A Biased Newsguard Honors MintPress with “Red” Rating: Here’s Our Point by Point Response
Newsguard reviewer Jeannie Kamin seems to conflate reporting critical of U.S.-backed terror groups in Syria, such as Al-Nusra Front and other extremist groups, with support for Bashar al-Assad.
In January, MintPress was contacted by Jeannie Kamin, a contributor to the news rating site and browser plug-in “Newsguard.” As I, MintPress Editor-in-Chief Mnar Muhawesh, wrote at the time, Kamin had sent “a list of eight loaded questions that were crafted to put me on the defensive and undermine MintPress’ credibility from the get-go. Not only that, but the questions framed MintPress as having a secret agenda aimed at hiding its ownership and funding.”
MintPress subsequently published my full response to Kamin’s inquiries, as well as an investigative report authored by MintPress staff writer Whitney Webb that charted the troubling ties of the Newsguard organization to, among other figures, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, and self-described “chief propagandist” for the Obama state department, Richard Stengel. The report was widely circulated and discussed among independent media outlets as well as RT and Sputnik.
Subsequently, Newsguard CEO Steven Brill brushed off our investigation and went on to suggest that MintPress was a site “secretly supported” by RT and Sputnik, and some mainstream news sites like Folio asserted that MintPress was a “Kremlin-linked outlet,” a false claim they were later forced to retract.
Nearly three months later it has come to our attention that Kamin, on Newsguard’s behalf, had finally produced the rating and “nutrition label” of MintPress. Newsguard, unsurprisingly, gave our site a red rating and summed up MintPress as “a website focused on U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East that often mixes news and opinion and misrepresents reporting from other news organizations.” What follows is my and MintPress’ official response to Newsguard’s “nutrition label,” which aims to respond to each one of Kamin’s claims in addition to pointing out Kamin’s own political biases that clearly informed her review of our website and its content.
Response to Content
In describing the content of MintPress reporting, Kamin characterizes the MintPresswebsite as:
[Publishing] originally-produced international news that frequently focuses on the Middle East and includes content favorable towards Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Stories cover Iran and the Syrian conflict, as well as Israel, political turmoil in Venezuela, and the ‘Yellow Vest’ protests in France.”
Without providing evidence, Kamin paints MintPress as being “pro-Assad” and pro-Iran, a claim she echoes later on when repeating discredited BuzzFeed smears of my family and Muslim faith. Kamin gives no examples of MintPress treating Assad favorably anywhere in her write-up and seems to conflate reporting critical of U.S.-backed terror groups in Syria, such as Al-Nusra Front and other extremist groups, with support for Assad.
Kamin also claims that MintPress covers Iran extensively and also states in this summary of MintPress that MintPress regularly republishes “the Iran-owned PressTV.” However, MintPress — which republishes articles from several outlets every day — hasrepublished articles from PressTV just three times since January 2016, averaging around once a year. Furthermore, sites rated green by Newsguard, such as NBC News, also republish PressTV articles.
In addition, Kamin’s claim that MintPress frequently focuses on Iran in lieu of other topics is also misleading, since only five reports published by MintPress in the past month — some of which were republished from other sites — were about Iran, with most of them focusing on the clearly newsworthy developments in U.S. Iran policy — such as labeling the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist group and John Bolton’s recent “warning” to Iran this past Sunday. Kamin fails to note the rather obvious fact that MintPress’ reporting on Yemen and Saudi Arabia is considerably more extensive than MintPress’ reporting on Iran.
As will become clear, Kamin’s own personal bias of supporting the U.S. agenda of regime change in Syria, while also openly being pro-Syrian opposition and pro-Israel, impacted her review of MintPress. As a result, she overly focuses on MintPressreporting on Syria, Israel and Iran as the basis for giving the MintPress site a red rating while ignoring MintPress’ extensive and ground-breaking reporting on other topics. She adopts this slant in order to paint MintPress and Mnar Muhawesh as unprofessionally sympathetic to Iran and Syria, based on the fact that Muhawesh’s father-in-law — who is not involved in the site’s content at all — lived in Iran for a few years in the 1980s. This smear, first circulated by BuzzFeed (rated green by Newsguard), is discussed in detail later on in this response.
While Kamin does note that MintPress also covers U.S. politics, including presidential politics and some aspects of domestic policy, she does not mention one of the strongest beams of MintPress’ focus as a news organization — the war in Yemen — nor MintPress’ efforts to amplify the voices of the victims of war or hold special interest groups and lobbies to account.
Response to Credibility: “Misrepresenting reporting from other outlets”
Kamin, in her rating, goes on to claim that MintPress “has misrepresented reporting and quotes first published on other sites,” citing a single article from this past February as evidence. Kamin’s claims that MintPress misrepresented statements from a recent report published in The Intercept that was written by James Harkin.
That article, published on February 18, states the following:
Harkin, in visiting Douma and the surrounding area, confirmed past reporting by other independent journalists that no sarin gas had been used — which was also confirmed by the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) interim report — and claimed that the scenes filmed at the Medical Point in Douma, which were widely circulated by the mainstream media as evidence that a chemical weapons attack had occurred, had likely been staged. Harkin lamented the staging of the hospital scenes as a casualty of ‘Syria’s propaganda war.’”
Kamin then claims that “The Intercept reported in a follow-up story that the original report did not say the hospital footage was staged after it was portrayed as such byRussia 24, a news channel owned by the Russian government.” She then adds that “The Mint Press [sic] story does not mention that the original Intercept article concluded that a chemical attack did occur in Douma, contradicting Russia’s claims that no such attack took place.”
First, as shown in the quote from the MintPress article in question, the claim of the article was that — according to Harkin — the scenes filmed at Douma’s Medical Point had likely been staged, not that a chemical attack did or did not occur, as that was not the focus of the article. The MintPress article never claimed that Harkin had asserted that no attack had occurred.
“In addition, Russia 24’s report was never used or cited in the writing of the MintPressreport, despite Kamin’s insinuation that MintPress had echoed “Russia’s claims that no such attack took place.” Furthermore, the Intercept follow-up report cited by Kamin, which was published nine days after the MintPress report, does not dispute the claims contained in the MintPress article.
That follow-up article, which was written not by Harkin, but by Robert Mackey, states:
Russia 24 translated and quoted from an account provided to Harkin by Anas Sobheha, a medical worker in Douma who said he was in the hospital that night. Sobheha attributed the panic seen on the video to a false alarm triggered by a member of the Syria Civil Defence corps, known as the White Helmets, who said the children might have been exposed to chemicals. Harkin’s reporting suggests that the children were probably not exposed to the chlorine that was dropped in another part of Douma that night, but leaves open the possibility that the rush to treat them for possible exposure could have been the result of confusion.”
Yet, Harkin’s article, the basis for the MintPress article and the Intercept follow-up, states the following:
What unfolded at the hospital appears to have been largely a result of panic and propaganda, spurred by Syrian army chlorine and by activist camera people who knew how sensitive the use of chemical weapons is to the United States and the internationalcommunity.”
This quote shows that the Intercept’s follow-up report did not in fact claim that “James Harkin’s report did not say the hospital footage was staged” and the quote from Harkin’s own report shows that Kamin’s claims about MintPress “misrepresenting” news reports from other outlets is false.
It is also worth adding that MintPress News did not rely upon the original Harkin article to draw the conclusion that the alleged Douma “chemical attack” hospital scenes were staged. The emphasis on Harkin’s piece in the MintPress article was due to its timing in relation to the statements made by BBC producer Riam Dalati on Twitter, which followed shortly after Harkin’s article was published.
Investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley, who co-wrote the MintPress News article, was present in Damascus at the time of the alleged incident and personally intervieweddoctors, civilians and medical staff in Douma who confirmed to her that the scenes had been staged by the White Helmets and Jaish Al Islam partisan activists. These interviews are all available at Beeley’s YouTube channel.
Alongside Beeley, other acclaimed journalists drew similar conclusions that the hospital scenes and the chemical attack narrative were questionable. These includeRobert Fisk of the Independent, Pearson Sharp of One America News Network (OANN) and Uli Gack with German ZDF public broadcaster. The Independent has been given a green rating by Newsguard, while both OANN and ZDF are in the process of being rated.
Response to Credibility: “Deceptive headlines”
Kamin uses a second article to claim that MintPress misrepresents other sites’ reporting in original articles published by MintPress, an article that is titled “Trump Admits His Mideast Policy Guided by Israeli, Not American Interests.” MintPresspreviously issued the following response to Kamin about this article, which Kamin only passingly mentions in her “nutrition label.”
The full MintPress response reads:
“This story, published in December 2018, focuses on an interview between Trump and the Washington Post. The title and the conclusion drawn in this story [are] based off the following quote:
‘It’s very important to have Saudi Arabia as an ally, if we’re going to stay in that part of the world. Now, are we going to stay in that part of the world? One reason to is Israel. Oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we’re producing more oil now than we’ve ever produced. So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don’t have to stay there.’
The article analyzed this quote from Trump in the following way:
‘In this statement, Trump makes the case that the U.S. national interest in Middle Eastern affairs is weakening, as oil – traditionally cited for the U.S.’ long history of intervention throughout the region – is no longer a major factor in guiding his administration’s policy in this geostrategic area of the world. As Trump notes, the U.S. is currently producing a record amount of oil domestically and is likely to continue itsrapid increase until production is estimated to peak in 2025.
Instead, Trump states that the driving reason for the U.S.’ continuing intervention in the region is the state of Israel. Though Trump’s actions since he came into office have been markedly pro-Israel, this statement is the first public admission that his administration’s Middle East policy – such as the continuing military occupation of Syria, its aggressive stance towards Iran, and preservation of ties with Saudi Arabia at all costs, among others – is guided by the interests not of the United States but a foreign nation. Given that Trump was elected in large part due to his promise to put “America First,” his claim that the U.S.’ entire Middle East policy is guided by the national interests of another country is telling.’
MintPress’ response to Newsguard continued as follows:
To further elaborate on this interpretation, Trump – in the quote noted above – says that U.S. national interest in the Middle East from his perspective is no longer guided by oil politics, which – as I’m sure you are aware – is widely recognized as a major motivating factor in the invasion of Iraq and other U.S. military interventions or coups in the Middle East over the past 100 years. Trump here stated that – because of the reduced need for the region’s oil – there is little push for the U.S. to stay there for reasons related to its national interest (i.e., oil), when he says “all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don’t have to stay there.”
So, why is the U.S. still there? According to Trump, this is because of Israel, a foreign nation. He tellingly cites no other reason. Is it in the U.S. national interest for U.S. troops to be stationed half a world away in countries like Syria and Iraq on Israel’s behalf? No, the case can only be made that it is in the interests of U.S. empire or the U.S.’ regional interest in the Middle East, because it does not aid the national interests of the U.S. Thus, Trump is saying that he will keep troops in the Middle East in order to aid a foreign country that is in no imminent danger and even though the U.S. has no national interest in staying there.
Given that the U.S. gives over $3 billion in aid to Israel exclusively for its defense, why is it necessary that Trump would keep troops in the Middle East – at great cost to the American taxpayer – when Israel is under no direct threat of invasion or imminent warfare? Indeed, Trump repeatedly rails against other countries to which the U.S. provides military aid for being against the national interest, so why the double standard when it comes to Israel?
As this article in question explains later on, Trump’s largest political donor is Sheldon Adelson, who is closely linked to the Israeli government and has been proven to have personally intervened in major Trump administration decisions regarding the Middle East, such as the Jerusalem capital move and the destruction of the Iran nuclear deal. Adelson has stated that Israel is his top priority, creating a clear conflict of interest in Trump’s Middle East policy, as he will be pressured, if he wants to keep his top donor happy, to make decisions that favor Israel over U.S. national interest. Past precedent has shown that Trump has given into that pressure time and again. In a Washington Post interview, Trump openly states that Israel is the reason the U.S. is staying in the Middle East when it comes to “U.S. military involvement and covert intervention” in the region.
Notably, this article does not claim that “Israel’s interests superseded that of the U.S.” in all things; it makes that claim only with regard to Trump’s Middle East policy, particularly “U.S. military involvement and covert intervention.” Obviously, Trump would not say directly that “I put Israeli interests over U.S. interests;” no politician would. But his statement does admit that Israel is guiding his Middle East policy, from which point the analysis was made that he is putting Israeli interests over American interests in this specific regard.”
Response to Credibility: “Republishes false claims made by other websites”
Kamin also claims that MintPress republishes “false claims made by other websites,” and cites a single article that was republished from the American Herald Tribune, which was titled “Media Blackout as Millions of Muslims March against ISIS in Iraq.” The article was determined as false by Snopes. However, Kamin tellingly fails to note that the march in question was both a religious pilgrimage and a protest against ISIS. This story was reported on by sites rated green by Newsguard yet Newsguard gave only MintPress a red rating for reporting the same facts.
For instance, The Independent, which was rated green by Newsguard, subsequently published an article titled, Millions of Muslims take part in mass pilgrimage of Arbaeen — in spite of ISIS that stated that the march was both a pilgrimage and protest of ISIS. The article makes the same claims as the article republished by MintPress that is in question: that millions of Muslims marched in Arbaeen against ISIS.
Mnar Muhawesh issued a full response to Kamin on this article, key points of which Kamin chose to omit in order to give the impression that MintPress regularly republishes “fake news.” The full response reads as follows:
I did create a video response to the critique of this article and Snopes removed its reference to MintPress. In addition, Buzzfeed refused to comment when I reached out to them on their critique.
However, this article was not written by MintPress News. As with many other smaller news outlets — and indeed, larger ones — MintPress sometimes republishes articles from other websites. We have no editorial control over their content and are not accountable for their claims. We include a disclaimer in these articles stating as much:
Stories published in our Daily Digest section are chosen based on the interest of our readers. They are republished from a number of sources, and are not produced by MintPress News. The views expressed in these articles are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect MintPress News editorial policy.
We also include a link to the original source of the article. If you would like further information about the article you referenced, we suggest contacting the author and publication that produced it, not one of the many websites that republished it.”
Response to Credibility: “Reporting unfounded claims”
Kamin asserts that a 2013 MintPress report on chemical weapons attacks in Syria proved that MintPress often reports “unfounded claims” and that MintPress avoids accountability for such claims. Among other things, Kamin fails to note that MintPress’ 2013 report was subsequently vindicated by esteemed journalists like Seymour Hersh and is hardly the “unfounded claims” that Kamin has maintained it was. In addition, Kamin failed to establish that the report was based on interviewee claims in which we made clear in the report that the statements were allegations made by rebels, doctors and residents in Ghouta. Kamin knew this before publishing her write-up of MintPress, as I had previously responded to Kamin in full about this report, as follows:
During this time, our journalists were receiving threats for conducting interviews with average Syrians, doctors and even rebels on the ground in Ghoutha where the 2013 chemical weapons attack took place that nearly led the U.S. [into] a direct military confrontation with the Syrian government.
These interviews showcased an alternative to the corporate mainstream media’s narrative that it was indeed Assad gassing his own people. Our interviews, in which we make clear that their assertions were “claims,” allege that perhaps the chemical weapons attack could have taken place at the hands of Al-Qaeda terrorists. Because this chemical attack was being used as a push for war and was allegedly the “red line” that Assad had crossed to initiate a U.S. intervention, MintPress’ reporting on these interviews attracted mass media attention. Our coverage about Al-Qaeda rebels using chemical weapons was later validated by former UN inspectors, MIT rocket scientists, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh, and WikiLeaks diplomatic cables.”
Reporting anything about Syria that challenges the corporate media’s unvarying narrative on the conflict has had devastating effects on MintPress’ journalists. This includes threats made by the Associated Press against our shared journalist on this very report, Dale Gavlak. The AP bullied Gavlak into retracting her involvement in the story (despite Gavlak later admitting that she wrote the article), then tried to disassociate itself from her (despite her being a stringer for the AP for over 15 years), and eventually fired her for her coverage of Syria. In addition, the co-author of the article, Yahya Ababneh, was bullied by Jordanian intelligence in Amman, then kidnapped in the middle of the night by intelligence and interrogated.
Response to Credibility: “Does not handle the difference between news and opinion responsibly”
Another claim made by Kamin’s review is that MintPress does not separate opinion from factual reporting. While admitting that MintPress has a clearly labeled opinion section, she claims that two articles that criticized “corporate Democrats” for their closeness to the “military-industrial complex” constitute an example of opinions misleadingly buried in factual reporting. However, in both of those articles, the “opinion” statements that Kamin quotes are from concluding paragraphs of articles where considerable factual evidence was laid out to support the claims of “corporate[-funded] Democrats” voting in support of or voicing support for wars and other policies backed by the military-industrial complex.
By erasing the vast majority of the content in the article she cites and quoting the concluding sentences, Kamin makes it appear as though only “opinions” were offered, as opposed to concluding statements of fact-based analyses.
Also undercutting Kamin’s claim that MintPress does not “responsibly handle” the difference between news and opinion by Newsguard’s standards is the fact that Newsguard gave the publication Slate a green rating, despite the fact that the pageadmittedly mixes news and opinion. For instance, a recent article from “green-rated”Slate titled “Don’t lock up Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman,” which argues that “increasing punishments for the privileged will not fix our unequal system of justice,” is not labeled opinion.
Response to allegation of undisclosed ownership
The final red rating that Kamin gave MintPress in its “nutrition label” was for not disclosing “ownership and financing,” despite later stating that MintPress does indeed disclose our ownership and financing. Newsguard’s explanation of this involved many contradictions, unprofessional journalism and hearsay, in addition to sexist and islamaphobic rhetoric directed towards me, Mnar Muhawesh, and my family.
First, the rating notes that MintPress is funded through advertisements and a Patreon subscription and even cites our semi-annual fundraising campaigns to cover operational costs. However, the nutrition label fails to list donations made in Bitcoin or via Paypal, as well as monthly donations that we receive, which are clearly listed on our website.
While the nutrition label states that I’m the founder, CEO and editor in chief ofMintPress, Kamen attempted to tie in my father-in-law, Odeh Muhawesh, and claim he was a covert financier of MintPress, despite my making it very clear that “Mr. Muhawesh has never put a cent into MintPress News. He has a very limited role relegated 100% to business advising on dealing with human resources-related issues and vendors.” Kamin went on to cite a 2013 Buzzfeed article, claiming that “when Mnar Muhawesh, CEO and editor in chief, registered MintPress as a limited liability company in 2011, Muhawesh used the address of Odeh Muhawesh, her father-in-law’s home, as the business address.”
While Mr. Muhawesh did live at this address, both Buzzfeed and Kamin failed to note that Mnar lived with her in-laws at the time and shared this address during the first few months of building MintPress before changing the business address to the newsroom in Minneapolis. Kamin failed to disclose this context in order to paintMintPress as being owned by Odeh and not me. In addition to this, Kamin goes on to detail Mr. Muhawesh’s university studies in Iran from over 30 years ago when he was in an Islamic seminary school, and then attempts to connect him with pro-Iranian views and accuse him of being pro-Assad, despite providing no evidence to support any of these accusations.
Lastly, citing the Buzzfeed article again, Kamin notes that MintPress was initially seed-funded by two investors who chose to remain anonymous but failed to mention that Mnar dropped the investors within the first year of launching MintPress in 2012 in order to maintain independence. In 2013, MintPress transformed its business model to sustain itself through advertising, sponsorships, donations and major fundraising campaigns. Despite the taking of this route, Kamin failed to recognize MintPress’efforts for transparency in its ownership and funding, and rather focused her attention on a Buzzfeed article that provided no evidence for its claims against MintPress and was aimed at discrediting MintPress’ now-vindicated reporting on the Syrian conflict.
What is Odeh’s role at MintPress?
Mr. Muhawesh has never put a cent into MintPress News. He has a very circumscribed role, limited entirely to business advising on dealing with human resources-related issues and vendors. In terms of his personal political beliefs, they are completely irrelevant to MintPress News, as he is not editorially involved in our work. In fact, all articles produced by MintPress are pitched by the writer and selected by both writers and editors, while writers have full editorial control over their reporting.
In fact, not only has Mr. Muhawesh never put a cent into MintPress, he is in fact onMintPress’ payroll as a part-time business adviser, again, restricted to advisingMintPress on employment agreements and vendor contracts. Not surprisingly, bothBuzzfeed and Kamin had no interest in mentioning MintPress’ former business and marketing adviser, with Jewish roots: Kate Madonna, with whom I worked for several years, and who actually advised me on how to monetize MintPress (something Odeh never did). Perhaps it was the fact that Madonna was not brown or Muslim, but rather a white businesswoman who wouldn’t fit into the false narrative that MintPress has a hidden agenda. Ms. Madonna is in fact one of a number of advisers — who were Jewish, Republican, and in fact ran the gamut of race, religion and affiliation — with whom I have worked in developing my business structure.
Not only did Kamin falsify claims against MintPress’s ownership and cherry-pick what to include without appropriate context, she actively took part in a disturbing sexist campaign against myself as a female business owner and editor-in-chief. As a young mother living with my in-laws, I’m being treated categorically and stereotypically on the basis of my personal domestic situation in the early stages of launching MintPress.Buzzfeed and Kamin’s claims betray their conviction that I needed a male figure behind me (i.e., Odeh) and could not possibly be the brains to put together the business myself.
Given the above, it’s clear that MintPress’ watchdog journalism and anti-war coverage has made us a target, but never did I imagine that corporate Democrats would be at the forefront of a sexist campaign against me. While Newsguard claims to be fighting fake news and restoring journalistic integrity, how can that claim be in any way compatible with its rating of MintPress not only being based on hearsay, but treating myself and my family as suspect for being Muslim and a Palestinian American?
Such an attack on myself and my family is a testament to the biases of Newsguard, itself deeply associated with neoconservatives and former U.S. officials who have built their careers off of promoting Islamophobia, such as former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, who is on Newsguard’s board of advisers.
Newsguard: Guard dog or Attack dog?
After examining Newsguard’s many connections to powerfully biased and agenda-bearing figures in the public and private sectors, it also makes sense that the organization — whose co-founder openly expressed his annoyance about MintPress’critical reporting on Newsguard — would put Jeannie Kamin in charge of writing the review of MintPress.
Jeannie Kamin had been a delegate for Hillary Clinton at the 2008 Democratic convention for the state of Texas. Kamin’s social-media posts also reveal her apparent fondness for Barack Obama, as reflected by her extreme excitement upon learning that Obama could soon have his own show on Netflix. Both Obama and Clinton are regularly and strongly criticized by MintPress.
In addition to Kamin’s support for Clinton, she regularly collaborates on political projects, such as one focused on Syria refugees, with her sister Abby, who is an associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), according toLinkedIn. The ADL is a controversial “civil rights” organization that zealously promotesZionism and the state of Israel and regularly conflates anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and anti-colonialism.
Though being siblings does not necessarily mean sharing all the same political views, the fact that Jeannie collaborates with her sister on political projects suggests a strong overlap, as does the fact that Jeannie — in her review of MintPress — focused exclusively on our reporting regarding Israel and Syria. These are the two principal areas where her apparent personal biases could easily arise through her family connection the ADL and her work for a Syria-focused group that blames Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for allegedly committing “murderous atrocities” against his own people. In addition, based on our responses to the Kamin-authored review detailed above, it is clear that Newsguard’s review of MintPress was not done objectively and was constructed in order to justify a red rating.
This is not fulfilling a purported mission of restoring integrity and fighting fake news; this is actively promoting falsehoods, sexism and Islamophobia.
Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.