USA Today uncritically reported McCain's reference to Obama as National Journal's "most liberal senator"

››› ››› KATHLEEN HENEHAN

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.

In a June 6 article, USA Today uncritically reported that during an interview with the newspaper, Sen. John McCain "noted" that Sen. Barack Obama "was once named the most liberal senator by National Journal magazine." But in citing McCain's reference to the National Journal's 2007 Senate vote ratings, USA Today did not report that McCain himself "did not vote frequently enough" to receive a rating, according to the National Journal. Further, USA Today did not report that the National Journal ranking was based on 99 votes selected by the magazine's staff -- a subjective process that Obama himself criticized. By contrast, a separate study by political science professors Keith Poole and Jeff Lewis that was based on all 388 non-unanimous Senate votes during 2007 produced a different result, ranking Obama as tied for the 10th most liberal senator. In that same study, McCain was ranked the eighth most conservative senator in 2007.

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 vote 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. So that's the problem with some of these ratings - how they score things. It uses categories that I think don't make sense to a lot of Americans." As Media Matters has repeatedly documented (here, here, here, here, here, and here), among the 99 votes Obama cast that contributed to National Journal's "most liberal senator" label -- in addition to the ethics office vote he named -- 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.

Media Matters for America has documented recent instances in which media outlets repeated McCain's reference to Obama's National Journal rating without also noting that the magazine did not rate McCain in 2007 due to his absenteeism from the Senate, or pointing out the study's subjectivity.

The June 6 USA Today article also reported: "McCain, whose campaign nearly unraveled last summer from money woes, said he has not decided whether to accept about $85 million in public financing for the fall campaign." However, in raising the issues of public financing and McCain's "money woes" from last summer, the article did not point out that in order to help finance his campaign, McCain signed a loan agreement in November 2007 under which he could have been required under certain circumstances to remain an active candidate, regardless of whether his candidacy was viable, in order to receive matching funds to pay back the loan. Federal Election Commission (FEC) chairman David Mason cited the loan in taking the position that McCain cannot opt out of public financing in the primary without FEC approval, as McCain has attempted to do, meaning that every day that McCain spends beyond the primary campaign limits of the public financing system -- which he has already exceeded -- he could be breaking federal law. President Bush withdrew Mason's pending renomination to the FEC in early May.

From the June 6 USA Today article:

In the interview, McCain continued to focus on what he called Obama's inexperience, describing him as a novice who believes in "big government" and "doesn't understand."

Americans "didn't find out about me yesterday," said McCain, who has been in the Senate for 21 years. "They're just getting to know Senator Obama," whom McCain noted was once named the most liberal senator by National Journal magazine.

[...]

  • On campaign finance. McCain, whose campaign nearly unraveled last summer from money woes, said he has not decided whether to accept about $85 million in public financing for the fall campaign.

The senator, author of sweeping changes in 2002 to campaign finance laws aimed at limiting the influence of special interests, has improved his fundraising haul lately but lags far behind Obama, who has set records with his $265 million take so far. McCain has raised about $90 million.

Network/Outlet
USA Today, National Journal Group
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.