On April 25, 2007 the Dow soared to another record close, this time above 13,000. As Newsbusters reported here, here and here, the networks did anything but cheer. In fact, network broadcast reporting of the Dow's recovery since 2003 has been marked by pessimism.
Katie Couric introduced the April 25, 2007 CBS "Evening News" report with this dismal statement:
"Even as investors are making money in the market, Anthony Mason reports there are concerns tonight about the rest of the U.S. economy."
Mason made good on Couric's tease, with a class warfare remark that "Wall Street and Main Street appear to be headed in different directions" because of housing and gas prices.
CNN's "Open House" host Gerri Willis called for new mortgage regulations on April 21.
Willis said that lawmakers were "jawboning" in D.C. about problems in the subprime mortgage market. She also mocked Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who held "a homeownership preservation summit," for not doing anything.
"There's many simple, even money-saving ways that we can actually give our little bit of help in our own lives and in our own homes and make a little bit of a difference," said weatherman Sam Champion on April 19 "Good Morning America."
But when it came to cost, the April 19 USA Today contradicted Champion:
“Products that help people use less energy – or leave a smaller ‘environmental footprint,’ as green advocates say – often are more costly than their alternatives, causing some to argue that going green is only for those who can afford it,” said USA Today.
Champion's segment focused on a special energy-efficient home built by BASF The Chemical Company that is 80 percent more energy efficient than other houses.
"We should have went to the mob for a loan," said Bronx homeowner Ana Rosado on CNN's March 27 "American Morning."
Her statement, extreme as it was, rivaled network reporting in March about subprime loans and foreclosures.
Reporters called the situation a “meltdown,” an “epidemic” and a “crisis” that could potentially lead to recession, and blamed lenders while almost entirely ignoring personal responsibility for borrowers. Instead, media accounts portrayed borrowers as victims, many of whom seemed shocked when their adjustable-rate mortgages adjusted upward.
While lenders were painted as the bad guys, they were rarely allowed to give any perspective. The networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, have done at least 26 stories on subprime loans just in the month of March, but only six of those included a lender’s voice. That meant an overwhelming 77 percent of stories didn’t even try to explain the lenders’ position.
During his online "Critiquing the Media" chat on Monday, Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz agreed with criticism that today's story on immigrant "victims" of mortgage lenders didn't seem to assume that borrowers are in any way responsible for failing to make their mortgage payments. He even agreed with the online questioner's suggestion there was "subtle racism" in the tone of the story:
Northern Virginia: Howard, question regarding the headline and terminology used in today's Post story on foreclosures. In both the current washingtonpost.com headline and the lede the term "victim" is used. The word implies predation and an I see an implication that these people aren't smart enough to understand what they're signing when they apply for mortgages. Am I reading too much into this or is there a subtle racism to writing about immigrant "victims"?
The top right-hand corner of Monday's Washington Post sounds like the return of Hurricane Katrina. "Foreclosure Wave Bears Down on Immigrants" is the headline. Reporter Kirstin Downey begins: "Immigrants are emerging as among the first victims of a growing wave of home foreclosures in the Washington area as mortgage lending problems multiply locally and across the country."
But the "victims of a wave" line fails to ask the question: at what point are people who make bad financial decisions responsible for their own fate? The heart-breaking individual stories Downey tells could have been avoided if the struggling homeowners had stared harder at the numbers.
Mike Strizki lives in the very first solar-hydrogen house in the U.S. and according to The Christian Science Monitor, "It sounds promising, even utopian: homemade, storable energy that doesn't contribute to global warming."
But the very positive profile of Strizki and his unusual new home left out the cost to other New Jersey residents.
“The total cost, $500,000, was paid for in part with a $250,000 grant from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities,” correspondent Jared Flesher wrote on March 15.
Let's see ... a grant from New Jersey. Since New Jersey isn't a person that means the $250,000 came from taxpayers.
Last night, ABC "World News with Charles Gibson," and CBS "Evening News" both blamed increased foreclosures on lending companies and mentioned tightened regulation instead of discussing the issue of personal choice. NBC "Nightly News" was the only network to bring individual choice into the story on March 13.
"Mortgage companies were lending to people with questionable credit," said ABC's David Muir.
But it is not as if lending companies run around just handing out money to bad credit risks, people actually have to apply for home loans because they want to buy a home. Both ABC and CBS missed that.
Instead Muir's "World News" report pitied one couple "fighting to hold on."
Given the recent gloomy reporting about the industry, you may not know that housing prices nationwide actually went up a bit more in the fourth quarter (1.12%) than they did in the third (1.07%). Though there are certainly problematic metro areas, it would appear that the sky was not falling on home prices.
In fact, based on the press's coverage of the housing industry during the past year or so, you might think that OFHEO Director James B. Lockhart was blowing smoke in the News Release on Page 1 that introduces the report:
“These data show that, on the whole, prices are still rising, albeit at a much slower pace,” said Lockhart. “This suggests that house price appreciation is, for now, more in line with historical norms.”
He's kidding, right? Wrong (from page 4 of the report):
Apparently it's not much to CBS "Evening News" which promoted California's solar power initiative to "get people to think green by giving them some green," according to anchor Katie Couric on March 6.
Reporter John Blackstone argued that families who choose solar power do not suffer and "get something priceless. By living under one of California's million solar roofs they're helping the earth while helping themselves."
But the panels still costs at least $18,000 after the state and federal rebates and a Washington Post article said they actually cost $5,000 more initially than CBS said.
Blackstone also explained that Californians use less electricity per capita than other states, but left out how expensive energy is in California. You can find Dan Gainor's full story from the Business & Media Institute here.
"Well you know I wish I had better news, but the numbers this week were just horrific," said CNN correspondent Gerri Willis.
The numbers she referred to were home prices and new-home sales, which were down. After briefly mentioning the increase in existing-home sales (which make up a larger share of the housing market), Willis dismissed it.
With the help of CNN's Allen Wastler, the duo played up fears of recession on the March 3 program.
Wastler and Willis wrapped up the housing segment playing on viewers’ fears of a recession after an up-and-down week on Wall Street. Willis said the question wasn’t simply what happens in the housing market, but in the overall economy.
“The conversation about recession this week isn’t just bad for the stock markets; it’s also bad for housing,” Willis said. “When people lose their jobs, we know what happens.” You can read the Business & Media Institute article here.