Bound to repeat it: Conservative media cited National Journal "most liberal" rating in 2004, now touting 2007 rating

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY & BRIAN FREDERICK

In an email to readers encouraging recipients to read the National Journal article on the magazine's 2007 vote ratings, the National Journal Group wrote: "In 2004, President Bush invoked Senator John Kerry's liberal Vote Ratings score repeatedly on the campaign trail and at their head-to-head debates. We anticipate similar attention for our Vote Ratings across the 2008 election cycle." Numerous media did follow suit and tout the Journal's 2003 rating of Kerry. And once again, the media are giving the 2007 ratings the "similar attention" the National Journal Group anticipated -- despite the Journal's acknowledgment that the methodology it used to rate Kerry was flawed.

As Media Matters for America noted, when the National Journal released its 2007 vote ratings -- which ranked Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) the "most liberal senator in 2007" -- the National Journal Group sent readers an email on February 5 proclaiming: " We expect this story will have immediate traction in the media and blogosphere and at watercoolers around the country. In 2004, President Bush invoked Senator John Kerry's [D-MA] liberal Vote Ratings score repeatedly on the campaign trail and at their head-to-head debates. We anticipate similar attention for our Vote Ratings across the 2008 election cycle." Numerous media did follow the National Journal Group and the Republican Party's lead and tout the Journal's 2003 rating of Kerry. And once again, numerous members of the media are giving the 2007 rating for Obama the "similar attention" the National Journal Group anticipated -- despite the Journal's acknowledgment that the methodology it used to rate Kerry was flawed.

Indeed, Media Matters has identified several conservative media figures who highlighted Kerry's rating and are now pronouncing Obama -- another Senate Democrat in the presidential race -- "most liberal":

  • On the February 9 edition of MSNBC's Tim Russert, New York Times columnist David Brooks stated that "Obama is the most liberal senator." On March 2, 2004, during special election coverage on National Public Radio, Brooks stated: "The National Journal, this very expensive and very good magazine here in Washington, rated [Kerry] the most liberal member of the Senate this year."
  • On the February 12 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, conservative talk show host and columnist Larry Elder said of Obama: "[B]ut, at the end of the day, he is the most liberal senator on the Hill, and he's not going to get my vote." On the March 4, 2004, edition of News from CNN, Elder said: "And as this campaign goes along, more and more Americans will figure out that John Kerry has been all over the place, and is, in fact, the most liberal senator on the Hill, even more liberal than [Sen.] Ted Kennedy [D-MA]."
  • During the February 2 edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report, host and Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot asked the program's panel: "What about Obama's liberal voting record? National Journal this week ... 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]?"

    A March 4, 2004, Wall Street Journal editorial read: "The National Journal, a center-left magazine, reports that Mr. Kerry had the most liberal such record in the entire Senate last year, to the left even of Ted Kennedy." Additionally, a July 7, 2004, Wall Street Journal editorial stated: "The National Journal reports that in 2003 [then-Sen.] Mr. [John] Edwards [D-NC] had the fourth most liberal voting record in the Senate (after only Maryland's Paul Sarbanes [D], Jack Reed of Rhode Island [D] and Mr. Kerry himself)."

  • In a February 1 editorial, Investor's Business Daily wrote of Obama: "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 March 1, 2004, IBD editorial stated of Kerry: "His 2003 voting record puts him further left than anyone in the Senate. ... According to the National Journal, which is hardly part of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, Kerry had a composite liberal score of 97 in 2003. That means his key votes were to the left of 97% of the Senate. The magazine called it 'a perfect liberal score.' "

    A March 4, 2004, IBD editorial similarly noted of Kerry: "He is, by assessment of the nonpartisan National Journal, the most liberal senator in Washington." An April 27, 2004, IBD editorial asked: "Is he the Kerry who says he's a 'centrist Democrat,' but whom the nonpartisan National Journal rates as the Senate's most liberal?" And an October 15, 2004, IBD editorial stated: "The nonpartisan National Journal's 2003 rankings pegged Kerry as the most liberal senator of all, with a composite liberal score of 96.5 out of 100. His lifetime score of 85.7 puts him among the 11 most liberal senators."

  • In his February 1 syndicated column, National Review Online editor at large Jonah Goldberg wrote: "National Journal rated him [Obama] the most liberal senator of 2007." In a March 22, 2004, National Review article, Goldberg wrote: "National Journal ranks senators on a liberal-to-conservative scale, and guess who the very most liberal senator of 2003 was? That's right, one John Kerry of Massachusetts, who had an almost-perfect liberal score of 97, beating out his partner Ted Kennedy, [Sen.] Barbara Boxer [D-CA], [Sen.] Russell Feingold [D-WI], [Sen.] Barbara Mikulski [D-MD], [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-NY], and other worthies." In a July 8, 2004, National Review column, Goldberg wrote: "Kerry is the most liberal senator in the U.S. Senate, according to the respected National Journal."

Additionally, while Elder, Brooks, Goldberg, Gigot, and the Investor's Business Daily cited the National Journal's vote rating for Obama, none of them mentioned that the same January 31 National Journal feature on Obama's rating also 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." Moreover, not one described the criteria the National Journal used in assessing Obama as the "most liberal senator." As Media Matters has pointed out, among the "liberal" votes Obama took that purportedly earned him this label were his votes to implement the bipartisan 9-11 Commission's homeland security recommendations, provide more children with health insurance, permit federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and maintain a federal minimum wage.

From the February 9 edition of MSNBC's Tim Russert:

BROOKS: Nonetheless, if you -- people vote on character, basically. And you look at McCain versus Hillary, McCain will win independents, and he does -- she has no evidence that she can win over white men. So he will have a base there.

If you look at him versus Obama, he will win the security crowd. People -- Obama is the most liberal senator. He'll play that issue. A lot of people still are not liberal, even though they don't like the Republicans. And if something happens in a national security sense in the fall, he would do extremely well.

So, I do think he matches up reasonably well. Much, much, much better than his party matches up against the Democratic Party.

From the February 12 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: But how significant is it for a black man like yourself that another black man, Barack Obama, is going to be the -- potentially -- the Democratic presidential nominee?

ELDER: Well, it confirms my point that white racism is no longer a problem in America. But, Wolf, I'm free. I'm a free man. I can be free to say I don't want taxes raised. I can be free to say "Hillarycare" would be bad for America. I'm free to say the war in Iraq, however you believe it started, we should conclude it to a respectable end or otherwise it will hurt America.

I am free, as an American, to think that way. And I applaud Barack Obama, he's not playing the race card the way Jesse Jackson has and the way Al Sharpton has. I like the way he's run his campaign, but, at the end of the day, he is the most liberal senator on the Hill, and he's not going to get my vote.

BLITZER: Do you think Republicans will cross over and vote for him because --

ELDER: No --

BLITZER: -- as there were once Reagan Democrats, they're already talking -- and we're going to have a report on this later -- Obama Republicans.

ELDER: Well, Wolf, I'll see you in November. But at the end of the day, Americans don't want to lose wars. Americans don't want their taxes raised. Americans don't want the government to take over the rest of health care that they don't already have. Americans will not stand for that. At the end of the day, Barack Obama is a liberal: He wants a bigger government, he wants taxes raised, and he wants to retreat in Iraq. and I think Americans won't take that.

BLITZER: His book is entitled Stupid Black Men: How to Play the Race Card and Lose. Larry Elder, thanks for coming in.

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