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The slippery politics of “disinformation”

Steven Brill’s “fact-checking” service is coming soon to a school near you

NewsGuard Co-CEO Steven Brill Getty Images/Photo by Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg

The slippery politics of “disinformation”

There’s a wide range of debates roiling America’s schools, but whether it’s transgender issues, mask mandates, or critical race theory—all point to a larger truth that needs to be shouted from the rooftops: There are influential interests in this country that see your child’s education as a way to further their political agenda.

The latest evidence comes from the American Federation of Teachers, one of two behemoth teachers unions, which launched a national partnership with the “fact-checking” organization NewsGuard “to protect and champion legitimate journalism and fact-based reporting and to help educators and their students navigate a sea of online disinformation.” The service will be available to the AFT’s 1.7 million members and “tens of millions of kids they teach.”

NewsGuard allegedly uses “trained journalists” who rank websites and other sources of online information according to reliability—and those ratings can be made to automatically appear beside search results and on websites through the use of web browser extensions. Speaking as a trained journalist myself, it’s impossible to understate how flawed this methodology is—so-called media “fact-checkers” only reflect the politics of what’s become a very biased profession.

For instance, NewsGuard was founded by journalist Steven Brill, who is known, among other things, for some widely admired and deeply reported books on complicated policy issues. But whatever you might think about his 500-page tomes on healthcare policy, identifying “misinformation” is not his strong suit. In 2020, he went on CNBC and informed the world he believed “there’s a high likelihood” the New York Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop was “a hoax perpetrated by the Russians.”

This was a year after Biden had admitted in the pages of The New Yorker to taking a sizable bribe from a Chinese tycoon with ties to the Chinese Communist Party, to say nothing of his well-known drug problems and lurid personal life. Nonetheless, it was the undeserved certainty of respected media figures such as Brill that contributed to the appallingly widespread censorship of Biden’s scandals during the 2020 presidential campaign.

You’re hardly paranoid if you think NewsGuard isn’t being put in schools to combat misinformation—it’s an attempt by a left-wing teachers union to keep students from encountering inconvenient political facts that might lead to debate and independent thought.

Brill’s liberal political sympathies appear to reflect the whole of NewsGuard as well. News organizations that received a perfect 100 score from NewsGuard include The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News, Politico, The New Yorker, Time, Yahoo! News, The Guardian, The Economist, and USA Today. In addition to Hunter Biden, nearly all of those news organizations got major stories such as the Trump-Russia scandal, the COVID lab leak hypothesis, and baseless rape allegations against Supreme Court Justice Bret Kavanaugh spectacularly and repeatedly wrong. Just remember the radical cultural agenda these outlets push. Right-leaning news organizations that questioned all of these stories are predictably denigrated by NewsGuard.  

However, the motivations behind getting NewsGuard in schools are more than political. Brill is unusually entrepreneurial for a journalist and has been involved in starting several businesses, and many have been very successful. In this regard, his recent deal with the AFT is revealing. In 2012, Brill wrote a book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools. The book was largely sympathetic to education reformers and, according to The New York Times, “Brill treats [AFT President Randi] Weingarten the way reformers always treat her and her union: as the enemy.”

However, the Times further notes that “as Class Warfare nears its conclusion, it suddenly veers in a different direction. Instead of clinching the case against the union and Weingarten … he proposes that Mayor Michael Bloomberg appoint her to be the chancellor of the New York City school system.” Weingarten would later throw Brill a book party—and with the AFT’s decision to use its war chest of taxpayer-funded union dues to enrich Brill’s latest venture, the inexplicable fawning over the woman who remains the biggest obstacle to education appears to have paid off for Brill, in cash.

And, of course, there are places where NewsGuard’s distorted financial and political incentives meet: “One of NewsGuard’s biggest funders,” notes Chuck Ross in the Washington Free Beacon, “is the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a philanthropy that backs numerous left-wing causes, including a journalism department at Howard University headed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of the infamous 1619 Project.”

You’re hardly paranoid if you think NewsGuard isn’t being put in schools to combat misinformation—it’s an attempt by a left-wing teachers union to keep students from encountering inconvenient political facts that might lead to debate and independent thought. It also completely undermines the concept of local control if a national union and various left-wing and corporate interests can get on the computer screens of millions of kids and tell them what information is “approved.”

The bottom line is that there are powerful political forces in this country that want our schools to produce subjects instead of citizens. Don’t let them get away with it.

Mark Hemingway

Mark Hemingway is a senior writer at RealClearInvestigations and the books editor at The Federalist. He was formerly a senior writer at The Weekly Standard, a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Examiner, and a staff writer at National Review. He is the recipient of a Robert Novak Journalism fellowship and was a two-time Global Prosperity Initiative Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He was a 2014 Lincoln Fellow of The Claremont Institute and a Eugene C. Pulliam Distinguished Fellow in Journalism at Hillsdale College in 2016. He is married to journalist and Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway, and they have two daughters.

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