Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is warning left-wing "media monitor" group NewsGuard that he is ready to leverage the power of his office to protect any Florida businesses the company targets.
In a letter dated Wednesday, Patronis says that the company's actions are in line with the "environmental, social, and governance" (ESG) standards that the Florida Legislature is targeting in its upcoming session, and that its efforts appear to be a larger push to create "social credit scores" that will result in "debanking" and "deplatforming" private companies.
Florida, he explains, took a stand against ESG standards "because as fiduciaries, we cannot undermine those in our pension plan from gaining the best returns possible in the name of political outcomes."
NewsGuard, which says it devises credibility ratings on news and information for advertisers, agencies and other businesses, declares on its website that it provides "online safety ... while promoting safety for readers, brands and democracy."
NewsGuard’s ratings have been used by major advertising agencies, including Publicis Groupe and Magnite. The agencies, in turn, are using the rating system to ban conservative media outlets from receiving advertising revenues.
NewsGuard is a for-profit company founded in 2018 by Steve Brill, a media entrepreneur who has also been a long-time and prolific Democratic Party supporter, including having made donations to former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and Sen. Chuck Schumer.
The Media Research Center has examined Newsguard’s "ratings" system and found the service continually favors left-wing and liberal news outlets as "trusted" and negatively rates conservative ones as not reliable.
In December 2021, an analysis of NewsGuard’s rating system by the Media Research Center said that the company gave an average high score of 93 (on a scale of 1-100) to "left" or "lean left" news outlets, based on classifications by the company AllSides, which rates organizations based on bias. At the same times, outlets that were deemed "right" or "lean right" received an average score of 66.
Last month, MRC released its 2022 review of NewsGuard and found a similar bias in its ratings. "Discredited leftist website ratings firm NewsGuard has had a year to prove that its ratings system isn’t prejudiced against conservative media, but it’s failing miserably," the recent MRC January report stated.
"A new analysis shows that liberal media outlets were rated 25 points higher on average than right-leaning media outlets illustrates how NewsGuard’s self-projection as a credibility gatekeeper is a complete joke."
Joseph Vazquez, associate editor of MRC who led the study, compared NewsGuard to the left-wing monitoring group GDI, a European-based monitoring service that has come under fire for its bias.
"NewsGuard claims they're not biased, but their ratings are completely subjective, and they have the same goals of GDI, to silence conservative news and voices," Vazquez said.
Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, in a letter last year to the AFT, a NewsGuard partner, questioned the group’s neutrality, noting "the organization regularly gave high marks to obviously progressive and left leaning outlets such as Occupy Democrats, The Nation, and Jacobin, which have published articles promoting progressive views on matters such as riots and property destruction and socialism."
He added: "These are hardly unbiased entities, and any rating system that ranks them as such deserves our scrutiny. To make matters worse, NewsGuard has even ranked several Chinese state-run media outlets higher — that is, more trustworthy/truthful — than popular conservative U.S. news sources."
Newsguard negatively rates leading conservative outlets like Washington Times, Newsmax, Breitbart, Federalist, Epoch Times, Red State, Prager U, Daily Wire, and others.
CFO Patronis said he believes the use of ESG criteria to ban or censor conservative media is "undemocratic because of its use of capital to push businesses into the promotion of social outcomes."
"Americans have the ability to shape outcomes through elections — and the idea that ESG is leveraged to circumvent those processes is arrogant and part of a leftist program," he writes.
Patronis also said that there are companies that have determined a way to monetize ESG standards to create anti-trust issues.
"I have recently been made aware that NewsGuard is engaging in the podcast and web space by telling conservative outlets to self-identify as conservative outlets," he wrote, adding that seems "silly" and implies that the organization thinks "people are stupid."
NewsGuard is also promoting a rating system for the quality of information released by an organization, "as though you are some arbiter of truth," Patronis said.
"As we’ve studied ESG, we have come to learn the tricks of the trade — and your recent engagement falls right in line with similar efforts to defund conservative organizations who are competing in the realm of ideas," he continued.
One of the conservative outlets targeted by NewsGuard is Prager U, an online conservative commentary channel.
The Prager U website reports that "NewsGuard is partnered with Big Tech companies (like Microsoft), Big Pharma (like the PR firm for Pfizer — the maker of the COVID vaccine), government agencies (like the Department of Defense), and even national teachers unions (like the American Federation of Teachers). ... They want to control the narrative on any and every topic — from climate change, COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, to elections, Planned Parenthood, and the WEF (to name just a few!)."
"NewsGuard censors media companies that refuse to comply with their approved narrative. Meanwhile, legacy media outlets like The New York Times and CNN get near-perfect ‘credibility’ ratings," the Prager U website states.
Patronis pointed out that Florida laws already "mandate divestment" from companies that engage in "boycott, divestment or sanctions" also known as BDS, against allies, such as Israel.
"If your actions target any Florida business, as someone who’s charged with protecting Florida’s economy and economic vitality, I will not hesitate to use the full force of my office to shed light on the organization you’re running," said Patronis.
"I’ve always felt transparency is the best disinfectant and am prepared to walk the walk when it comes to exposing organizations who tear down businesses while yielding zero value to the economy."
On its Twitter account, NewsGuard responded to Patronis with a letter of its own, saying it was "surprised" by his letter and claimed there was a "fundamental misunderstanding" about the company, that it was "strictly apolitical and fully transparent" and that it did not use "ESG metrics."
"We rate news and information sources using nine apolitical criteria relating to basic journalistic practices, such as whether publishers discloser their ownership and have corrections practices," the letter said.
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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