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PR Group Behind Self-Styled ‘Vaccine Against Misinformation’ Hit with $350 Million Settlement over Opioid Marketing

French public and advertising giant Publicis Groupe — the lead funder of  “disinformation” watchdog NewsGuard — has agreed to pay $350 million as part of a settlement with state attorneys general over the company’s role in America’s opioid crisis.

“Today’s filings describe how Publicis’ work contributed to the crisis by helping Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers market and sell opioids,” said a press release from South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. “Court documents detail how Publicis acted as Purdue’s agency of record for all its branded opioid drugs, including OxyContin, even developing sales tactics that relied on farming data from recordings of personal health-related in-office conversations between patients and providers.”

“The company was also instrumental in Purdue’s decision to market OxyContin to providers on patient’s electronic health records,” said the press release.

At the same time it is paying this $350 million settlement over its marketing tactics — Publicis Groupe is also the “largest corporate investor” in NewsGuard, a company whose co-founder said it is a “vaccine against misinformation,” reported Lee Fang in RealClearInvestigations.

NewsGuard said it “provides transparent tools to counter misinformation” and in 2021, it announced a partnership with Publicis to “combat misinformation and disinformation on behalf of advertising clients.”

Who are Publicis’ advertising clients?

Here is where Fang reports that “the question of conflicts arises” because…

Publicis represents a range of corporate and government clients, including Pfizer – whose COVID vaccine has been questioned by some news outlets that have received low scores. Other investors include Bruce Mehlman, a D.C. lobbyist with a lengthy list of clients, including United Airlines and ByteDance, the parent company of much-criticized Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok.

Speaking of the “COVID vaccine,” how would NewsGuard “determine the truth” and combat “misinformation”? 

Fang wrote: 

For issues such as COVID-19, NewsGuard would steer readers to official government sources only, like the federal Centers for Disease Control. Other content-moderation allies, Crovitz’s pitch noted, include ‘intelligence and national security officials,’ ‘reputation management providers,’ and ‘government agencies,’ which contract with the firm to identify misinformation trends. Instead of only fact-checking individual forms of incorrect information, NewsGuard, in its proposal, touted the ability to rate the “overall reliability of websites” and “’prebunk’ COVID-19 misinformation from hundreds of popular websites.

And Publicis, whose clients include the leading MRNA injection manufacturer, isn’t just an investor in NewsGuard. 

PitchBook reported that Publicis actually “led the funding for NewsGuard,” and Publicis’ own website even touted the initial $6 million investment round in NewsGuard.  

NewsGuard also was recently mentioned in a lawsuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), The Daily Wire, The Federalist, and the New Civil Liberties alliance against the U.S. State Department, reported Legal Newsline.

The lawsuit alleges that the State Department, through its Global Engagement Center (GEC), is unconstitutionally intervening in the American news media market, aiming to financially cripple disfavored press outlets through the funding of censorship technology and private censorship enterprises.

NewsGuard was named as a “key player in the alleged censorship efforts,” reported Legal Newsline, thought it is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The company, however, has acknowledged its work with the GEC.

In addition to filing that lawsuit, Paxton has been vocal about the the opioid marketing settlement with Publicis.

Paxton, who said Texas will receive $21 million in the settlement, said in a press release that:

Publicis worked with Purdue Pharma and other large pharmaceutical corporations to push highly addictive opioids, such as OxyContin, through sales tactics that included exploiting medical data obtained from recordings of in-office discussions between doctors and patients. These actions contributed to an epidemic of opioid addiction and deaths in Texas, which has resulted in more than 22,600 deaths in the state since 2006.

This is the company investing in the country’s “vaccine against misinformation”?

Publicis said in a statement that the $350 million opioid settlement is “in no way an admission of wrongdoing or liability” but the company will be “prohibited from ‘accepting any future contracts or engagements’ involving opioid marketing or sale, and is required to release ‘hundreds of thousands’ of internal documents related to its work with manufacturers and consultants,” reported Forbes.

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