The House Oversight and Accountability Committee on Thursday started investigating State Department funding for a foreign “disinformation” monitoring group that provides “dynamic blacklists” used to suppress disfavored news outlets.
Committee Chairman James Comer, Kentucky Republican, said the panel is seeking a briefing by the State Department to “understand the scope of the department’s use of federal funds for a taxpayer-funded censorship campaign” following recent revelations that taxpayer dollars were used to fund the so-called Global Disinformation Index.
“The federal government should not be censoring free speech nor policing what news outlets Americans choose to consume,” Mr. Comer wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “And taxpayer funds should never be given to third parties with the intent that they be used to censor lawful speech or abridge the freedom of the press.”
Earlier this month the Washington Examiner reported that the British organization behind the index received $330,000 in federal funds administered by the State Department.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The group applies “risk ratings” to advertisers meant to steer revenue from news outlets deemed risky — often targeting conservative news outlets.
The GDI’s list of the top 10 “riskiest” news organizations includes the New York Post, which published contents from Hunter Biden’s discarded laptop computer weeks before the 2020 presidential election.
The Post’s report set off an avalanche of embarrassing emails, photos and text messages pulled from the laptop. It revealed details about Hunter Biden’s struggles with addiction and his hugely profitable foreign business dealings that critics say smack of influence peddling.
The emails also refuted Mr. Biden’s claims that he never spoke with his son about overseas business deals.
The laptop contained awkward photos of Hunter Biden, including one of him passed out with a crack pipe in his mouth.
Other news outlets topping the GDI’s list include Newsmax, RealClearPolitics and the Federalist.
The Washington Times was among the outlets analyzed by the group behind the index, but was not listed among the top 10 “riskiest.”
A State Department-backed National Endowment for Democracy, which previously funded the GDI, said this week it cut ties with the organization following the Examiner’s reporting.
“Recently, we became aware that one of our grantees, the Global Disinformation Index, was engaged in an initiative, funded by a different donor, that focused on specific U.S. media outlets,” NED Vice President of Communications Leslie Aun told the Examiner.
“We recognize the important work GDI has done with NED support in other countries to help preserve the integrity of the information space and counter authoritarian influence,” she continued. “However, given our commitment to avoid the perception that NED is engaged in any work domestically, directly or indirectly, we will no longer provide financial support to GDI.”
Mr. Comer said the use of taxpayer funds for the index adds to broader concerns over “efforts by the federal government to censor the lawful speech of Americans and discredit legitimate criticism as mis-, dis- or mal- information, whether through the creation of a ‘Disinformation Governance Board’ or labeling dissenting opinions as threats to critical infrastructure.”
In addition to the panel’s request for a staff-level briefing by State Department officials into the matter, Mr. Comer’s letter Thursday demanded the department hand over documents and communication regarding funding provided to groups to suppress so-called misinformation.