In the three days since Media Matters for America first documented conservative pundits' relentless repetition of a misleading Republican National Committee talking point -- labeling Senator John Edwards "the fourth most liberal senator" based on a single anomalous National Journal ranking -- the deceptive labeling has continued unabated. Only a few liberal pundits have corrected the misinformation.
As Media Matters for America previously noted, although National Journal's 2003 vote ratings of senators placed Edwards fourth, that rating was based on only 40 of Edwards's Senate votes during 2003 and is not representative of his more moderate lifetime Senate voting record. In fact, as National Journal congressional reporter Richard E. Cohen pointed out in a July 9 article, Edwards's average National Journal "liberal score" during his five years in the Senate (1999-2003) is 75.7 percent, "a number that puts him in the moderate wing of his party," and is almost 20 points lower than the 2003 rating that Republicans are touting with the help of the conservative media. National Journal's Cohen also noted that in 1999, Edwards's National Journal "liberal score" placed him as the 31st most liberal senator, in 2000, Edwards ranked 19th, in 2001, he ranked 35th, and in 2002, he ranked as the 40th most liberal among all senators -- 15 to 36 spots lower than "the fourth most liberal senator" label that Republicans and the conservative media are pushing. As Cohen wrote, "From 1999 to 2002, Edwards had ranked among the more conservative Democratic senators. In 2002, only 11 of the 50 Senate Democrats voted more conservatively."
Nonetheless, a July 9 Washington Times editorial repeated the Republicans' labeling of Edwards as the "fourth most liberal senator" and also echoed GOP talking points by accusing Kerry of "performing an ideological flip-flop," claiming that Senator John McCain (R-AZ), not Edwards, was Kerry's first choice for vice president.
The Times asserted that Kerry "ask[ed] Sen. John McCain, a bona fide ideological conservative, to serve a heartbeat away from the presidency. Having failed in that bid, he flip-flopped and selected John Edwards, whom National Journal rated the fourth most liberal member of the Senate last year, even more liberal than Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton."
As Media Matters for America has noted, McCain himself stated on the July 7 broadcast of FOX News Radio's Tony Snow Show that Kerry "never offered" him the vice presidency. MMFA has also previously noted that while Clinton's and Kennedy's National Journal "liberal scores" were lower than Edwards's for 2003, National Journal numbers show that his 75.7 percent "liberal score" for the entirety of his time in the Senate is lower than Clinton's (83.9 percent) and Kennedy's (88.6 percent) overall "liberal score."
The New York Post also repeated the misleading GOP talking point on Edwards's voting record in a July 9 editorial:
This ticket comes straight out of left field. Far left field. The non-partisan, Capitol Hill-watching periodical National Journal ranked all 100 senators earlier this year. Who came in as the No. 1 liberal? John Kerry. And who came in at No. 4? You got it -- Kerry's newest best friend in the whole wide world, John Edwards.
On the July 8 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, former Vice President Dan Quayle repeated the distortion, failing to even cite the National Journal rating from which it originates:
We need to -- here's what's going on, Joe. We have the most liberal Democratic ticket in the history of our country. I mean, John Kerry is the number one ranked liberal in the Senate. John Edwards is number four. This is a far-left, extreme ticket.
Meanwhile, just as RNC chair Ed Gillespie repeated the "fourth most liberal" misrepresentation of Edwards on the July 6 edition of CNN's Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics, the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign is making the same assertion. According to a Scripps Howard News Service report by White House political correspondent Bill Straub, "John Kerry's choice of John Edwards as his running mate cements their position as the most out-of-the-mainstream ticket in the history of the Democrat Party," said Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign. "The most liberal senator and the fourth-most liberal senator are out of step on the kitchen-table issues that matter to Americans."
Yet a full week after conservatives began repeating the misrepresentation, syndicated columnist and FOX News Channel political contributor Cal Thomas complained on the July 11 edition of FOX News Channel's FOX News Watch that "they [media figures] don't call these guys liberals" and that "only the Boston Herald" had remarked on Edwards's liberalism:
THOMAS: What's interesting is to compare and contrast how the media reacted to these guys or to Kerry's pick of John Edwards and how they reacted in the year 2000 to George W. Bush's pick of Dick Cheney. Then he was described as "dour" and "bald" and "ultra conservative" -- an "arch conservative" -- they got these labels out right out of the gate, on the very first day. There's no liberal label -- [crosstalk] -- They don't call these guys liberals. And only the Boston Herald noted in its front page headline that these guys are to the left of Ted Kennedy.
Thomas's co-panelist, FOX News Channel political analyst and Newsday columnist Jim Pinkerton -- who worked in the White House under former presidents Reagan and Bush -- chimed in minutes later with one more iteration of the misleading talking point:
PINKERTON: National Journal, as Cal said, National Journal ranked him fourth. Kerry one, Edwards fourth.
A few liberal pundits have corrected their conservative counterparts' labeling of Edwards. On July 8, FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes co-host Alan Colmes corrected the misinformation about Edwards's voting record when guest co-host Mike Gallagher (filling in for regular co-host Sean Hannity) and guest Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) repeated it:
GALLAGHER: All right. Congressman Burton, the GOP seems to wisely be using the "L" word again, the liberalism of John Kerry and John Edwards, two of the most liberal senators we've ever seen as a nation. Are you glad that Republicans are starting to remind everybody of the extreme out-of-touch-with-the-mainstream liberal voting records of Kerry and Edwards?
BURTON: Well, you know, the tax and spend record of the liberal establishment in Washington is well known. And Walter Mondale's record as far as being liberal is being surpassed by John Kerry. And John -- Ms. Ferraro, who was the vice-presidential nominee under Walter Mondale, even her record is being exceeded by Mr. Edwards.
COLMES: I've heard that talking point for the last few days. If I hear one more time John Edwards is the fourth most liberal senator and John Kerry the most.
Doing a little research on this, I discovered that the National Journal, which rates these things, actually Edwards' average "liberal score" for five years he served is 75.7 percent, which is 20 points lower than the 2003 rating. And here's what they also said. "John Edwards of North Carolina" -- said this in 2003 -- "has been in the moderate to conservative range of Senate Democrats during his four years in the chamber." And they said that a year ago.
When McLaughlin Group creator and executive producer John McLaughlin reported Edwards's 2003 National Journal rating on the July 11 edition of The McLaughlin Group, two panelists -- Newsweek contributing editor Eleanor Clift and MSNBC senior political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell -- made similar corrections, pointing to Edwards's moderate record and the fact that his 2003 National Journal rating was "distorted" because it was based on a small fraction of his votes.