If not, how can you judge the accuracy of Jihad Watch’s analysis of how jihadis use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence and oppression of women, gays, and others?

           We endeavor to be fair about every site we evaluate.

  1. Which do you think is the larger problem: jihad terror or “Islamophobia”?

           My opinion is not relevant here.

  1. Which do you think are more severely threatened: women who wear the hijab in the U.S. or women who do not wear the hijab, chador, or other coverings in Iran and Saudi Arabia?

           Again, my opinion is not relevant here.                    

  1. Does NewsGuard plan to assess the reliability of sites that reflect the Leftist agenda, or only sites that oppose that agenda?

           We are rating sites across the political spectrum under the same criteria.        

  1. Are you familiar with the Latin phrase “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes”? If so, what is your answer to it?

    Our mission is to review news and information sites to give readers some guidance in assessing the sites’ credibility. Anyone is free to “guard” or review us, of course.
     
  2. Your questions to me appeared to show that you consider the Southern Poverty Law Center a reliable guide to what constitutes a “hate group” and what does not. Are you aware of the widespread challenges to the SPLC’s credibility in this regard? Are you familiar with Maajid Nawaz? What do you think are the implications of the SPLC’s removal of Nawaz from its list of “anti-Muslim extremists” for those who remain on the list?

    We are aware of criticisms on the SPLC’s ratings and designations. Your own responses to SPLC’s claims about Jihad Watch would be mentioned in our final evaluation.

In any case, despite the paltriness of his case against Jihad Watch (over 60,000 posts and he is quibbling over four of them, and author bios), it is certain that John Gregory and NewsGuard will claim that this site is not accurate or trustworthy. In reality, however, the inaccurate and untrustworthy one is NewsGuard itself, in its claim to be an objective arbiter of the accuracy of news reports. It is no more objective or reliable than its guide, the Southern Poverty Law Center.

And while it may fool the credulous and uninformed, those who know better will recognize it for what it is: yet another attempt to blacken the reputation of, and thereby silence, news outlets that don’t regurgitate the Left’s fantasies about how Islam is a religion of peace, Muslims are victims of widespread discrimination in the U.S., and the like. There’s another sucker who will buy this nonsense born every minute.

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