Commentary

Poynter Apologizes For Press Blacklist Targeting 'Unreliable' Sites

The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism organization, last week apologized for publishing a list of more than 500 “unreliable” news outlets and urging advertisers to boycott them.

Poynter removed the list after a firestorm of criticism, mostly from blacklisted conservative news outlets.

“The list was intended to be a starting place for readers and journalists to learn more about the veracity of websites that purported to offer news,” Barbara Allen, managing editor of Poynter.org, said in a letter posted to its website. “We regret that we failed to ensure that the data was rigorous before publication, and apologize for the confusion and agitation caused by its publication.”

Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network compiled the “UnNews” index from databases maintained by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, Snopes, PolitiFact and Merrimack University, researcher Barrett Golding wrote in a now-deleted report explaining the list.

Golding has been a producer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, the nonprofit civil-rights group, since January, according to his LinkedIn profile. The SPLC tracks extremist activity in the United States, and in recent years, conservatives have accused it of politicizing its research and falsely identifying right-leaning organizations as hate groups.

The organization also is working to get past employee accusations describing its workplace as a toxic hellhole of chauvinism and racism.

Poynter’s list included right-leaning or libertarian sites such as Breitbart News, the Media Research Center, Pajamas Media, The Daily Wire, The Blaze, Red State, Project Veritas, Newsmax, Zero Hedge, LifeSite, Judicial Watch, Frontpage, The Washington Free Beacon, The Daily Caller and the Drudge Report.

The list also initially included The Washington Examiner, but the newspaper protested and was taken off the list, executive editor Philip Klein said in a letter.

Poynter’s Allen said the list will return when the organization is “able to provide our audience a more consistent and rigorous set of criteria.”

Unfortunately, the list won’t have any credibility if it returns as another blacklist targeted at politically conservative publishers. Poynter needs to provide more transparency and real examples of what makes a publication unreliable — especially since every major news outlet routinely relies on unnamed sources or self-serving charlatans spouting unsubstantiated opinions.

Forming a review committee that reflects a broader range of opinion from across the political spectrum would help Poynter to regain whatever reputation it squandered in the past month.

Finally, Allen isn’t being wholly honest in saying the list was intended to help journalists and readers identify fake news. The now-deleted description of the list explicitly said its purpose was “for advertisers that want to stop funding misinformation.”

In other words, censor all the publications on this list. Allen needs to explain how endorsing censorship aligns with Poynter’s stated mission of supporting journalism.

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