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Federal Judge Tosses Biden Admin's Effort to Stop Media Censorship Lawsuit

By    |   Monday, 13 May 2024 12:12 PM EDT

A lawsuit that claims the State Department unlawfully used "censorship enterprises that target the American press" — favoring left-leaning media outlets over conservative news sites — is moving ahead after a federal judge rejected the Biden administration’s attempt to dismiss the case.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, The Daily Wire, and The Federalist filed a joint lawsuit against the Biden administration’s State Department in December over its alleged funding of technologies that essentially work to blacklist conservative media outlets.

The complaint argued that the State Department uses its Global Engagement Center to finance the development and promotion of left-wing media monitoring organizations, including NewsGuard and the UK-based Global Disinformation Index, in "one of the most egregious government operations to censor the American press in the history of the nation."

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Kernodle in Tyler, Texas, ruled that the plaintiffs had provided enough information to show they had standing to challenge the State Department's alleged actions.

Kernodle denied the Biden administration's request to dismiss the suit, tossed its request to move the case to a different venue, and ordered expedited discovery.

In his ruling, Kernodle cited allegations that the State Department's actions essentially encouraged social media companies to "deplatform" the Daily Wire and The Federalist in violation of a Texas state law, which prohibits censoring speech based on viewpoint.

NewsGuard, GDI, and other "disinformation" watchdog groups have a long history of systematically targeting conservative media outlets under the guise of combating misinformation.

Margot Cleveland, an attorney at the New Civil Liberties Alliance, which is representing Daily Wire and the Federalist in the case, told Newsmax that while the ruling is “only the first step in halting the State Department's unconstitutional and ultra vires conduct, it represents an important first step in this case.”

"That the Court opened his opinion by quoting the First Amendment is a valuable reminder of the stakes at issue," she said.

Kernodle’s ruling begins by quoting directly from the First Amendment and previous rulings that have bolstered the component’s importance to the Constitution.

"Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press," the order begins.

Cleveland added that while Daily Wire and The Federalist may be the only media plaintiffs involved in this specific case, the State Department's "censorship scheme threatens the freedom of the press of any American outlet that reports disfavored views, including Newsmax."

Paxton’s office called Kernodle's ruling an "important victory" in its lawsuit against the Biden administration's "conspiracy to censor, deplatform, and demonetize media outlets disfavored by the federal government."

"The Biden administration made a reprehensible attempt to censor the American press with funding intended to monitor foreign propaganda, aiming to repress viewpoints the federal government disagreed with," Paxton said in a statement.

"Abusing taxpayer money, Biden repurposed a government agency into a censorship apparatus. It must stop, and I am proud to lead the nation's fight to save the First Amendment."

His office issued a press release about the latest update in the case noted that even though the "Global Engagement Center" was “only authorized to counter foreign propaganda,” the State Department "actively intervened in the news-media market to limit the reach and business viability of domestic news organizations by funding censorship technology and private censorship enterprises."

"The agency unlawfully weaponized the center to violate the First Amendment and suppress Americans’ constitutionally protected speech," Paxton’s office alleged.

The Daily Wire previously reported that the Global Engagement Center was founded in 2011 as the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, where it was responsible for countering the propaganda of foreign terrorists like al-Qaida.

The initiative was renamed in 2016, however, it kept the same counterterrorism mission.

It’s stated mission is to "direct, lead, synchronize, integrate, and coordinate U.S. Federal Government efforts to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining or influencing the policies, security, or stability of the United States, its allies, and partner nations."

Congress has not authorized any funds to be used for purposes other than countering foreign propaganda and disinformation.

However, the suit contends that taxpayer dollars were used to pay for the services of companies that have a history of targeting conservative media outlets by limiting ad revenue.

To do so, GDI, which claims to be nonpolitical and nonpartisan, offers a "Dynamic Exclusion List" of global media outlets that it contends present a "high risk for disinformation."

While its blacklist is kept under wraps, it does publish its top 10 "riskiest" outlets, which have featured prominent conservative media outlets, including the Daily Wire, the Federalist, New York Post, and others.

The outlets deemed "least risky" are mostly left-leaning sites such as NPR, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

GDI’s list is disseminated to major advertising companies for use in their decision-making process. Many ad platforms are using these blacklists to effectively de-monetize conservative and right-leaning media.

The complaint argues that GDI was "funded and promoted" by the State Department defendants named in the suit, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and five other officials.

NewsGuard, which also reportedly received State Department funding, has negatively rated leading conservative outlets like the Washington Times, Newsmax, Breitbart, The Federalist, Epoch Times, Red State, PragerU, The Daily Wire, and others.

In a 2020 press release, NewsGuard touted winning a $25,000 Pentagon-State Department contest for “detecting COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation.”

NewsGuard has previously defended contracts it was awarded from the Biden administration.

In 2021, it received nearly $750,000 from the Pentagon.

In March 2023, the company told Newsmax that the particular contract was not "government funded."

"NewsGuard has been inaccurately described as a "U.S. government funded" entity — which is like saying Verizon is government-funded because some government agencies pay for its phone services," company spokesman Matt Skibinski said in an email to Newsmax.

"NewsGuard is a for-profit business. We sell licenses to clients to access our data about misinformation and disinformation sources and narratives.:

Skibinski claimed his organization was "proud" to have worked with the U.S. government to counter disinformation campaigns emanating from Russia, Venezuela, and China.

NewsGuard was found by businessman Steven Brill, a long time Democrat activist and donor who has backed candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

The Media Research Center in two annual studies found NewsGuard ratings were significantly biased against conservative media outlets in favor of more liberal ones.

The NewsGuard ratings. in turn, are used by major advertising agencies to effectively block conservative media from receiving advertising. Their ratings effectively works to demonetize conservative media.

Increasingly Congress has become concerned that NewsGuard engages in a privatized form of censorship on behalf of the government.

Last December, Congress passed a provision in the National Defense bill prohibiting the Pentagon from awarding military recruitment advertising to any advertising agency that uses “misinformation” services such as NewsGuard and GDI. President Biden signed the defense bill into law.

Marisa Herman

Marisa Herman, a Newsmax senior reporter, focuses on major and investigative stories. A University of Florida graduate, she has more than a decade of experience as a reporter for newspapers, magazines, and websites.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

A lawsuit that claims the State Department unlawfully used "censorship enterprises that target the American press" — favoring left-leaning media outlets over conservative news sites — is moving ahead after a federal judge rejected the Biden administration’s attempt to dismiss the case.
newsguard, censorship, lawsuit, biden, global, disinformation, index, engagement, center
Monday, 13 May 2024 12:12 PM
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