Deception & Misdirection

Newsguard’s Non-Nutritious News Ratings and CAP’s Russiagate Fables

Newsguard Technologies is in the business of rating the news. One example is the firm’s “nutrition label,” a supposed reliability rating that it assigns to well-trafficked online news and information websites. Download the free app to your web browser, and Newsguard will attach a rating to every page from the rated sources.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) is a think tank for the Democratic Party establishment that has historically served as a professional parking spot for associates of the Clintons. Newsguard assigns a 100 percent nutrition label to CAP content, which means: “High Credibility: This website adheres to all nine standards of credibility and transparency.”

But Newsguard nutrition labels are frequently worse than junk food. CAP was a dedicated promoter of the Russiagate hoax, the debunked conspiracy theory that the Trump 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin to defeat Hillary Clinton. By Newsguard’s supposedly objective standards, CAP should have failed four of the nine grading criteria and gotten a 37.5 percent nutrition label, which means “Proceed with Maximum Caution: This website is unreliable because it severely violates basic journalistic standards.”

Newsguard and the Pentagon

Contrast this with the case of Consortium News (CN), an online investigative journalism project that often posts content at odds with the national security regime. Consortium is suing Newsguard and the U.S. government over a defense contract in which Newsguard has been providing its “Misinformation Fingerprints” program to the Pentagon. The complaint alleges the censorious cabal has “not only violated the First Amendment but they have defamed Consortium News, casting it in a false light by impugning the patriotism and loyalty of CN and its many writers and contributors.”

Newsguard assigns a 47.5 percent nutrition label to all Consortium News content, which means: “Proceed with Caution: This website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability.”

Is Consortium News bad for you? Wrong question. As CN’s legal complaint makes clear, the government shouldn’t be making that judgment nor giving your tax dollars to Newsguard to do it.

So when confronted with state censorship, you should always “proceed with caution,” do your own research, and make up your own mind. The CN home page is:

CAP and Russiagate

Meanwhile, as of this writing the Center for American Progress website is still filled with multiple references to the Russiagate hoax, particularly the Steele dossier—the thoroughly discredited opposition research fraud funded by the 2016 Clinton campaign.

As Trump was seeking reelection in April 2020, a Harvard-Harris poll reported that 53 percent of Americans still thought the Steele dossier was legitimate intelligence. CAP did more than its share of work to produce this disinformation event.

Carter Page, a former campaign advisor to Donald Trump, was involuntarily shoved into a starring role.

A December 2016 CAP report claimed that “Western intelligence officials told well-regarded investigative journalist Michael Isikoff that Page had met with Igor Sechin—the Russian chief of oil giant Rosneft and former KGB officer—during the summer of 2016 and that the two had discussed the possibility of lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.” This allegation came directly from the Steele dossier and was used to by the FBI to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants to spy on Page.

Page denied the meeting took place in a letter to the FBI (which would expose him to a felony if he had been lying). Despite the heaviest of FBI snooping, Page was never charged with any crime.

The December 2016 report also referenced the potential of Russian intelligence having “kompromat” video of Trump in a Moscow hotel suite, an indirect reference to the most salacious and ultimately discredited Steele dossier tales.

Then in December 2017, two CAP authors wrote, “Carter Page . . . also appears to have been under FISA surveillance . . . for his suspicious Russia links” and that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort “was the subject of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance order both before and after he joined the Trump campaign.”

In truth, the CIA had told the FBI that Page was a cooperating source that helped U.S. intelligence spy on the Russians. Page was working for the good guys, not the baddies.

And a December 2019 Department of Justice Office of Inspector General report heavily criticizing the FBI’s FISA surveillance of Page revealed there was “no information indicating that the Crossfire Hurricane team requested or seriously considered FISA surveillance of Manafort.”

A CAP report indirectly referenced the Steele dossier’s salacious hotel incident again in February 2018 and added that “according to The Washington Post,” Trump-aligned businessman Sergei Millian “may have been a source for the Steele Dossier.” Federal investigators subsequently and thoroughly debunked the rumor. (The Washington Post has also received a 100 percent nutrition rating from Newsguard.)

In December 2018, CAP was still repeating a Steele dossier claim that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen “reportedly traveled to Prague in the fall of 2016 to meet with Kremlin officials” about stealing Hillary Clinton’s emails. Special Counsel Robert Mueller later reported Cohen had not gone to Prague.

The Four Marks of Satan

As of this writing no disclaimers have been put on any of these reckless rumors.

But those unretracted fables pale in comparison to “The Moscow Project.” The Center for American Progress website has reproduced a copy of the Steele dossier and gleefully examined the possibility of all its kooky conspiracy theories. As of this writing the top of the page still has a huge photo of the falsely maligned Carter Page.

By January 2021, Page had been entirely exonerated, all of the Steele claims were in tatters, and Trump had been defeated—of course—which was the now obvious point of the whole exercise. But instead of saying “sorry for abetting years of lies,” CAP has posted this addendum to the page: “NOTE: This page has been archived as of January 2021.”

Ironically, back on March 29, 2017, while CAP was still trying to rev up Russiagate, Consortium News was already debunking it. That’s when their late co-founder Robert Parry posted “The Sleazy Origins of Russia-gate.” This appears to be the first of many CN reports on the hoax that in hindsight still have a very nutritious news flavor.

Left-leaning journalist Matt Taibbi also contributed to the early and correct skepticism of Russiagate. Today, he has investigated what he believes is Newsguard’s “illegitimate” business model. As part of this he fact-checks Newsguard reports and sarcastically grades the credibility of each on a “scale of 0-to-4 Marks of Satan.”

Matt, Newsguard didn’t even mention Russiagate in its Newsguard rating of CAP. So, I would like to present Newsgaurd’s CAP nutrition label as noxious enough to snag the coveted Four Marks of Satan.

Ken Braun

Ken Braun is CRC’s senior investigative researcher and authors profiles for and the Capital Research magazine. He previously worked for several free market policy organizations, spent six…
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