Jonathan Martin uncritically quoted Regnery Publishing president Marjory Ross saying of Sen. Barack Obama, "He's the No. 1 most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, and nobody has really examined his record." Ross was apparently referring to the National Journal's 2007 Vote Ratings. Martin did not cite any criticism of the study's subjectivity -- including criticism by Obama during a February interview with Politico -- or note that a more comprehensive study reached a different result.
In a June 23 article, Politico senior political writer Jonathan Martin uncritically quoted Regnery Publishing president Marjory Ross saying of Sen. Barack Obama, "He's the No. 1 most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, and nobody has really examined his record." Ross was apparently referring to the results of National Journal's 2007 Vote Ratings, which were based on votes selected by National Journal staff. As he has also done previously, Martin reported the "most liberal" charge against Obama without citing any criticism of the National Journal study's subjectivity, mentioning that a more comprehensive vote study did not rate Obama "most liberal," or even noting criticism of the study lodged by Obama himself during an interview with Politico.
During a February 11 Politico/WJLA-TV interview, Obama responded to a question by Politico editor-in-chief John F. Harris about the Journal's 2007 vote ratings, saying, "[A]n example of why I was rated the most liberal was because I wanted an office of public integrity that stood outside of the Senate, and outside of Congress, to make sure that you've got an impartial eye on ethics problems inside of Congress. Now, I didn't know that it was a liberal or Democratic issue. I thought that was a good government issue that a lot of Republicans would like to see."
Indeed, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, the National Journal based its rankings not on all votes cast by senators in 2007, but on "99 key Senate votes, selected by NJ reporters and editors, to place every senator on a liberal-to-conservative scale." In addition to the vote Obama cited in the Politico interview, among the votes he cast that contributed to National Journal's "most liberal senator" label were those to implement the 9-11 Commission's homeland security recommendations, provide more children with health insurance, expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and maintain a federal minimum wage.
By contrast, a study by political science professors Keith Poole and Jeff Lewis that used every non-unanimous vote cast in the Senate in 2007 to determine relative ideology placed Obama in a tie for the ranking of 10th most liberal senator. In a June 16 PolitiFact.com article analyzing the National Journal ratings, St. Petersburg Times Washington bureau chief and PolitiFact editor Bill Adair reported on the differences between the National Journal vote ratings and the Poole-Lewis "Voteview" study:
National Journal relies largely on the judgment of its editors and reporters. They choose votes that they believe show ideological distinctions (they chose to include 99 of the 442 Senate votes last year) and they decide which side in the vote is liberal and which is conservative. Then they compute how often senators and House members vote each way.
Voteview uses a complicated calculation based on patterns of how often each member of Congress votes with other members. The program determines the patterns from hundreds of votes and plots each member on a liberal-conservative spectrum.
Adair also reported that the "Voteview approach is widely praised by political scientists because it has been very accurate at predicting how members vote" and noted that National Journal editor Charles Green "says voters shouldn't rely on a single rating to determine a candidate's ideology. 'There's pluses and minuses to each rating system. If you look at a number of them, I think you have a pretty good picture,' he said."
Media Matters has documented instances in which Martin and Politico staff writer Josh Kraushaar uncritically reported the National Journal ratings and also noted that Harris and Politico executive editor Jim VandeHei subsequently misrepresented Obama's statement from the February 11 interview in a March 18 article.
From the June 23 Politico article:
In an effort to tarnish his cultivated image as a reformer, the book will examine Obama's relationship with members of the Windy City's vaunted politician machine, including Mayor Richard M. Daley.
[Conservative writer David] Freddoso also will probe Obama's ties to more radical Chicago figures including the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, and William Ayers, the Hyde Park resident and former Weatherman.
Moving to the national stage, the book will argue that Obama's political views are far to the left of the mainstream. "He's the No. 1 most liberal member of the U.S. Senate, and nobody has really examined his record," says Ross.
Unlike his primary rival Hillary Rodham Clinton, there is no canon of negative books about Obama. Thanks to his rapid rise on the national political scene, the two most influential books devoted to his life were written by Obama himself, who hardly counts as a disinterested observer.