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Press Release Published: Jun 13, 2024

Comer Probes NewsGuard’s Impact on Protected First Amendment Speech, Government Contracts

WASHINGTON – Today, House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) launched an investigation into 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 Chief Executive Officers Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, Chairman Comer raises concerns over reports highlighting NewsGuard’s contracts with federal agencies and possible actions being taken to suppress accurate information. Chairman Comer’s letter includes requests seeking documents and information on NewsGuard’s business relationships with federal agencies and its adherence to its own policies in light of highly political social media activity by NewsGuard employees.       

“Our inquiry seeks documents on NewsGuard’s business relationships with government entities, its adherence to its own policies intended to guard against appearances of bias, how it tries to avoid and manage potential conflicts of interest arising from its investors and other influences, and actions that may have the impact of delegitimizing factually accurate information,” Chairman Comer wrote. “One concerned journalist expressed fear that NewsGuard’s activities are an extension of federal efforts—since struck down by courts—to coerce social media companies and to ‘destroy the financial survival of disfavored outlets…’ 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.”

NewsGuard markets its analytical services to businesses, including technology companies and other advertisement advisors, who direct the advertising buys that provide financial support for much of the news media. Questions now surround the influence of NewsGuard’s business relationships and other influences on its ratings process.

“One writer pointedly asserted that NewsGuard’s services for businesses ‘creates inherent conflicts of interest with NewsGuard’s financial model: The buyers of the service can be problematic entities too, with an interest in protecting and buffing reputations.’ The Committee seeks to understand how NewsGuard does or does not provide a firewall against interested parties impacting its ratings or the material it evaluates. News outlets have noted frustrations about interactions with NewsGuard representatives over exchanges that they perceive as aiming to suppress information that may challenge widely held views but is not itself inaccurate. 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,” Chairman Comer continued.

Read the letter to NewsGuard here.