Time's James Carney wrote: "As any Republican will tell you, the National Journal ranked [Sen. Barack] Obama the most liberal member of the Senate." But Carney did not note that the National Journal's rankings are based on subjective criteria.
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."
USA Today uncritically reported that Sen. John McCain "noted" that Sen. Barack Obama "was once named the most liberal senator by National Journal magazine." But USA Today did not report that McCain himself "did not vote frequently enough" to receive a rating. Further, USA Today did not report that the National Journal ranking was based on 99 votes selected by the magazine's staff, a subjective methodology that Obama himself has criticized.
Articles by the AP and The New York Times uncritically quoted Sen. John McCain's labeling of Sen. Barack Obama as "the most liberal" senator without mentioning that the National Journal rankings to which McCain was referring did not offer a ranking for McCain himself because he "did not vote frequently enough" to receive one. They also did not mention that the ranking was based on subjectively selected votes, or that a separate study that considers all non-unanimous votes offers a notably different ranking for Obama.
The Los Angeles Times reported of Sen. Barack Obama: "National Journal magazine has ranked him as the most liberal member of the Senate." In relying on National Journal's rankings, the article ignored a more comprehensive vote study by two political science professors that placed Obama in a tie for the ranking of 10th most liberal senator in 2007.
In an article discussing whether Sen. Barack Obama "can transcend the starkly red-and-blue politics of the last 15 years, end the partisan and ideological wars and build a new governing majority," The New York Times noted that the National Journal rated Obama's "voting record ... the most liberal in the Senate." But the Times did not mention that the Journal's rating conflicts with that of a respected study that, in contrast to the Journal's, uses every non-unanimous vote cast within a given year.
A New York Times article about possible attacks against Sen. Barack Obama in the general election reported that Sen. John McCain's aides said "their first line of attack would be to portray [Obama] as a liberal, and they have already begun pointing to a rating in The National Journal, based on his votes, of Mr. Obama as the most liberal member of the Senate." But among the "liberal" positions Obama took to earn the distinction of "most liberal senator in 2007" were his votes to implement the bipartisan 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.
In an "analysis" of Sen. Barack Obama's response to a question about being rated the "most liberal senator" of 2007 by National Journal, FactCheck.org deputy director Viveca Novak claimed that "[t]he nonpartisan public policy magazine's analysis of the votes and the designation of 'liberal' and 'conservative' positions was done according to a rather rigorous process the publication has been using since 1981." In fact, National Journal editor Charles Green has admitted that the publication changed the methodology it had used in its 2003 ratings after it determined that the methodology that resulted in a "most liberal" senator ranking for 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry had been flawed.
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.
In reporting on Sen. Hillary Clinton's $5 million loan to her presidential campaign, National Journal's Hotline On Call claimed that "Clinton had to borrow funds from her husband, former President Bill Clinton." In fact, Sen. Clinton has said that the loan was "my money," and, indeed, it would be illegal for her to use assets belonging solely to her husband to fund her presidential campaign. Hotline On Call also claimed that Sen. Barack Obama was asked about "what it meant that Clinton had to borrow funds from her husband," but there is no evidence that Obama was asked that question or that he remarked on her purportedly having "borrow[ed] funds from her husband."
Among the "liberal" votes Sen. Barack Obama took that purportedly earned him "the most liberal senator in 2007" label in the National Journal's "2007 Vote Ratings" were: to implement the 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.
In an email to readers encouraging recipients to read the National Journal article on the magazine's Senate ratings, the National Journal Group wrote: "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 liberal Vote Ratings score repeatedly on the campaign trail and at their head-to-head debates." However, the email did not note that the National Journal has acknowledged the methodology it used to produce its Kerry "most liberal" rating was flawed.
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."