Editor’s Note: After NewsGuard published an updated Nutrition Label for DailyKos.com on February 27, 2019, Markos Moulitsas, the site’s founder and publisher, sent NewsGuard a response, which prompted an exchange with NewsGuard Co-CEO and Editor-in-Chief Steven Brill. Parts of that exchange, unedited, are published below. (Mr. Moulitsas gave his permission to NewsGuard to publish his comments.)
My favorite part is where you green light Daily Caller as they publish fake naked pictures of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But per your standards, that’s totally acceptable, right?
This has never been a fair and open process. You have your mind made up about citizen participation in our political media. If it was up to you, the Federalist Papers never would’ve been written. Is there really anything I can say that would change your minds, aside from “we’re shutting down the community?”
It’s unfortunate. Not for us, but for media, since you are grossly failing your mission, which is supposedly accuracy and truth. Gate keeping is an ugly look.
Two points about your email:
- The Federalist Papers would have been written and published. We don’t stop anything from being published and don’t want to (unlike those in government on both sides of the aisle who seem to want to regulate content.) We would just try to tell people who’s behind the Federalist Papers.
- You ask if there is anything you can do? Sure. Separate out the 25% of your site that is real journalism from the 75% that is unvetted, uncorrected, and a mix of opinion and news — ie., create two sites, with two brands. The 75% would get our platform rating (neither Red nor Green) and the 25% would get a Green. That way, readers would know about the high standards of your journalists. Why is that so hard?
Finally, we’d like to publish your email as an attachment to the new Nutrition Label, along with our reply. Is that okay?
- Who cares who is behind it? If your goal is truth, what does the identity of the writer matter? Something is either true or not. And if you had your way, every browser would flag the Federalist Papers as untrustworthy. You are not exercising prior restraint. You are telling people to disregard content because you disapprove of the process behind publishing community content, and need of many for pseudonimity—a need that has many justifiable reasons, whether it’s to protect their jobs, their social relationships, or even their safety from stalkers and other malicious individuals.
- What is wrong with opinion? Who are you to decide what is “real” journalism? The identity of the writer doesn’t make something “real”. This is our fundamental disconnect. You are focused on the irrelevant, rather than the actual substance of the content itself. You want to debase the work of people who are doing good work, simply because you don’t like pseudonyms. That has nothing to do with truth and accuracy, and everything to do with gatekeeping who YOU think is worthy of being heard. You are gatekeeping for the sake of gatekeeping. You want to keep voices out of the political debate, limit people’s ability to participate.
Furthermore, “unvetted” is fundamentally wrong. It IS vetted. By the community and our moderators. Do you have examples of false information that has remained on the community side? Again, what is your purpose? Truth and accuracy? Seems to me that you are more wedded to PROCESS than accuracy. So it’s totally okay for the Daily Caller to publish fake nude photos of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, because they have a process! It’s okay to green light Fox News, because they have a process! Yeah, I think your priorities are screwed up.
We do make abundantly clear what is community and what is staff, with color, with labels, and with an explicitly disclaimer. Now you want a different URL? You originally suggested explaining what “community” did would be enough. Now you are moving the goalposts, in a way that would ghettoize grassroots discussion and debate. Do you realize how fundamentally gross that is? How arrogant? How insulting?
Absolutely publish these response, and please do so in their entirety—including the email where I unsuccessfully try to explain what pseudonimity is, and this final response. But do you think anyone cares about the write-up? It’s a very academic thing, to think that what you write actually has any relevance to anything. The only thing that matters is RED or GREEN.
I certainly am publishing the entirety of our communications, including our phone calls, and your staff creating fake community accounts (yeah, we saw that…). I want to make sure people understand what is going on here, and let the court of public opinion decide whether your attempts to limit participation in the public sphere is justifiable or not.
Our goal is to broaden participation in our political process. Yours is to arrogantly limit it.
That’s what you’re going to have to defend.
Well, I guess I care if a website posing as a sober discussion of the pros and cons of fracking is funded by the American Petroleum Institute. Don’t you? Is that really a “process” issue? Not to some high school kid doing research who sees it far up the page on a Google search.
And don’t you think, for example, that if I write a critique of American health care prices, it’s better to tell readers why I think I know what I know, including what and who my sources are, and what the other side says? And shouldn’t someone be vetting me to make sure I don’t also work for the pharmaceutical companies, or to disclose that I have a grant from a liberal healthcare reform group?
The reason what you call “process” counts is that “truth” is often not as black and white as you seem to think it is, which makes it better to understand how a website is arriving at its version of the truth.
Twenty five percent of your content and those who produce it subscribe to that idea. It’s too bad that their work is undercut by the “process” behind the other 75%. That 75% is, indeed vibrant, interesting and makes a great contribution to the national debate (and is, as you know, opinion I agree with much of the time). But it does not meet the same standards of the 25%, and you’ve left us with the choice of which portion — the 75% or 25% — we should be looking at the most in making our assessment.
I’m sorry that you disagree with how we have made that decision.
Either the info put out by that fracking website is legit, or it’s not. And that goes by higher it’s the petroleum industry funding it, or whether it’s Bret Stephens in The NY Times.
Yet you have no problem giving The NY Times a green light even bough Bret Stephens is “vetted”.
Meanwhile, the Federalist Papers were no less valid despite the paeudonomity and obvious vested interests of the authors.
If your goal is point out that people have biases. congrats! But then give everyone a Red. “Vetting” does nothing to eliminate those biases. And there is nothing inherently wrong with bias, no matter what anyone says.
But funny thing is, this was the exact same argument that speech regulators used to ty and kill political blogging in the early days—what would stop Haliburton from having a blog and engaging in political advocacy!
You are working hard to shut down political grassroots discussion. I see that. You know it. Just be honest about your efforts.
One last try: Many people think fracking is worth the potential side effects. Many don’t. What is the “truth”? Well, it’s easier to be informed about the debate if you know that the one side that opines that it’s worth it is sponsored by the industry that makes its living off of fracking.
So, yes, there’s a difference that it’s worth making readers aware of between the API and Bret Stephens, who believes what he believes and is professional about it (or do you think he’s evil?).
We’re not trying to “stop” anyone, including Haliburton, from having a blog. We just want people to know it’s Haliburton.