The left’s crusade against media critical of the Biden agenda has entered a new disturbing stage that should send chills down every American’s spine.
Meet Ad Fontes: a powerful media ratings firm positioning itself to be the arbiter of truth and facts. Founded in 2018, Ad Fontes has established close partnerships with the nation’s largest Big Tech platforms, advertising agencies and educational institutions. But Ad Fontes is just getting started.
Ad Fontes seeks to determine which media platforms are acceptable for Americans to use and which ought to be dismantled—all under the guise of non-partisanship and impartiality. However, an MRC Free Speech America investigation into Ad Fontes exposed the company’s claim of impartiality to be a mere facade. Our findings revealed that Ad Fontes’s entire methodology is designed to harm conservatives while championing liberal outlets. In addition, our investigation showed that its executives rigged its “Media Bias Chart” to hide the disturbing fact that Ad Fontes exists to promote the left’s political agenda.
Here are some of our key findings:
The Methodology Ad Fontes Uses Is Completely Flawed
Ad Fontes achieves its ratings by having nameless, faceless analysts making subjective editorial decisions consistent with the views of its founder and CEO.
Ad Fontes claims to deploy teams of three unnamed individuals with different ideological leanings (allegedly right, center and left) to review and rate news stories. Ad Fontes CEO Vanessa Otero told MRC Free Speech America that this so-called diversity guards against biases in their ratings of media. Ad Fontes asks Americans to accept its anonymous analysis as objective, scientific and empirical. Regrettably, it’s not. Our findings reveal that Ad Fontes’s analysis is categorically plagued with leftist bias.
Otero claimed her ratings are meant to check bias but she consistently failed to see how her own biases and repeated contradictions are systemic in Ad Fontes’s work. From how stories are initially selected for review to how these stories are analyzed, Otero provided information in statements to MRC Free Speech America that contradicted her assertions.
Notably, Ad Fontes glosses over legacy media’s most effective political activism tool, bias by omission. These are the stories the media refuse to cover — such as the Biden family scandals (e.g. the legacy media blackout of information harmful to Joe Biden) to swing elections in favor of the left. MRC published a detailed report showing how the media and Big Tech defeated former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election utilizing this powerful tactic.
Otero brags that “99% of the time,” the three analysts grading an article arrive at a single score. This confession exposes how her process is neither scientific nor empirical, as it erases any diversity of viewpoints her analysts may once have had. Instead, Otero’s warped methodology bends all scores into conformity with a single mindset she herself has imposed.
Of course, this mindset infects the work of Ad Fontes at every level. For example, Ad Fontes hopelessly skews ratings of individual articles, going as far as championing demonstrably false narratives embraced by the left (e.g. the Wuhan laboratory leak story was a “baseless” “fringe theory”), while suppressing entirely accurate stories regarding the Biden regime (e.g. the Hunter Biden laptop story and evidence of Joe Biden’s involvement in a bribery scheme).
From falsely claiming that right-leaning media have a greater presence than left-leaning media — the “Media Bias Chart” features a total of 2,032 media on the left and 975 on the right — to being ignorant about the media blackout of the Joe Biden bribery scandal, it is clear that Otero’s enforced methodology is designed to bury conservatives.
Ad Fontes’s “Media Bias Chart” Is Rigged
Ad Fontes publishes a version of its “Media Bias Chart” on its website. It reflects a small number of cherry-picked media outlets making it appear as if Ad Fontes is evenhanded in its analysis. In reality, the chart is rigged to deceptively suggest that right-leaning outlets and left-leaning outlets are treated similarly.
Our analysis of Ad Fontes’s data shows a completely different story.
Ad Fontes deemed the bulk of media it labeled as on the “left” to be fully “reliable,” including CNN, The New York Times, ABC, CBS and NBC, while only rewarding less than one third of media it labeled as on the “right” to be “reliable,” including The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, National Post and CATO Institute.
- Ad Fontes gave 64 percent of media it considered to be on the left as reliable, while only rating 32 percent of media it labeled on the right as reliable.
- Ad Fontes is 10 times more likely to give its lowest rating of “unreliable” to media on the right as it is to give this badge of shame to media on the left. Ad Fontes rated only 2.9 percent of media it considered on the left as “unreliable,” while it rated 29 percent of media it labeled on the right as “unreliable.”
Ad Fontes Champions One Political View
The findings detailed above are a direct product of Ad Fontes’s leadership. Both Otero and her top lieutenant Brad Berens are documented left-wing political activists. Some examples include:
- Otero is a self-proclaimed liberal with openly left-wing views.
- Both Otero and Berens have documented records of consistent financial contributions to left-wing political candidates.
- Berens wrote an open letter calling on Big Tech platforms to permanently ban President Trump. (In the letter Berens wrote that he held “a persistent fantasy of seeing Donald Trump’s favorite color on a jumpsuit he is forced to wear.”)
- Ad Fontes published a formal statement officially celebrating the indictment of Donald Trump.
- Berens implored the federal government to censor Biden’s political opposition. On Twitter, he proclaimed that his “fondest hope … is that [Democrats] keep both Houses and extend the majority in the Senate” and even used the platform to fundraise for Democrat candidates.
MRC ORIGINAL: Media Literacy Firm Rigged to Favor Left-Wing Media
Masquerading as a “media literacy” tool, Ad Fontes is the left’s newest weapon to eliminate alternatives to legacy media.
Ad Fontes Media, LLC, was founded by its CEO Vanessa Otero in 2018 as a way to commercialize her “Media Bias Chart.” The Chart, which Ad Fontes “updates” continuously, purports to rank over 3,000 media sources for “bias” and “reliability.” Portraying this two-variable approach as unique, Otero and her Head of Insights, professional marketer Brad Berens, have skillfully pushed the product into American public schools, contracted with advertisers to blacklist new media and forged partnerships with tech behemoths like Meta and Microsoft to suppress supposed “misinformation.”
The Ad Fontes business model is built around the idea that it is “non-partisan,” “impartial” and fact-based. This is a facade. An investigation by MRC Free Speech America reveals that in both approach and application, Ad Fontes exists to amplify media on the political left while suppressing media that report facts inconsistent with Otero’s worldview.
"Ad Fontes is a for-profit company run by a left-winger purporting to objectively rank media outlets,” said Brent Bozell, founder and president of the Media Research Center. “But no honest American believes that PBS, CNN and The New York Times are objective media outlets. Their whole ranking system is a lie aimed at telling Americans to trust the leftist media and not to trust anyone on the right."
Ad Fontes’s media ratings system is designed to reward the political left and punish the political right.
Ad Fontes claims its Media Bias Chart provides “impartial ratings” that the public supposedly does not have “enough access” to. MRC Free Speech America’s analysis instead reveals that Ad Fontes whitewashes the bias and political agenda of legacy media while disparaging media that exposes the failures of the left.
With regard to its “reliability” scoring, Ad Fontes ranks media sources from a high of 64 to a low of zero. As Ad Fontes explains it, “Scores above 40 are “reliable” and “generally good;” scores below 24 are “unreliable” and “generally problematic.”
MRC Free Speech America staff analyzed the reliability scores of the 3,134 media entities rated by Ad Fontes between July 31 and Aug. 7. The disparity in scoring was readily apparent. Of the 2,032 media that Ad Fontes rated on the political “left,” 1,299 (64%) were given a score of 40 or above, solidifying their status as “reliable.”
Examples of left-leaning media awarded this highest rating include CNN, The New York Times, NPR, Associated Press, Vox, ABC, CBS and NBC. However, of the 975 media Ad Fontes rated on the “right,” only 313 (32%) were given a “reliable” score of 40 or above. (e.g. The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, National Post, CATO Institute). Ad Fontes was exactly twice as likely to award its highest rating to media on the left.
“The left’s most powerful tool you’ve never heard of, Ad Fontes’s official ratings chart resembles a fairytale rainbow of vibrant colors, but the actual data is nightmare for people who want straight news,” said MRC Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider. “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. 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.”
The bias is even more extreme in terms of what media Ad Fontes considered to be “unreliable” and “generally problematic.” Ad Fontes rated only 59 of the 2,032 (2.9%) media on the political left as “unreliable” (scores below 24). Media in that group included MSNBC’s The ReidOut and The Daily Dot. By contrast, Ad Fontes rated a sizable 286 of the 975 (29%) media on the political right as “unreliable.” Included among that tier were: The Federalist; Fox News shows Jesse Watters Primetime, Hannity and The Ingraham Angle; The Epoch Times; PragerU; The Daily Signal; RedState; Turning Point USA; NewsmaxTV, Timcast IRL, OAN, and The Daily Wire’s The Matt Walsh Show. This means that Ad Fontes is exactly 10 times more likely to rate right-leaning media as “unreliable” and “generally problematic.”
Comparing the overall scores of comparable media further emphasizes how relentlessly Ad Fontes’s reliability system favors big media entities on the left and punishes media it labels as on the political right:
As can be seen in the chart above, Ad Fontes uses a pseudo-scientific scoring mechanic to absurdly score individual articles and media entities out to the hundredths of a decimal point, giving them the veneer of scientific accuracy.
“Even if the Ad Fontes scoring system were not intentionally skewed to punish conservative media, no statistician could justify giving reliability scores to the hundredth decimal point for the kind of subjective analysis we see here,” said MRC Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider. “The only reason to include it is to create the illusion of scientific reliability.”
Ad Fontes CEO Vanessa Otero is blind to the flaws in her own media ratings system.
Ad Fontes’s leader, Otero, claimed her media ratings system is meant to check bias, but in an interview with MRC Free Speech America, she recited vague platitudes about her own biases but then consistently refused to acknowledge how her own prejudices are reflected in her company’s work.
Even if something as subjective as reliability could be quantified in a single number, Otero is ill-suited for such a task. This is because, despite her enthusiastic presentation, she has massive blindspots to the flaws in her methodology and is reflexively hostile to data that challenges her worldview.
MRC Free Speech America pressed Otero about the issue of bias by omission in an Aug. 8 interview. Bias by omission is the most insidious form of media manipulation: Instead of misrepresenting facts, outlets simply refuse to report news contrary to their own political agenda. Sometimes, legacy media will bury an entire story, such as legacy media’s refusal to cover the New York Post Hunter Biden laptop exposé until after the election. This well-researched story, published in October of 2020, included emails recovered from abandoned Biden family laptops that revealed Joe Biden participating in his son’s dealings with the shady Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings.
Otero was quick to concede that bias by omission does, in fact, matter. However, she also acknowledged that an outlet refusing to report on an entire story—as legacy media routinely do with the Biden family scandals—would not affect its score. Instead, Otero explained her alternative way to measure omission.
“An easier way to capture it is in, like, an article-by-article basis, right?” Otero explained to MRC Free Speech America. “You can look at an article, and if you read other articles on the same topic, you can know it's not in there.”
Otero’s “easier way to capture” omission bias, though, is fundamentally flawed—and that flaw is vividly apparent in Ad Fontes’s scoring. Articles are penalized for lack of conformity to legacy media coverage, meaning when an article reports something blacked out by legacy media, it will be rated as unreliable. This is especially true when the piece references true omission bias.
In late 2020, the MRC commissioned a detailed survey of 1,750 swing state voters that pulled the lever for then-candidate Joe Biden. The poll uncovered that 82 percent of Biden voters were unaware of at least one of eight news stories that legacy media had buried. One story in particular, the New York Post exposé on the Hunter Biden laptop scandal, had been aggressively censored by Big Tech platforms like Facebook/Instagram (now Meta) and Twitter (now X). The MRC survey found that one of every six Biden voters (17%) would not have voted for the scandal-plagued career politician had they been made aware of one or more of these news stories before the election. The media blackout of this story alone swung enough votes for Biden to change the outcome of the election.
Ad Fontes gave the MRC study on the media coverup of the Biden family scandals an abysmal 11.33 reliability rating on a scale where anything below 24 is considered unreliable. Otero spared no words in assailing the piece: “It’s based on a supposition, a premise that you all—you advocate that the media doesn’t cover these things.”
When MRC Free Speech America researchers pointed out that the study revealed that a large portion of Biden voters had never heard of the Hunter Biden laptop story and that 9.4 percent of his voters would not have voted for him if they had known of it, Otero doubled down. “I don’t agree with that … there was so much attention on the Hunter Biden laptop thing,” she claimed. “Like, regardless of the fact that it was, like, suppressed on Twitter and Facebook. There is no lack of coverage of, like, Hunter Biden stories, right?”
But in fact, there was scant coverage of the Hunter Biden laptop scandal. The Big Three networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) hid the Biden family scandal from their viewers, spending a paltry 25 minutes and six seconds on the story between Oct. 14, 2020 when the New York Post bombshell report dropped and April 18, 2022. Even when the Big Three networks bothered to mention the scandal, they downplayed it, using dismissive language like “dubious,” “questionably-sourced story,” “old line of attack” and “unverified.”
Otero’s response highlights one of the fatal weaknesses with Ad Fontes’s methodology: In training analysts to adopt a uniform approach consistent with Otero’s vision, her opinions are used as the standard to determine the reliability of stories. Actual facts that contradict her opinions are therefore deemed misinformation. Thus, many of the 1,750 Biden voters who were scientifically polled but reported views that contradicted Otero’s alternative reality were once again erased.
Otero’s system to produce conformity negates diversity of thought and leads to pervasive and egregious distortions in her firm’s data. A common example of this methodological flaw is how Ad Fontes rates articles that quote statements from public figures. If the figure says something widely reported by legacy media, Ad Fontes will grade the article as simply a straight recitation of the facts. However, if the outlet is reporting something that was omitted by legacy media, the Ad Fontes rating system treats the article as an endorsement of the speaker’s statement and penalizes the media entity.
Take, for example, a Breitbart article summarizing the testimony of a mother accusing Fairfax County’s school lockdown policies of exacerbating her autistic son’s fatal depression. Ad Fontes gave this story a rare single-digit rating (9.33), far beneath the score of 24 that marks something as “unreliable.” The article did not endorse the woman’s speech, but merely quoted and embedded the video of the mother’s public testimony and transcribed what she said.
Similarly, The Blaze received an “unreliable” score (22.0) for a report detailing a U.S. Senate hearing of Dr. Richard Ebright. Ebright, an acclaimed microbiologist at Rutgers University, testified that then-NIAID (National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Disease) Director Anthony Fauci had made “demonstrably false” statements regarding taxpayer funding of dangerous gain-of-function research. Likewise, Breitbart received another unreliable rating (14.67) for its article “Jeff Landry: Trump's Emergency Declaration 'Will Prevail in the Courts,” which did little more than display a video of Louisiana Attorney General Landry’s interview and a transcription of what he said.
When questioned further on omission bias, Otero continued to defend Biden and legacy media’s refusal to cover recent developments relating to his bribery scandal, arguing “there isn't currently evidence that definitively shows wrongdoing by Joe Biden.”
In fact, at the time of Otero’s assertion, there was an enormous amount of evidence implicating Joe Biden, including:
- Devon Archer’s confirmation that Biden had repeatedly met with Hunter Biden’s business partners, as reported by The Wall Street Journal;
- Tony Bobulinski’s testimony that Joe Biden was the “Big Guy” who received 10 percent of payments Hunter got from “the Chinese,” as reported by Fox News;
- Biden’s admission that he orchestrated the firing of a Ukrainian attorney general investigating his son’s employer, as reported by Real Clear Politics;
- An FBI informant providing evidence to the FBI that Hunter Biden raked in “$50,000 a month” from Burisma, as initially reported by the New York Post;
- House Oversight Committee publication of financial records appearing to show Biden family members receiving “over $10 million” through a series of transactions allegedly implicating 20 “shell companies,” as published by the National Review; and
- WhatsApp text messages revealed Hunter Biden “demanding $10 million” in a business deal with a now-“vanished” Chinese business mogul by disclosing his father’s presence, as reported by Daily Mail.
Otero’s willful disregard of facts contrary to her worldview is not limited to the subject of Biden bribery. When pressed about the left’s disproportionate representation in the media, Otero interjected: “I don't agree with your premise that … there are more left leaning folks in that field than right leaning folks.”
When it was pointed out to Otero that by her own site’s designations left-leaning sources more than double right-leaning ones (2,032 to 975), Otero still refused to acknowledge the disparity. “There's a lot of media out there and like, like Fox News, New York Post, you know, the Daily Mail, those are some of the biggest media organizations in the world,” she insisted. “And they're not populated by left-leaning journalists.”
Even if one takes at face value that these three organizations lack left-leaning journalists, it is ludicrous to claim that the market share of Fox News, the New York Post and Daily Mail approach the impact of legacy media. According to Nielsen ratings published by Variety in Dec. 2022, Fox News and its sister channel Fox Business had a combined 2.43 million total viewers in 2022. This is less than half of the 5.148 million viewers of NBC (NBC is owned by Comcast, which is actually one of “the biggest media organizations in the world”). The other two broadcast news channels—CBS at 5.144 million viewers and ABC (owned by Disney) at 3.867 million viewers—also dwarfed Fox News’s total viewership.
The case is the same for news site traffic. According to an August report by the Press Gazette, Fox News has 262.1 million monthly visitors; Daily Mail has 125.3 million. The two websites’ combined influence is significant, but it is only a fraction of the 441.6 million that The New York Times or of the 415.2 million that CNN — two far-left outlets that are pushed by Big Tech giants like Google — receive.
The Ad Fontes leadership’s broken approach suits their hard-left political agenda.
Otero and her top lieutenant, Brad Berens, are ideologues who consistently disregard glaring examples of flaws in their system. This is perhaps no coincidence: their broken ratings approach suits their hard-left political agenda.
As Head of Insight, Berens’s role in Ad Fontes is substantial. In an October 2022 interview with The Trust Web Times, Berens boasted of his cozy relationship with Otero and how he helped build human capital at the leftist-biased firm:
“[Otero and I] became friends and started talking a lot about how to turn the [Media Bias] chart into a business. She then invited me to join the board, which at the time had more academics than business people in it. (I’m both.) I helped to recruit more business people. I’ve also invested, so I have skin in the game!”
In fact, of the three “research” reports published on Ad Fontes’s website, one of them was authored by Berens. The purpose of the report, claimed Berens, was to “encourage advertisers to invest in High Quality News.” Unsurprisingly, Berens defined “High Quality News” as sources well-rated in the “famous” Ad Fontes “Media Bias Chart.”
Berens stands as the antithesis to the nonpartisanship Otero claims to champion. Berens published a lengthy op-ed on his Substack less than a year ago equating social media that allows “agitating content” with Naziism, going so far as to title his piece “Social Media and the Banality of Evil” in an explicit reference to “the chief architects of the Nazi murder of six million Jews during the Second World War.”
Berens is forthright about what “agitating content” Big Tech platforms should remove, proclaiming, “The most patriotic act imaginable would be for Twitter CEO @jack Dorsey to cancel Trump's account.” Berens even wrote an open letter to Dorsey begging him to “Please cancel U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s Twitter accounts– both the official @POTUS one and @RealDonaldTrump.”
Berens is unequivocal that when Big Tech companies do not silence dissent on their own, “it’s time for the Federal Government” to “insist” they censor “more.” Berens bemoaned: “Big Tech companies that don’t want to spend money moderating the content that goes onto their platforms love to invoke the First Amendment and talk about free speech. The problem is that isn’t what the First Amendment is about.”
Citing Ad Fontes’s ratings, Berens lectured: “Sometimes there are not two sides to an issue, and giving a platform to a fringe, partisan, disinformation-slinging speaker in order to seem fair only sows the partisanship that bedevils us.” As an example, Berens compared the low Ad Fontes scores for Fox News to the higher scores for CNN, concluding: “False equivalence makes different things look the same when they aren't.”
Berens’s writing frequently devolved into left-wing screeds against Catholics, Republicans, and former President Trump — or, as he phrased it, “the dumpster fire that is the 45th President.” He raged against “the destructive flame that is 45 and his family,” attacked the former president as a “white supremacist” and “the worst president in the history of this great country,” and detailed a “persistent fantasy of seeing Donald Trump’s favorite color on a jumpsuit he’s forced to wear.” On Sept. 22, 2022 — following the overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling — he tweeted: “My fondest hope right now is that the combo platter of Dobbs and Trump's latest hijinks mean we keep both houses and extend the majority in the Senate.” Elsewhere, he seemed more perturbed by the development, remarking in another tweet: “Oklahoma Bans Almost All Abortion..... Let's Ban Oklahoma.” Last month, he complained that a Supreme Court opinion limiting racial discrimination in university admissions was “manure” and “smothering diversity.” He suggested that “eliminat[ing] urinals” was a good way to “reframe the never-ending transphobic hubbub.” In one rant, he even referred to independent journalist Tucker Carlson as “a sexist pig.”
In the interview with MRC Free Speech America researchers, Otero attempted to dismiss Berens as a lone wolf, but his views are not an anomaly among Ad Fontes leadership. To be sure, he is a prolific donor to Democrat Party politicians (even fundraising for them on Twitter). However, Otero’s history of donating to lefty politicians is as long as his.
Otero and Berens’s political agenda pervades the actions of Ad Fontes, right down to its marketing. After nineteen MAGA Republicans, including former President Trump, were indicted in Atlanta, Georgia, Ad Fontes sent out a celebratory email declaring: “[t]he 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.”
Ad Fontes’s leftist slant is not just visible in its emails. Take what Communications Director Jennifer Furlong admitted during an explainer video to educators using its Media Bias Chart. In it she discussed how bias infects the way individuals grade media. Furlong explained:
“When we get below 40 [(reliable)] — from 40 down to 24 — these are the variations in analysis on down to opinion. This is where we have the most disagreement when we’re analyzing an article because this is where our own bias could potentially get in the way. If we agree with it, we’ll call it analysis. If we disagree with it, we’ll call it an opinion.”
Furlong works as a “right lean analyst” for Ad Fontes. “The methodology” Ad Fontes uses, Furlong explained, is the “tool that helps us remain consistent.” This consistency is vividly apparent: sources Ad Fontes classifies as on the left are unjustifiably scored as more reliable and less biased than sources the firm labels as on the political right.
Ad Fontes’s ratings for specific media entities are aggregated from scores given to individual articles from those media entities. In a process Otero refers to as “content analysis methodology,” she personally selects three-person teams of “analysts'' to score individual articles on “bias” and “reliability.” Otero explained that this team represents “folks from left, right, and center” but does not elaborate how Ad Fontes determines the political leanings of the analysts on these teams. Otero elaborated that, in her view, “true objectivity … is impossible,” but that “99% of the time” her analyst teams can agree on a single score.
MRC researchers found numerous examples of how Ad Fontes failed to apply its own methodology. Take, for example, the issue of COVID-19. Three years after the lockdowns, Ad Fontes has still not corrected the sky-high reliability scores it gave to legacy media articles demonizing virus-related “conspiracy theories” that were later confirmed to be true. While Biden’s own Department of Energy has now acknowledged a laboratory leak at The Wuhan Institute of Virology as the likely source of COVID-19, Ad Fontes continues to champion a 2020 Washington Post article (50.63) deriding the idea as a “debunk[ed] fringe theory” and “disinformation.” In fact, Ad Fontes gives the Post piece its highest reliability rating, “reliable,” which is reserved for pieces that score above a 40 through Otero’s “content analysis methodology.”
Ad Fontes also stands by its decision to give a “strong,” “still reliable” score (38.33) to the allegedly “fact-based” 2021 NPR piece “Yes, Gov. DeSantis, Studies Do Show Masks Curb Covid-19 In Schools,” which claimed “the research is conclusive” that “widespread masking” was necessary for schoolchildren. A CDC study of over 90,000 schoolkids found “required mask use among students was not statistically significant compared with schools where mask use was optional.” A separate Cochran Library study examining symptoms in over a quarter of a million people reached a similar result, concluding masking “probably makes little or no difference in how many people have flu/COVID.”
Ad Fontes also refuses to retract the “reliable” score (41.67) it gave to a Daily Kos story which insisted people were drinking bleach to prevent the COVID-19 virus. A comprehensive 2023 study by PLoS One into the veracity of this internet rumor could “find no evidence that people ingested cleaning products to prevent a COVID-19 infection.”
The fake news Ad Fontes rubber stamps is not limited to the subject of COVID-19. It gave its “reliable” rating (46.0) to a piece from The Root, headlined “They’ll Erase Us from the Future,” which baselessly claimed that Stacey Abrams won the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election (Abrams lost, though she refused to concede). Ad Fontes also gave a “reliable” score (40.0) to a New York Times story claiming, “There’s no evidence of a wiretap” at Trump Tower. It was later confirmed that “[t]he U.S. government under President Obama wiretapped former Trump campaign Chair Paul Manafort in New York's Trump Tower,” according to Investor's Business Daily.
Otero’s approach seems particularly harsh on stories criticizing leftist institutional bias. In September of 2021, Ad Fontes gave an “unreliable” score (22.33) to a National Review piece confirming the “authenticity of damning Hunter Biden emails” that legacy media had initially dismissed and Big Tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter censored. In 2022, Ad Fontes also gave a low reliability score (29.33) to a NewsBusters article highlighting The New York Times’s shifting reporting on the Biden son’s emails.
Similarly, Ad Fontes attacked another NewsBusters blog entry with an “unreliable” rating (16.67) for daring to report MSNBC contributor David Jolly’s on-air claim that “gun violence is something that is part of the culture of young white men, and so Republicans protect it.” Ad Fontes also gave a low rating (24.67) to a ZeroHedge article detailing how, after the mob “attack” of campus speaker and competitive swimmer Riley Gaines, San Francisco State University (SFSU) “issued a statement that seemed to express sympathy for the protesters and expressed concern for those were exposed to her views.” ZeroHedge had printed the statement in its entirety.
Ad Fontes’s scoring for “bias” is similarly skewed. The outlet gave a perfectly “Balanced” (0.00) rating to a China Daily article headlined “China-US ties benefit rebound in trade order,” which advocated for a reduction in restrictions on trade between the United States and China. China Daily is a formally recognized propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), funded directly by the Chinese government. Ad Fontes also gave a perfectly “Balanced” (0.00) rating—as well as a “reliable” score (53.0)—to a New York Times puff piece on then-YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki headlined “The Most Measured Person in Tech.” By the time the article was published, Wojcicki—now infamous for her far-reaching censorship policies—had already been caught targeting pro-life groups, demonetizing journalists critical of the left, and systematically removing Republican campaign ads.
“Looking at the data,” MRC Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider explained, “you see that certain outlets that routinely publish far-left content get some of their lower-profile articles as having a political bias on the ‘right,’ even when much of the piece is either neutral or biased to the left. The end result is such that the overall scores of these leftist media appear more centrist. We can’t know if this is deliberate manipulation of the numbers or merely a symptom of Otero’s system of conformity. Either way, it means that when you see an outlet labeled centrist, it is a result of bad grading, not the source’s objectivity.”
Take, for instance, The Dispatch opinion piece headlined “Impeach Donald Trump, Remove Him, and Bar Him From Holding Office Ever Again.” Ad Fontes somehow claimed the story was biased to the “right.” Similarly, Ad Fontes also found a “strong right” bias for a Dispatch essay insisting Trump “makes vices into virtues and cruelty into courage.” Even a fluffy essay from Ebony magazine on left-wing filmmaker Spike Lee inking a new deal with Netflix was rated as on the political “right.”
Ad Fontes often gives “unreliable” ratings to stories critical of the Biden agenda that legacy media does not cover, even when there is no doubt as to their veracity. MRC Free Speech America’s February 2022 study documenting over 800 cases of COVID-19-related censorship by Big Tech platforms was labeled “unreliable” (15.67) despite the platforms themselves acknowledging they censor speech that disagrees with establishment guidelines. Similarly, a Daily Wire article was labeled “unreliable” for simply summarizing embedded tweets from prominent left-wing figures wishing physical harm on then-President Trump.
In contrast, incendiary left-wing rhetoric seems to have little impact on an article’s reliability score, even if the article makes claims that would be impossible to definitively prove. The New York Times received a “reliable” score (44.25) when it headlined a September 2020 story on Trump tweeting criticism of mass-mailing ballots as “The Attack on Voting.” Even a humor piece from The New Yorker detailing a Florida teacher’s arrest for showing the film Bambi to her third-grade class was not rated “unreliable” (29), despite being satire.
Ad Fontes’s bias is even more pronounced when using its “media filters.” These “filters” are meant to allow advertisers to segregate media by race and sexual orientation of both ownership and audience in part of what Ad Fontes champions as “DEI.” DEI—literally, an acronym for “diversity, equity, and inclusion”—is a left-wing philosophy that prioritizes group identity and quota systems over merit and individuality.
In order to remain competitive under Ad Fontes’s DEI “filters,” an outlet would need to identify the racial composition of its ownership, hosts or target audience, and then champion it so as to ensure Ad Fontes’s diversity scorers could spot it. Engaging in such behavior would be antithetical to conservative ideals, but par for the course for legacy media and other leftist media that have long abandoned American ideals like equality and meritocracy.
In addition to clearly favoring left-leaning media more comfortable with identity politics, instituting DEI filters also contradicts Ad Fontes’s pledge to focus on analysis of “content,” rather than preconceptions and prejudices about the media’s speaker or viewer. It also is counterproductive. By demanding media reflect the corporate equity guidelines championed by a few big-name media entities, Ad Fontes presupposes that there is just a single employment model that is right for every news organization, regardless of its size or ideology. In fact, this single-ideology groupthink seems to have pervaded Ad Fontes itself: “Whatever diversity at Ad Fontes may once have existed,” remarked MRC Free Speech America President Dan Schneider, “has been negated by its founder’s heavy hand.”
This new focus on DEI filters further exacerbates the threat Ad Fontes poses to media that refuse to play the identity politics game. At this moment, Ad Fontes is successfully contracting with major advertisers in backroom deals to blacklist media that Ad Fontes disapproves of. “Find publishers with minimal bias and high reliability through our Data Platform,” Ad Fontes promises potential advertising partners on its glossy sales pitch page. “Use our data for highly effective media planning, execution, and measurement.” Tragically, every firm bamboozled into outsourcing its advertising decisions to Ad Fontes is complicit in the defunding of real journalism and turbocharging the revenue stream for legacy media propaganda.
While Ad Fontes claims to have a methodology for how it scores the articles it chooses, this framework is habitually abandoned so as to pursue Otero’s aggressive hard-left agenda. Concerningly, the brokenness of Ad Fontes’s methodology has not yet affected the firm’s effectiveness in pushing its product. Otero boasts that Ad Fontes has been imposed in schools across the country, removing the ability for students to access news sources skeptical of the left’s agenda. Ad Fontes also has partnered with Big Tech giants Meta and Microsoft, making it easier to pressure advertisers into blacklisting media Otero’s ratings system disapproves of.
Censorship tools like Ad Fontes have no place in a free country. Americans benefit from a diversity of viewpoints, not conformity to Otero’s warped worldview.
Fortunately, it is not too late for Americans to resist this latest censorship weapon.
- Parents should call their local school boards and check if Ad Fontes has been imposed in their children’s classrooms. If it is, parents should demand its removal.
- Business partners should tell Meta and Microsoft to stop forcing Ad Fontes on its advertisers.
- Advertisers should resist the pressure to use Ad Fontes’s broken algorithm to limit what potential customers see.
- State legislatures must bar educational dollars from going into Ad Fontes’s coffers.
- Congressional Republicans must ensure the Biden administration is prevented from funneling tax money into partnerships with Ad Fontes, and should investigate any closed-door collusion that has already taken place.
Conservatives are under attack. Contact ABC News (818) 460-7477, CBS News (212) 975-3247 and NBC News (212) 664-6192 and demand they report on Ad Fontes’s egregious left-wing bias.