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A well-funded media ratings firm that partners with Big Tech giant Meta and seeks to influence students heavily favors Left-leaning media outlets while giving conservative media poor grades, a media watchdog group found.
Ad Fontes, founded in 2018 as a media analysis organization, has become known for its “Media Bias Chart,” which rates over 3,000 media outlets on bias and accuracy. The organization says on its website that it partners with Meta, along with eight advertising agencies and software companies, and advertises “media literacy” lesson plans “for your classroom or school.” Ad Fontes claims to reach a non-partisan result by having three people with differing ideological leanings review news stories before giving them a rating, but Ad Fontes founder Vanessa Otero also claims that the three reviewers agree on a single score for a news outlet “99% of the time,” nearly perfect agreement from a supposed diverse set of reviewers.
Ad Fontes has gained media traction recently after publishing its latest media bias chart with Otero appearing on Fox 5 Washington, D.C., to boost her organization’s media ratings. Mediaite also reported on Ad Fontes’ new chart earlier this month, and the organization has reportedly raised $4.2 million ahead of the 2024 presidential election. According to findings by the Media Research Center, however, Ad Fontes appears to have a bias problem of its own.
The watchdog’s study found that Ad Fontes gave 64% of the media outlets it considered to be on the Left a reliable mark, while giving only 32% of Right-leaning outlets the same label.
“This so-called media literacy firm seems to have worked overtime to make its rating system look benevolent, but when you look deeper into the real data, it’s not. The chart offered to students and advertisers is clearly deceptive and tailor-made to create a veneer of objectivity,” said MRC Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider. “I can see why advertisers would be induced to direct their advertising dollars to the left and why kids would be influenced not to read another article critical of liberal policies.”
Most of the mainstream outlets Ad Fontes labels on the Left, including CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, and The New York Times, received reliability grades above 40 on a 64-point scale. Meanwhile, the more Right-leaning outlets such as Fox News (36.22), The Washington Examiner (34.73), The Daily Wire (32.79), and Newsmax (30.73) received less flattering reliability ratings.
Ad Fontes gave The Washington Post a 38.37 reliability rating while “The Ben Shapiro Show” scored one of the lowest reliability ratings at 24.61, just above the 24-point mark that Ad Fontes considers “Selective or Incomplete Story/Unfair Persuasion/Propaganda.”
“No honest American believes the Washington Post is reliable while Ben Shapiro and the Daily Wire are not to be trusted,” Brent Bozell, founder and president of the Media Research Center, told The Daily Wire. “Ad Fontes’ whole ranking system is a lie aimed at telling Americans to trust the leftist media and not to trust anyone on the right.”
It’s ratings appear to be due to the fact that it falls on the liberal side of many news events, even when the facts tell a different story. Ad Fontes embraced Left-leaning talking points during crucial times in the past three years, saying the Wuhan lab leak theory was a “baseless” “fringe theory” and joined Big Tech platforms in censoring the Hunter Biden laptop story at the height of the 2020 election. The group also continues to give “reliable” scores to a 2021 article from Left-leaning NPR that fact-checked Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and claimed masking children was effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Since that time, a CDC study of over 90,000 elementary students showed that masking children wasn’t effective.
This bias could be a result of the political views of its own leadership. One of Otero’s top advisers, Brad Berens, actively supports Left-wing causes and Democratic candidates while advocating for former President Donald Trump to be banned from social media platforms.
Berens, who also writes for Ad Fontes’ website, posted in 2022, shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, that he hoped the decision, along with former President Trump’s “latest hijinks” would help the Democratic Party “keep both houses and extend the majority in the Senate.” Otero told The Daily Wire that Berens is “not involved in the day-to-day operations or the analysis of the individual articles.”
But disdain for Trump at Ad Fontes seems to go beyond its advisers. The ratings firm sent out a celebratory email after Trump and his 18 Republican co-defendants were indicted in Georgia, praising the “wheels of justice.”
“The process of bringing those at the center of a conspiracy to defraud the American people and misrepresent the good work of the officials responsible for mounting a free and fair election in Georgia had been identified by Georgia District Attorney, Fani Willis, and indicted for their alleged actions. The wheels of justice, however slow, had turned in the general direction that they are supposed to turn,” the email said.
Otero confirmed in a phone interview with The Daily Wire that the majority of those advising and investing in the organization are Leftists but stressed that the analysts doing the day-to-day work of rating news outlets and articles are evenly divided among liberal, centrist, and conservative thought. She also said that Ad Fontes has some conservative investors, advisors, and analysts.
“The only thing … I could point you to that might allay the concerns of [conservatives]: we are really in good faith trying to mitigate our biases as much as possible,” Otero said.
The Ad Fontes founder, who started the organization after becoming disillusioned by the vitriol among friends and family members during the 2016 election, said she receives criticism from both the Right and the Left for how Ad Fontes rates media outlets.
“The nature of this work is that we’re going to get criticism from both sides,” said Otero. “You know, it’s important to us. We receive it, especially when it’s in good faith.”
The most reliable and least biased news reporting overall comes from NPR News Now (49.33), according to Ad Fontes, while the most reliable reporting on the Right comes from The Wall Street Journal (43.63). The media ratings firm punished Right-leaning outlets far more than those on the Left when considering unreliability. Only 2.9% of the media considered to be on the Left received an “unreliable” mark compared to 29% of media outlets on the Right.