Promoting its Senate ratings, National Journal Group email now touts 2003 "most liberal" rating of Kerry that NJ found flawed

››› ››› BRIAN FREDERICK

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.

In a February 5 email to readers of National Journal Group publications, Tracy Rana, who is identified as "Director, Office of the Publisher," encouraged recipients to read a "breaking story" at NationalJournal.com, which reported on the results of the magazine's "annual Vote Ratings analysis" finding that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (IL) is the "#1 most liberal senator." Rana 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 [D-MA] 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 -- which it now touts -- was flawed and is now using a new methodology.

In a January 31 "explanation of the vote ratings" posted on the National Journal website, the magazine's editor, Charles Green, stated that, following the 2003 results labeling Kerry the most liberal senator, "[w]e made one change." He explained:

Q: Have you made any changes in the vote rating system since then?

Green: We made one change. We decided that in order for a member of Congress to receive a composite rating, he or she needed to vote often enough to qualify for scores in each of the three issue categories -- economic policy, social policy, and foreign policy -- that we measure. In Kerry's case, he didn't vote often enough in 2003 to merit scores in the social-policy and foreign-affairs categories. His overall ranking was based on his score in the economic category.

As to why the National Journal made the change, Green wrote: "We didn't want to continue giving composite scores to members of Congress who missed most of the votes we selected." Consequently, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (AZ) was not given a composite score in the 2007 ratings "because he missed too many votes," Green wrote.

Finally, when asked, "Why didn't you make the change before Kerry's rating was announced?" Green answered:

Green: The method we used to give Kerry a composite score was the method we had used in the past. To change the rules in the middle of the game, so to speak, after we learned Kerry's ranking, would have exposed us to charges of manipulating our rules for partisan reasons. We instituted the change the following year, before we knew the scores of any lawmakers.

The National Journal article on the rankings also referred to the change in its methodology as a result of the 2003 results:

Members who missed more than half of the votes in any of the three issue categories did not receive a composite score in NJ's ratings. (This rule was imposed after Kerry was ranked the most liberal senator in our 2003 ratings [subscription required] despite having missed more than half of the votes in two categories.) Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the only other senator whose presidential candidacy survived the initial round of primaries and caucuses this year, 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. On social issues, which include immigration, McCain received a conservative score of 59. (McCain's composite scores from his prior years in the Senate, published in our March 2007 vote ratings issue, are available as a PDF.)

From the February 5 email:

February 5, 2008

Dear Reader:

As a valued reader of National Journal Group publications, I wanted to make sure you saw a breaking story that went live on NationalJournal.com this past Thursday afternoon and was featured in the most recent issue of National Journal dated February 2, 2008.

Specifically, presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama is rated the #1 most liberal senator in our annual Vote Ratings analysis. I encourage you to read the story at NationalJournal.com.

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. We anticipate similar attention for our Vote Ratings across the 2008 election cycle.

The complete Vote Ratings analysis of every member of Congress will appear in the March 8 issue of National Journal.

Best regards,

Tracy Rana,

Director, Office of the Publisher

National Journal Group

600 New Hampshire Ave NW

Washington DC, 20037

From the National Journal's January 31 "explanation of the vote ratings":

Q: Have you made any changes in the vote rating system since then?

Green: We made one change. We decided that in order for a member of Congress to receive a composite rating, he or she needed to vote often enough to qualify for scores in each of the three issue categories-economic policy, social policy, and foreign policy-that we measure. In Kerry's case, he didn't vote often enough in 2003 to merit scores in the social-policy and foreign-affairs categories. His overall ranking was based on his score in the economic category.

Q: Why did you make the change?

Green: We didn't want to continue giving composite scores to members of Congress who missed most of the votes we selected.

Q: Why didn't you make the change before Kerry's rating was announced?

Green: The method we used to give Kerry a composite score was the method we had used in the past. To change the rules in the middle of the game, so to speak, after we learned Kerry's ranking, would have exposed us to charges of manipulating our rules for partisan reasons. We instituted the change the following year, before we knew the scores of any lawmakers.

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Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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