Wash. Post's Balz reported that Obama's advisers find the National Journal's ratings "faulty," but didn't explain why

››› ››› MATTHEW BIEDLINGMAIER

In a Washington Post analysis of Sen. Barack Obama, Dan Balz wrote that "[t]he National Journal rated [Obama] the most liberal member of the Senate last year," but that "[h]is advisers say the rating system is faulty." Balz did not explain why the Obama campaign has described the ratings as "faulty," or note that it is not just people associated with the Obama campaign who have criticized the Journal's ratings.

In a January 10 Washington Post analysis, "Obama's Ideology Proving Difficult to Pinpoint," staff writer Dan Balz wrote of Sen. Barack Obama: "The National Journal rated him the most liberal member of the Senate last year. His advisers say the rating system is faulty, but [Sen. John] McCain and other Republicans say it is an accurate reflection of Obama's political philosophy." However, Balz did not explain why the Obama campaign has described the Journal's 2007 Vote Ratings as "faulty," nor did he note that it is not just people associated with the Obama campaign who have found the ratings to be flawed.

As Media Matters for America documented, 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 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." In addition to the vote Obama cited in the Politico interview, among the votes he cast that contributed to the 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.

But Obama is not the only one who has criticized the Journal's selective rankings. American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Norman J. Ornstein has called the Journal's rating of Obama "pretty ridiculous." In a June 16 PolitiFact.com article analyzing the 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."

As Media Matters has also documented, the Journal's rankings are based on subjective criteria. Specifically, the Journal's ratings were based 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 has repeatedly documented instances in which media figures have cited the Journal ratings without noting their subjectivity.

From Balz' January 10 Washington Post analysis:

Republicans see a different Obama. The National Journal rated him the most liberal member of the Senate last year. His advisers say the rating system is faulty, but McCain and other Republicans say it is an accurate reflection of Obama's political philosophy.

Peter Wehner, a former Bush administration official who is now at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, considers Obama someone who can move his party to new places on race and religion. But on policy, he sees him as conventionally liberal. "The Democratic Party today is quite liberal, and Obama, if anything, will deepen the roots of its liberalism," he said.

The reality is that Obama is some of all those things. His strong opposition to the Iraq war helped draw support from the left in the primary elections. But he insisted Tuesday that he long has held many positions that are moderate rather than liberal.

Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Dan Balz
Stories/Interests
Attacks on Progressives, Propaganda/Noise Machine, Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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