Controversial NewsGuard App Linked to Saudi Arabia’s PR Machine

Controversial news rating app NewsGuard has been found to not only have ties to politicians and figures spawned by the Homeland Security state, but is also tied to a Washington, D.C.-based PR firm that shielded Saudi Arabia from charges associated with the September 11th attacks and took generous payments from Riyadh to help spin its murderous war on the people of Yemen, according to a new report.

NewsGuard, which assigns green or red ratings to websites based on their alleged “standards of accuracy and accountability,” had already come under fire for having on its advisory board such beltway politicians and neo-conservative political figures like Bush-era head of the Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and former CIA director Michael Hayden. The app garnered further attention when tech behemoth Microsoft added it as a built-in feature on its Microsoft Edge app, a browser derided by web surfers as  “bloatware” that comes preinstalled on Windows 10.

According to NewsGuard’s website, the third-largest investor in the mainstream media narrative-enforcing tool is Publicis Groupe, a multinational advertising firm based in Paris whose subsidiaries include public relations and damage-control firms whose modus operandi is the manipulation of media narratives for a range of corporate clients.

The company’s suite of PR firms includes Washington, D.C.-based Qorvis Group, an outfit that was enlisted by Saudi Arabia’s rulers following the September 11, 2001 attacks for the purpose of shielding Riyadh from charges that it supported the same hardline brand of Wahhabi Islam that underpins the ideology of groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Saudi state sponsorship of Wahhabi schools and terrorist groups has long been a matter of public knowledge.

In the year following the attacks, however, the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia pumped $14.7 million into Qorvis Group in a bid to run a massive advertising campaign targeting the U.S. consumer market with messages sanitizing the Saudi regime, including running pro-Saudi ads under the name of a fabricated “activist” group called the “Alliance for Peace and Justice.”

The company’s knack for disinformation campaigns was so perfidious that by December 2002, the New York Times ran a report noting that three founding partners of the firm were quitting due to their “deep discomfort in representing the government of Saudi Arabia against accusations that Saudi leaders have turned a blind eye to terrorism.”

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In 2004, the FBI raided the company while searching for evidence that it had violated foreign lobbying laws.

According to RT, which also received a negative “red” rating from NewsGuard:

“Between 2010 and 2015, Qorvis is believed to have received millions of dollars to continue to whitewash the kingdom’s image in the United States. The accelerated airbrushing came just as the Saudis launched its devastating war against Yemen. In fact, Qorvis created an entire website – operationrenewalofhope.com – to promote the Saudi-led war in Yemen, according to the Intercept.

The firm has also successfully planted Riyadh-friendly stories in major US publications, including a 2016 op-ed by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, which was published by Newsweek. The headline bravely bellowed: “The Saudis are fighting terrorism, don’t believe otherwise.”

Of course, the Qorvis-installed PR piece received a green “trustworthy” rating from the watchdog app.


The news shouldn’t be surprising, given the disproportionate number of “Bush Administration alumni and other members of the beltway establishment elite” who are sitting on the NewsGuard advisory board. “The Bush Administration’s ties to Saudi Arabia are well-documented (mostly by the left, when they still opposed the establishment),” the report notes.

NewsGuard co-founder Steven Brill denies that Qorvis parent company Publicis has any say in the “content or operations” of the app, asserting that their stake in the company remains small.

Yet NewsGuard board member Richard Stengel, a former editor for Time magazine and ex-State Department official, has hailed the use of state propaganda in the past, bluntly stating in a conference last year that the U.S. should fight fire with fire in the war against alleged “fake news”:

“I’m not against propaganda … Every country does it and they have to do it to their own population and I don’t necessarily think it’s that awful.”