Reporting National Journal's rating of Obama, media ignored magazine's non-rating of McCain because of missed votes

››› ››› KATHLEEN HENEHAN & MATTHEW BIEDLINGMAIER

Media Matters for America has identified numerous media outlets or figures who reported that the National Journal has rated Sen. Barack Obama "the most liberal senator in 2007," but did not report that the same National Journal feature stated that Sen. John McCain "did not vote frequently enough in 2007 to draw a composite score. He missed more than half of the votes in both the economic and foreign-policy categories."

Media Matters for America has identified numerous media outlets or figures who reported that the National Journal has rated Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "the most liberal senator in 2007," but did not report that the same January 31 National Journal feature stated that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "did not vote frequently enough in 2007 to draw a composite score. He missed more than half of the votes in both the economic and foreign-policy categories."

From the National Journal:

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was the most liberal senator in 2007, according to National Journal's 27th annual vote ratings. The insurgent presidential candidate shifted further to the left last year in the run-up to the primaries, after ranking as the 16th- and 10th-most-liberal during his first two years in the Senate.

[...]

Members who missed more than half of the votes in any of the three issue categories did not receive a composite score in NJ's ratings. (This rule was imposed after [Sen. John] Kerry [D-MA] was ranked the most liberal senator in our 2003 ratings despite having missed more than half of the votes in two categories.) Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the only other senator whose presidential candidacy survived the initial round of primaries and caucuses this year, did not vote frequently enough in 2007 to draw a composite score. He missed more than half of the votes in both the economic and foreign-policy categories. On social issues, which include immigration, McCain received a conservative score of 59. (McCain's composite scores from his prior years in the Senate, published in our March 2007 vote ratings issue, are available as a PDF.)

The following media reported on Obama's rating in the National Journal but failed to point out that McCain missed too many votes to garner a composite score:

  • During a roundtable discussion on the February 3 edition of ABC's This Week, after Clinton administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich asserted that "Democrats are most concerned about McCain" and "the Republicans are most concerned about Obama," host George Stephanopoulos responded, "[Y]ou saw the National Journal this week, he was the most liberal senator. Now, I don't put any credence in the way they get to that, but it's still a line Republicans are going to use."
  • In a February 3 Chicago Sun-Times column headlined, "Conservatives warm up to McCain," Steve Huntley asserted: "[C]onservatives need to realize that McCain is the only thing standing between them and a Clinton restoration or the election of Obama, ranked by the National Journal as the most liberal member of the Senate."
  • During the February 2 edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report, host Paul Gigot asked the program's panel, "What about Obama's liberal voting record? National Journal this week, Dan Gerstein, said that he is -- in 2007, he had the most liberal voting record of every -- any senator, all 100 of them. Would that come out in a general [election]?"
  • In a February 1 editorial, the Investor's Business Daily discussed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's (D-MA) endorsement of Obama:

That the torch would be passed to Obama is fitting, for he's done something few thought possible -- compile a record more liberal than Ted's. National Journal's analysis of how senators aligned across the political spectrum in 2007 shows Illinois' junior senator going from the 16th most liberal senator in his first year in the Senate to 10th in 2006 to the front of the line.

  • A February 1 Washington Times feature reported that the National Journal found Obama to be the "top liberal" and also reported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) National Journal rating.
  • A February 1 post on The NPR News Blog reported on Clinton's and Obama's ratings before adding: "The ranking can sometimes be used as a weapon by opponents. In 2004 Republicans used Sen. John Kerry's liberal rankings against him. And some Republicans are attacking Obama now for being too liberal."
  • On February 1, the ABCNews.com newsletter The Note reported: "One of those titles Obama could live without: 'Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was the most liberal senator in 2007, according to National Journal's 27th annual vote ratings. The insurgent presidential candidate shifted further to the left last year in the run-up to the primaries, after ranking as the 16th- and 10th-most-liberal during his first two years in the Senate.' "
  • On the February 1 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First, co-host Alisyn Camerota asked, "So, guess who is the most liberal United States senator?" After co-host Greg Kelly answered, "It's Barack Obama, ladies and gentlemen," Camerota replied: "That's pretty significant."
  • On the January 31 edition of Fox Business Network's America's Nightly Scoreboard, California Republican Party chairman Ron Nehring asserted: "[J]ust today, he [Obama] was named by the National Journal to be the most liberal member of the United States Senate -- that means supporting tax increases, opposing tax cuts, supporting a bigger -- heavier, regulatory hand on the economy. That's not good for growth, that's not good for job creation."
  • In a January 31 post on his blog The Page, Time magazine senior political analyst Mark Halperin reported that Obama was ranked the "Most Liberal Senator."
  • On the January 31 edition of Fox News Live, host E.D. Hill said: "Obama has a new title: He has been ranked the most liberal senator of 2007 by the National Journal."
  • On the January 31 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly said of Obama: "[H]e's the most liberal senator ... in the country, according to National Journal."

From the February 3 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:

REICH: Democrats are most concerned about McCain -- they have been all the time -- and the Republicans are most concerned about Obama. It's clear.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You see, that's true, but also, I think there's another split beneath that. I think, George, you're exactly right. And a group of us were at the White House this weekend; it's clear that at the top levels of the White House, they also believe that Obama would be a tougher candidate in the general election. But I wonder about this fact -- at least history would show -- when you've got the new, unknown candidate who isn't defined yet and can be defined, and you saw the National Journal this week, he was the most liberal senator. Now, I don't put any credence in the way they get to that, but it's still a line Republicans are going to use.

TORI CLARKE (former Pentagon spokeswoman): Well, I just think you have to step back and say, Iraq is not on the front pages. It will still be an issue. National security will still be an issue this fall. And people who want change will say it with a certain level of risk. And I think they'll be looking at Obama and say, "Yeah, he represents change. Maybe he's, you know, so better than all these guys in Washington, but what level of risk are we willing to accept?"

From the February 2 edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report:

GIGOT: What about Obama's liberal voting record? National Journal this week, Dan Gerstein, said that he is -- in 2007, he had the most liberal voting record of every -- any senator, all 100 of them. Would that come out in a general?

GERSTEIN: You know, the Republicans will try and use it, but, you know, in talking to my Republican friends, one thing that they're scared about Obama is they don't have a playbook for him. He is -- he is, you know, an X factor beyond all X factors. And they know how to run against Hillary Clinton; they don't know how to run against him, and I think that scares a lot of Republicans.

I don't think he's nearly as liberal as people make him out to. Those voting records -- compilations -- often are just, you know, based on a narrow universe of votes. They're skewed. A lot of it's based on sort of, you know, partisan procedural stuff where you've got to vote the party way. You know, I've been in small settings with Obama and heard him speak, and he is -- he is -- I wouldn't say he's a centrist, but he is -- he's an iconoclast. He's an independent thinker on a lot of issues.

From the February 1 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First:

CAMEROTA: Also, we wanted to just quickly tell you about this National Journal article. National Journal is, you know, a non-partisan --

KELLY: Sure.

CAMEROTA: -- magazine, very well respected in Washington, D.C., and they have come out, and for the past 27 years, they have looked at who the most liberal people on Capitol Hill are --

KELLY: OK.

CAMEROTA: -- senators and congressmen. So, guess who is the most liberal United States senator?

STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Harry Reid.

CAMEROTA: Wrong.

DOOCY: Uh, let's see -- who else could it possibly be?

CAMEROTA: You'd think, right?

DOOCY: Could it -- Hillary Clinton?

CAMEROTA: Wrong. She's actually only even, like, 16th.

DOOCY: Greg?

KELLY: I looked at the notes. It's Barack Obama, ladies and gentleman.

DOOCY: What?

KELLY: Yes.

DOOCY: The most liberal Democrat -- actually, the most liberal senator --

CAMEROTA: Liberal senator, out of 100.

DOOCY: In the U.S. senate.

CAMEROTA: In the entire U.S. Senate. That's pretty significant.

From the January 31 edition of Fox Business Network's America's Nightly Scoreboard:

DAVID ASMAN (host): So are -- even the Democrats in California a lot more concerned about these economic policy, looking for a slightly more conservative message from their candidates?

NEHRING: Well, I think that the mistake that anybody can make is to assume that this endorsement by Mr. [former Federal Reserve chairman Paul] Volker means that Barack Obama's economic policies are going to be even remotely rational. He's had an opportunity for three years in the Senate to demonstrate where he comes down on economic issues, and just today, he was named by the National Journal to be the most liberal member of the United States Senate -- that means supporting tax increases, opposing tax cuts, supporting a bigger -- a heavier, regulatory hand on the economy. That's not good for growth, that's not good for job creation. So, endorsements are interesting, they're kind of interesting to talk to on news programs, but what really matters is, where does Barack Obama come down on economic policy? And it is to the radical far left, even with his own party. And that's not good for the economy at all.

From the 2 p.m. ET edition of the January 31 edition of Fox News Live:

HILL: Now to the red-hot political race, and Barack Obama rolling in the campaign dough. His team raising $32 million just this month alone, giving Obama plenty of cash for a major media blitz ahead of Super Tuesday, where 22 states hold primaries and caucuses. At the same time, Obama has a new title: He has been ranked the most liberal senator of 2007 by the National Journal. They analyze the votes. His rival, Hillary Clinton, coming in 16th. Now, this comes as the two Democratic presidential candidates are gearing up for tonight's debate. It will be their first one-on-one face-off since John Edwards left the race.

From the January 31 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: Hi, I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thank you for watching us tonight. John McCain and conservative angst -- that is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo." Right-wing commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are angry that Senator John McCain has become the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. They believe he is simply unacceptable.

RUSH LIMBAUGH [video clip]: He has curtailed free political speech. It was called McCain-Feingold. He opposed tax cuts, one of only a few Republicans to do so. He opposed efforts to eliminate the filibuster of conservative judges.

ANN COULTER [video clip]: There were a lot of POWs. And maybe we can make one president who isn't responsible for campaign finance reform and who didn't vote against Bush's tax cuts.

O'REILLY: Now the McCain campaign understands that angst, but feels it can make up for lost conservative votes with Independents and Hispanic-Americans. Even though Senator McCain has now modified his rather soft approach on illegal immigration, he has not emphasized that modification. And he did score well with Hispanic voters in Florida.

The irony here is that the American Conservative Union gives McCain a lifetime grade of 83 percent. By contrast, Hillary Clinton gets 9 percent. And Barack Obama is the nation's most liberal senator, according to the National Journal.

So if he wins, Senator McCain would be facing a person far more liberal than he is. With Rudy Giuliani now supporting McCain and Governor Huckabee draining support from Governor Romney, there is a chance the senator could wrap up the nomination by next Wednesday morning. That speculation, of course, as Romney is running hard, and conservatives are making a lot of anti McCain noise.

[...]

O'REILLY: OK. All right. Let's get onto Barack Obama. Now, there's been a lot of opinion that Barack Obama, Bernie, has been treated very, very well by the U.S. media.

BERNARD GOLDBERG (Fox News contributor): You think?

O'REILLY: And you say what?

GOLDBERG: I say the problem isn't Barack Obama. He appears to be immensely likable, obviously intelligent, eloquent, more so than most politicians, and he can be as liberal as he wants to be, as far as I'm concerned. The problem is with reporters who have fallen in love with this guy. And because they like him so much, they're portraying him as new and different. And the word they're now using a lot is that he's "post-partisan." But what they don't tell their readers and viewers is that Barack Obama votes along Democratic Party lines almost all the time -- almost --

O'REILLY: Well, he's the most liberal senator, as we pointed out, in the country, according to National Journal. But I got two words for you, Bernie -- and you'll remember this, too: John Kennedy.

GOLDBERG: Yeah.

O'REILLY: The same thing.

GOLDBERG: Well, they're calling him -- they're calling him the son of Camelot. I mean, it's as if these reporters, these tough reporters, it's as if they went on eHarmony.com and found their soulmate, you know, in Barack Obama. This isn't journalism. This is hero worship masquerading as journalism.

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