It sounded so welcome – such an antidote to fake news. Their name is NewsGuard and they call themselves ‘The Internet Trust Tool.’ As they claim on their website, ‘We tell you if a site is reliable as you browse online news.’
All you do is download the app for a small monthly fee and a crackerjack team of top journalists will ping you a thumbs up or a thumbs down on websites based on nine criteria they’ve created about their credibility and transparency.
I thought of this after it was recently announced that the intelligence community has been enlisted by the UK and US governments to help to counter misinformation about Covid-19, the Covid vaccine and more.
Some politicians are even recommending that reporting unfavorably on Covid vaccination become a criminal offense.
And here in the UK the papers announced that the tech industry (Google, Facebook, Twitter) was getting in on the act to help governments counter fake information about the pandemic.
There are a number of such organizations like this out there (fullfact.org, for instance), wedded to rooting out the truth, particularly the truth about health care, and last year we heard from one of them.
A representative from NewsGuard called our offices of our company, asking to speak to our CEO. My husband Bryan Hubbard (who is, indeed, the CEO) called them back and spoke to a young woman, who seemed surprised that we returned her call.
She was calling, she said, because her organization had read some of the material on our website of our health magazine What Doctors Don’t Tell You (wddty.com), and they were concerned that we seemed to be anti-vaccination and anti-medicine.
‘We are not anti-vaccination,’ replied Bryan. ‘We are pro-truth.’ He explained that all our material on conventional medicine comes from the medical literature.
He cited our main sources – magazines like the British Medical Journal and the New England Journal of Medicine written by scientists and doctors for scientists and doctors. We list medical and scientific references in every article reporting on conventional medicine and much integrative medicine, too.
He also mentioned that information about the side effects of vaccines is well known. There is, for instance, America’s Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a no-fault scheme for the pharmaceutical industry, which contains reports on side effects from vaccines and compensates victims who suffer serious side effects.
Thus far, Bryan told her, VAERS has paid out nearly $4 billion in compensation. One law firm reports that it pays out more than $200 million a year. This is well known and reasonably well reported.
‘Well, you seem to write a lot about vaccination,’ she said. Bryan replied that we write about loads of other topics, too.
The woman then told Bryan to show her the evidence. She gave him a list of everything she wanted to see happening to improve our reporting in the future.
Bryan told her that since our company’s day rate was $1000, we’d expect compensation for this.
She said she would call him back to see if he’d indeed carried out the suggestions, she gave him and hung up.
We never heard from her again. But no doubt we are on the naughty step of the app.
It takes a little time to unravel who is supporting such organizations, since they look so credible – filled with former journalists of such well-regarded outlets as the Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic.
You need to dig deeper, to look at who’s behind NewsGuard – namely, the investors. The chief investor of NewsGuard, and which underwrote its start-up funds, is Publicis Groupe, the third largest communications corporation in the world, which offers ‘advertising and communications services to a diversified customer portfolio that is representative of the global economy.’ To get an idea of its size, Publicis employs 84,000 people and has a net revenue of nearly 9 billion Euros.
Publicis Groupe is an octopus with many arms, one of which is a specialized business in healthcare, including tentacles such as Digitas Health and Publicis Health Media.
According to a recent annual report, clients of their health division include AstraZeneca, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences, Glaxosmith Kline, Merck & Co, Novartis Pharma, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi and more.
In other words, the giants of the pharmaceutical industry.
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola (also on the naughty step), Glaxo paid $1.5 billion to Publicis to handle its media account in 2018 and in 2020 gave former Pfizer Consumer Healthcare Brands, now owned by GKS, to Publicis, an account worth an estimated $400 million. Publicis even has set up a ‘platformGSK’ which essentially runs the drug giant's media business.
So now we have Big Pharma paying a PR firm to create a ‘news’ organization wedded to sifting out ‘fake’ news – ie, news not compatible with the narrative developed and distributed by the drug industry. It reminds me of Sense about Science, the lobbying group that tried to dispel the myths about sugar being bad for you until it was discovered that the organization was receiving funds from Coca Cola.
What this means is that all of us have to be exceedingly wary of any organization claiming to be rooting out fake news. Because you need to ask yourself, in every instance, who is making the determination of what is fake and what is real?
If this is the alternative, I’d rather decide that for myself.
In the meantime, I’m thinking of sending NewsGuard a subscription to WDDTY. Then perhaps they’ll get their facts straight.