Media figures continue to cite National Journal ranking of Obama as "most liberal" senator in '07 without noting subjectivity

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY & CHRISTINE SCHWEN

NPR's Renée Montagne, MSNBC's Pat Buchanan, and CNN's Bill Bennett all referred to the National Journal's 2007 Vote Ratings, which ranked Sen. Barack Obama the most liberal senator that year, without noting the subjectivity of the ratings. 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."

NPR Morning Edition co-host Renée Montagne, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, and CNN contributor Bill Bennett all referred to the National Journal's 2007 Vote Ratings, which ranked Sen. Barack Obama the most liberal senator that year, without noting the subjectivity of the ratings. 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 contrast, a study by political science professors Keith Poole and Jeff Lewis, using 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. Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented instances in which media figures have cited the National Journal ratings without noting their subjectivity.

On the June 27 edition of NPR's Morning Edition, Montagne stated: "[A]s this presidential campaign goes on, Barack Obama has been moving steadily to the center. Obama was ranked the most liberal senator in Congress last year by the National Journal. Now it appears he's trying to moderate his image as he prepares for the general election." On the June 26 edition of MSNBC's Race for the White House, Buchanan referred to the National Journal ranking by saying: "He's got ... the most left-wing voting record in the United States Senate. As we've said, [Sen.] Bernie Sanders [I-VT] has been demanding a recount." On the June 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, Bennett said Obama "has got the most far-left record in the U.S. Senate." Moments later, Bennett cited the National Journal ranking, saying: "[CNN senior political analyst] Bill Schneider, not Bill Bennett, did the metrics for the National Journal review."

In a June 16 PolitiFact.com article analyzing the Journal ratings, St. Petersburg Times Washington bureau chief and PolitiFact editor Bill Adair reported that National Journal editor Charles Green "says voters shouldn't rely on a single rating to determine a candidate's ideology" and quoted Green as saying, "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." Additionally, American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Norman J. Ornstein has also criticized the National Journal's rating of Obama as the "most liberal senator" in 2007, calling it "pretty ridiculous."

From the June 26 edition of MSNBC's Race for the White House with David Gregory:

DAVID GREGORY (host): Let me move on now to these analytical attacks, the spin, the counter-spin coming from the campaigns today.

The first one from team McCain questioning Obama's bipartisanship. A very interesting memo from strategist Steve Schmidt with the campaign, sort of saying, where is the outrage in the press corps about Obama's lack of bipartisanship?

This is how he argued it. This is from Steve Schmidt.

"There has never been a time when Barack Obama has bucked the party line to lead on an issue of national importance. He has never been a part of a bipartisan group that came together to solve a controversial issue. He has never put his career on the line for a cause greater than himself."

"We don't need to trade Republican partisanship for Democratic partisanship. We need to put our country first and put our politics second. That is what John McCain has done his whole life, and that is what he will do as president."

Ed [Schultz, progressive radio host], take it on.

SCHULTZ: Well, I think that Senator McCain needs to refresh his memory a little bit. You can go to the Foreign Relations Committee. You can see the good work that Barack Obama did with Senator Lugar from Indiana dealing with loose nukes in Russia. That is a key issue that both of those gentlemen worked on.

Also, when it comes to ethics reform, Barack Obama did some excellent work with Senator Coburn from Oklahoma.

So this is really a straw-man argument for the McCain camp. I don't -- I don't believe that the American people believe that -- that Barack Obama isn't going to cross party lines to get things done. He's got a record of doing just that.

GREGORY: Pat, is there -- what is the evidence of him actually leading in bipartisan consensus on an issue?

BUCHANAN: No, I don't think there really is. I mean, everybody's for loose nukes in Russia being controlled. Take a look at the Supreme Court votes. John McCain voted for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and [Stephen] Breyer, the Clinton justices, both liberals. Barack Obama, as I understand it, was against [Samuel] Alito and against Chief Justice John Roberts. He's a left-wing guy. He's got a -- the most left-wing voting record in the United States Senate. As we've said, Bernie Sanders has been demanding a recount.

From the June 27 edition of NPR's Morning Edition:

MONTAGNE: And as this presidential campaign goes on, Barack Obama has been moving steadily to the center. Obama was ranked the most liberal senator in Congress last year by the National Journal. Now it appears he's trying to moderate his image as he prepares for the general election. Joining us now is NPR's Mara Liasson. Good morning.

From the June 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BENNETT: Well, just to make a comment on the press conference. The reason I wrote that piece is there's the charge that a lot of the media is soft on Obama. That press conference demonstrated it.

WOLF BLITZER (host): This one?

BENNETT: I mean, oh, my gosh, you know, will you -- do you want Bill Clinton to help? Do you want Hillary to help? Would you like to say something nice about Chicago? Would you like to say something un-nice about Charlie Black?

I mean, there is a record here. This guy is maybe eight or 10 points ahead in the presidential sweepstakes. He has got the most far-left record in the U.S. Senate.

How about some serious questions?

So that's why some of us are very frustrated.

BLITZER: But, you know, there were some pretty serious questions --

BENNETT: Not many.

BLITZER: -- including on the Supreme Court decision today that --

BENNETT: What did you think, they said? They asked him?

BLITZER: Yes. But he -- and he gave a pretty -- a pretty strong -- a pretty strong sense that he was going against what the liberal justices, the majority in this 5-4 decision --

[...]

DONNA BRAZILE (CNN political analyst): Well, first of all, I disagree with Bill, because I think that --

BENNETT: On the abortion issues?

BRAZILE: I -- look, they -- Barack Obama got around to talking about FISA and his vote on that. He got around to talking about gas prices, about drilling in -- on our coastlines. He got a chance to talk about the economy. So he is answering the questions that are not only coming to him from the media, but also the -- some of the constant negative charges coming from Republicans, who want to paint him as some old-fashioned, old-style liberal -- the old playbook that we've heard time and time again against any Democrat, not just this Democrat, but every Democrat that gets --

BENNETT: Bill Schneider, not Bill Bennett, did the metrics for the National Journal review.

BRAZILE: Well, he --

BENNETT: He's to the left of Bernie Sanders in his votes, Donna.

BRAZILE: But is it about his liberalism or is his leadership on the issues that matter?

BENNETT: His liberalism. His policies --

BRAZILE: His leadership on the economy --

BENNETT: -- his positions.

BRAZILE: -- whether the non-partisan Tax Policy Center that says that Barack Obama will provide more tax relief to working Americans?

Is that what we want to discuss?

Yes, talk about this issue.

BENNETT: We -- yes, absolutely. Let's talk about the issues.

BRAZILE: But are we going to talk about the labels?

BENNETT: No, the issues. He was asked --

BLITZER: You know, he was --

BENNETT: The policies, his votes --

BLITZER: He was asked --

BENNETT: -- his votes. His votes.

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