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‘What a scam!’: Elon Musk Calls for NewsGuard to Be Disbanded

Published: October 24, 2023
Tesla CEO Elon Musk talks during a tour of the plant of the future foundry of the Tesla Gigafactory on Aug. 13, 2021 in Grünheide near Berlin, Germany. (Image: Patrick Pleul - Pool/Getty Images)

On Oct. 19, Elon Musk, citing a post by Mike Benz, Executive Director of the Foundation For Freedom Online (FFFO), called for NewsGuard, a rating system for news and information websites, to be “disbanded immediately.” 

Benz posted on Oct. 18, “Elon, for your peripheral vision, Jimmy Wales advises NewsGuard, which is knee deep in a plot to get gov’ts to bankrupt alternative news,” adding that, “NewsGuard worked w/ EU on new disinformation code. Its biz model has ‘disinformation compliance’ services w/ censorship laws it promotes.”

Musk shared the post, writing, “This is crazy!”

Benz’s post attracted comment by popular independent journalist and YouTuber, Tim Pool, who shared his experience with the controversial rating agency.

“Newsguard gave us a strike because we ran 5 stories out of nearly 5,000 that quoted Trump,” Pool wrote, adding that, “They claimed that reporting on Trump’s statements was irresponsible because we should be fact checking him instead and Trump was wrong.”

“They now claim we don’t correct errors because we didnt respond to their false claims last month. The ‘nutrition label’ they wrote contained so many errors they had to repeatedly correct it and have refused to correct additional false statements while claiming we don’t correct errors despite doing so all the time,” Pool said, adding that, “Meanwhile WSJ, NYT, and more ran fake stories out of Gaza and get 100%.”

After reading the post Musk responded, “What a scam! ‘Newsguard’ should be disbanded immediately,” adding in a subsequent post, “Disband Newsguard! Anything with a name that sounds like it came out of an Orwell novel should never be trusted.”

Popular podcaster Wayne DuPree, who has over 513,000 followers on X shared a similar experience, posting, “Since 2020, Newsguard has purposefully and maliciously provided negative feedback for my website (which called out mainstream media for lying to American public and even quoted them) which was disseminated to various advertisers cutting revenue next to nothing and got away with it,” he wrote, adding that, “But they give mainstream media websites great passing grades.”



NewsGuard was founded in 2018 by Steve Brill and L. Gordon Crovitz, who both serve as CEOs for the outfit. Investors include Knight Foundation, an American non-profit that provides grants for journalism, communities, and the arts; Publicis, a French multinational advertising and public relations company; and Tom Glocer, a former executive with Reuters, among others. 

Based in New York, NewsGuard lists among its advisors former homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, Richard Stengal, former CIA director general Michael Hayden, former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales. 

NewsGuard has recently come under fire by the Consortium for Independent Journalism, which has filed suit against it for allegedly working with the Pentagon to “alter viewpoints” of news organizations and “reporting media organizations to the government if they challenge U.S. foreign policy,“ Blaze Media wrote on Oct. 24.

In its complaint, the consortium alleges that NewsGuard has been “acting jointly or in concert with the United States to coerce news organizations to alter viewpoints as to Ukraine and Russia, imposing a form of censorship and repression of views that differ or dissent from policies of the United States and its allies.” 

Accusing NewsGuard of First Amendment violations and defamation, the consortium is seeking $13 million in damages and a permanent injunction to “stop the joint program between NewsGuard and the government,” Blaze Media reported. 


Accusations of bias

Despite NewsGuard being rated as “least biased” by Media Bias/Fact Check a study, published in December 2021 by AllSides, found that the rating agency “Heavily skews in favor of left-wing outlets.”

“A new analysis reveals the extraordinary left-wing bias of website ratings firm NewsGuard,” AllSides wrote.

The study found that “Liberal outlets were rated 27 points higher on average than news organizations on the right,” and that “According to NewsGuard’s skewed ratings, left-leaning outlets have substantially more ‘credibility’ on average than right-leaning outlets.”

Of note was the rating given to The Federalist which, according to NewsGuard, only scored a 12.5 on a scale of 100.

“A predominant reason for the abysmal rating, according to NewsGuard, was that The Federalist questioned the efficacy of mask mandates for COVID-19, even though liberal CNBC cited a study showing that cloth masks were only 37 percent effective at filtering out virus particles,” AllSides wrote. 

AllSides contrasted this with the rating for left-leaning news organization The Nation, which scored 92.5, despite it publishing a 2020 article defending “property destruction” following the death of George Floyd. 

“Given that capitalism largely restricts pleasure to the consumption of goods, we should be able to entertain the idea that this taking of unnecessary things—while not a recognizably political act—is understandable or even a [sic] justifiable,” The Nation wrote in 2020.

More accusations of bias

Just a year after being established, NewsGuard came under fire by Harmeet Dhillon, co-chair of the Republican National Lawyers Association, who argued in an opinion piece in the Daily Caller at the time that NewsGuard was biased against emerging conservative media and favored legacy outlets. 

He called NewsGuard “a scheme” similar to “the dubious ‘fact checks’ that holier-than-thou establishment media outlets have used to belittle their competitors and silence people who see the world a little differently than the folks in the newsrooms in New York, Washington, and Los Angeles.”

Dhillon said NewsGuard was attempting to “police” the media in support of left-of-center establishment organizations.

In 2020, NewsGuard rated 15 percent of U.S.-based sites with a perfect rating, including mainstream outfits like the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Public Radio (NPR), and The Atlantic. 

Some conservative sites garnered a perfect score, including the Heritage Foundation; however, Fox News received a score of only 69.5 because, according to NewsGuard, the group allegedly failed to “gather and present information responsibly” and that it has an unclear delineation between news and opinion reporting.