Government-funded group blacklists conservative media, cutting off their ad revenue

Government-funded group blacklists conservative media, cutting off their ad revenue

Conservative and libertarian-leaning media are now being starved of advertising dollars because of a taxpayer-funded progressive group — the Global Disinformation Index. It classifies truthful media coverage as “disinformation” that advertisers should avoid, when it is offensive to progressives. Most of the publications targeted by the Global Disinformation Index are conservative, but even non-conservative publications have been classified as misinformation after criticizing civil-liberties violations by progressive officials. That includes Reason Magazine, a libertarian publication that has won journalism awards for its reporting on civil-liberties violations and government abuses of power.

The Washington Examiner reports:

The Department of State has funded a deep-pocketed “disinformation” tracking group that is secretly blacklisting and trying to defund conservative media, likely costing the news organizations vital advertising dollars…The Global Disinformation Index, a British organization … is feeding blacklists to ad companies with the intent of defunding and shutting down websites peddling alleged “disinformation”…This same “disinformation” group has received $330,000 from two State Department-backed entities linked to the highest levels of government, raising concerns from First Amendment lawyers and members of Congress….

GDI compiles a “dynamic exclusion list” that it feeds to corporate entities, such as the Microsoft-owned advertising company Xandr, emails show. Xandr and other companies are, in turn, declining to place ads on websites that GDI flags as peddling disinformation.

The Washington Examiner revealed on Thursday that it is on this exclusion list. The list includes at least 2,000 websites and has “had a significant impact on the advertising revenue that has gone to those sites,” said GDI’s CEO Clare Melford on a March 2022 podcast….

The federal government could run into legal trouble depending on the extent to which it’s paying or directing GDI to “censor information, pressure publications to censor, or pressure advertisers not to publish, in a way that harms U.S. citizens or companies,” Ilya Shapiro, director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute, told the Washington Examiner.

GDI claims that the 10 “riskiest” news outlets for disinformation are the New York Post, Reason, the American Spectator, Newsmax, the Federalist, the American Conservative, One America News, the Blaze, the Daily Wire, and RealClearPolitics.

By contrast, progressive news outlets that have committed libel do not appear on its disinformation list, such as Rolling Stone, which peddled a gang rape hoax and had to pay $1.65 million to settle a defamation lawsuit against it.

Telling the truth doesn’t keep you from being blacklisted by GDI. When a black lawyer accurately noted that the crime rate is higher among blacks than whites, his blog post “Jailing Violent Criminals Is Appropriate,” was labeled by the Global Disinformation Index as “white supremacy content” that companies should not advertise next to. The blog post was classified as hateful, even though it cited federal crime statistics and a Supreme Court ruling noting that crime rates are indeed different for blacks and whites. The blog post also noted that Asians have a lower rate of misbehavior than whites, yet it was still classified as “white supremacist.”

GDI put major news outlets like the New York Post on its disinformation index, and labeled them as having a “high” “risk level,” without alleging a single error in their reporting. GDI’s explanation of its rating for the New York Post admitted that “GDI’s study did not review specific high-profile stories and attempt to determine whether they were disinformation.” GDI claimed Reason’s articles were slanted, but cited no factual errors, and admitted that “Reason Magazine did largely refrain from perpetuating in-group out-group narratives.”

GDI may have targeted Reason because it criticizes progressive moral panics and attacks on civil liberties. Reason debunked a U.Va. gang rape hoax that was being falsely cited to claim we live in a rape culture. Progressives called a Reason reporter an “idiot” for correctly saying it was “a gigantic hoax.”

Telling unpleasant truths that puncture progressive narratives may be what GDI means when it refers to “perpetuating in-group out-group narratives.” For example, if the criminal justice system is accused of racism because blacks are arrested more than whites, GDI views it as white-supremacist disinformation to point out in response that the black crime rate is higher than the white crime rate, so a higher black arrest rate does not necessarily prove racism by police. It labeled Daniel Horowitz’s article “How can incarceration rates be racist if they reflect the ACTUAL crime rates” as an example of “white-supremacy content” and “conspiracy stories.”

It also cited as an example of “conspiracy stories” and “white-supremacy content” a blog post titled “Criminal Justice reform myths about racism and sexism.” That blog post cited federal statisticians and research by University of Michigan law professor Sonja Starr to argue that men are treated worse in the criminal justice system than women. It also argued that race plays a smaller role than gender in sentencing. That blog post stated:

Women have a massive advantage in the criminal justice system. As the University of Michigan noted in November 2012, “If you’re a criminal defendant, it may help a lot to be a woman…Prof. [Sonja] Starr’s recent paper, ‘Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases,’ looks closely at a large dataset of federal cases, and reveals some significant findings. After controlling for the arrest offense, criminal history, and other prior characteristics, ‘men receive 63% longer sentences on average than women do,’ and ‘[w]omen are twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted.’”… Women receive far shorter sentences than similarly-situated men in the criminal justice system, especially for crimes committed against family members. For example, the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics noted in 1995, that the “average prison sentence for unprovoked wife defendants [who kill their husbands without provocation] was 7 years, or 10 years shorter than the average 17 years for unprovoked husband defendants.”

GDI’s blacklist is being used by major advertising firms to exclude the news outlets GDI labels as “disinformation.” One of them, Xandr, told companies last year that it “is partnering with the Global Disinformation Index (‘GDI’) and will be adopting their exclusion list.” Former State Department official Mike Benz says that the fiscal impact of these blacklists is “devastating.” He says “ad revenue crushing sentinels” like the Global Disinformation Index have “crippled the potential of alternative news sources to compete on an even economic playing field with approved media outlets.”

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at


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