Two June 23 Motor City newspaper reports -- one in the Detroit Free Press ("Group blasts subprime loans," by Amber Hunt), the other in the Detroit News ("ACORN focuses on vote," by Mike Martindale) -- portrayed the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) as a noble enterprise dedicated to helping troubled borrowers and increasing voter involvement in the political process.
Hunt and Martindale were either unaware, or perhaps didn't care, that ACORN has had myriad problems over several years, including but not limited to voter-registration fraud, employee mistreatment and intimidation, and home-loan irregularities. Days before the group's national convention in Detroit, the Consumer Rights League, a group whose stated mission is "protecting consumer choice," issued a scathing whistleblower report charging ACORN with "misusing taxpayer dollars for political ends and by attacking lending corporations for the same 'predatory' lending practices it regularly engages in."
Here are selected paragraphs from each reporter's virtual press releases (HTs to Michelle Malkin here and here):
On Tuesday’s CBS "Early Show, " co-host Julie Chen lead the show with a depressing segment on the economy: "...with the economic woes hitting the nation, we have your complete guide to surviving the big squeeze." Chen proceeded to highlight high gas prices, then explain how "...the crisis in the housing market is also a drag on the economy," and finally, "Completing this perfect storm of economic woes, the devastating floods in the Midwest and how they will directly impact food prices."
When discussing the housing crisis with correspondent Thalia Assuras, Chen asked in desperation: "Thalia can you tell us anything good? Is there any relief in sight?" Assuras then offered a small glimmer of hope: "Well, the Senate toady is actually going to consider a foreclosure prevention plan or rescue plan of looking at the numbers here. It's going to provide $300 billion in new cheaper mortgages for high risk homeowners." However she then made it clear that Bush Administration would soon crush such hope: "But you know Julie, there's going to be a lot of squabbling and the White House has threatened a veto."
Following Chen’s report, co-host Maggie Rodriguez talked to financial advisor Dave Ramsey and took the same pessimistic tone: "So with all this economic volatility, what are we supposed to do?...if there was ever a time to panic, is this it? It sounds pretty gloomy." In contrast, Ramsey was having none of it: "Absolutely not. I'm sorry I'm not with Chicken Little and we're not handing out helmets. There -- it is not a time to panic, there's lots of good things going on in our economy and for most people this may represent opportunity."
UPDATE: Hard to imagine, but it's even worse than originally thought. AP's go-to "historian" is, as Wikipedia shows, a shameless politically active far-leftist (HT Eric at Vocal Minority).
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Two Associated Press writers, with the help of accompanying photos at ABCnews.com, have dug down deep and reached a new low in dismal, depressive reporting.
You can be forgiven if, after reading the entire Saturday afternoon "report" by Alan Fram and Eileen Putman of the Associated Press, you worry that the two writers plan to jump from the nearest tall building -- and take their readers with them -- unless Barack Obama wins the White House.
This is how the pained pair's incredibly over-the-top report begins (note how the headline answers the question before the text begins; excerpted text is included here for fair use and discussion purposes, as are photos originally found at the ABC link that are included at the cross-post):
Everything seemingly is spinning out of control Out-of-control weather, gas prices, economy chip away at American self-confidence
Give Hanna Rosin at The Atlantic Online credit for investigating something most journalists wouldn't even think of touching. Her article is a long read, but an important one.
Rosin's report out of Memphis (HT Instapundit) chronicles how a criminologist husband and his housing-expert wife made a correlation that makes so much sense, you just know it will encounter fierce resistance from media and political elites (bolds are mine):
(Richard) Janikowski might not have managed to pinpoint the cause of this pattern (of spreading crime) if he hadn’t been married to Phyllis Betts, a housing expert at the University of Memphis. ..... Betts had been evaluating the impact of one of the city government’s most ambitious initiatives: the demolition of the city’s public-housing projects, as part of a nationwide experiment to free the poor from the destructive effects of concentrated poverty. Memphis demolished its first project in 1997. The city gave former residents federal “Section 8” rent-subsidy vouchers and encouraged them to move out to new neighborhoods. Two more waves of demolition followed over the next nine years, dispersing tens of thousands of poor people into the wider metro community.
While print media and cable news channels are all over the "sweetheart" mortgage deals given to two Democratic U.S. senators, network news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC are keeping mum even though the scandal involves one of their favorite targets: Countrywide.
"This is a huge story ever since Portfolio magazine broke with this story. Print media outlets have covered it, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, the cable networks are there," Business & Media Institute Vice President Dan Gainor told "Fox & Friends" June 20. "And then you look at the evening news shows: they're non-existent."
As we've noted at NewsBusters, there's been scant coverage of a new scandal involving Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.). Both senators chair committees with oversight of the financial industry and Dodd is behind a bailout package for mortgage lender Countrywide. Both senators got "VIP" treatment from Countrywide Financial for refinancing agreements on their respective mortgages.
So today I thought I'd check our internal records at the MRC and the transcripts at Nexis to see what sort of coverage the three broadcast networks have devoted to this story.
What I found was a big fat zero.
Countrywide did, however, pop up three times on NBC newscasts between the beginning of June and today. All three stories were about celebrity Ed McMahon's foreclosure woes.
How does a former reporter for The Washington Post score a 2,200-word column on the mortgage mess in her former publication? Never mention personal responsibility.
Kathleen Day took blame to a new level June 1 when she failed to mention personal responsibility even one time in her lengthy column. Day, now a spokeswoman for the left-wing Center for Responsible Lending, was a financial reporter for the Post until mid-2007.
Day blamed just about everyone else - from Wall Street to banks to brokers, to the White House, to former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to Congress to credit-rating agencies - for the problems in the housing market. But she never hinted that borrowers might share some blame.
The economy plodded ahead at a 0.9 percent pace in the first quarter - slightly better than first estimated - but still underscoring caution on the part of consumers and businesses walloped by housing, credit and financial problems.
"The downward slide for home prices is only picking up speed," CBS correspondent Anthony Mason said on the May 27 "Evening News." "The 14 percent plunge nationally was led by Las Vegas, where prices have fallen more than 25 percent over the past year. Miami is down more than 24 percent, Phoenix - 23 percent. Among the 20 major cities surveyed, only Charlotte showed a meager gain and analysts can't see a bottom yet."
Paul Krugman is over in Berlin, and—surprise!—concludes that Europeans have things better figured out than we benighted Americans do. The gist of his Stranded in Suburbia in today's NY Times is that dense cities like Berlin, which offer good public transportation, are the solution to the high gasoline prices we are seemingly stuck with. Krugman contrasts Berlin and Atlanta:
Greater Atlanta has roughly the same population as Greater Berlin — but Berlin is a city of trains, buses and bikes, while Atlanta is a city of cars, cars and cars.
So why don't more Americans choose to live in big cities? After citing the current lack of good public transportation and the durability of suburban housing, Krugman points his accusing liberal's finger at his fellow Americans [emphasis added]:
The broadcast featured Maricopa, Ariz., a community near Phoenix where one in 10 homes is for sale.
"While existing homes go begging for buyers, builders continued putting up new houses," said ABC correspondent Brian Rooney. "As many as one in 10 of the homes in Maricopa are for sale right now, as builders, banks, homeowners with mortgages they can't afford all compete to sell at lower prices."
The April 23 "CBS Evening News" found a way to twist the turmoil in the housing markets into something that's stretch even for them - a rise in the homeless population.
"The Anticos are leaving their Bradenton, Fla. home because they have to," CBS correspondent Kelly Cobiella said. "The bank foreclosed on it in February after Sharon lost her job and fell behind on the mortgage. For the first time in her life, she and her kids are homeless."
The true culprit behind the Antico's loss wasn't a bad mortgage or lost home value; it wasn't an adjusted rate that put the payment out of reach. It was that Sharon Antico lost her job and the family could no longer afford the mortgage.
Today, talk-show heavyweight Rush Limbaugh picked up on a curious oversight by an AP business reporter whose negative spin in supposedly objective stories on the economy has frequently been noted here.
In a Friday story about a survey of top financial company executives, the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger wrote the following (bold is mine):
Turmoil in credit and housing markets will be the most significant threat to growth this year, according to a survey of top financial company executives released Friday.
These executives believe there is a high probability — 88 percent — that the country will suffer a recession in the next 12 months.
..... After credit market tumult and troubles in the housing market, the executives listed the next biggest threats to the economy now as the possibility the government will impose higher taxes or raise protectionist barriers to foreign competition.
Rather than beating up on home lenders and accuse them of intentionally targeting borrowers who were in over the head, CNN took a more instructive approach.
The April 14 edition of CNN's new business show, "Issue #1," showed that there are ways other than whining and moaning about how you were victimized by an unscrupulous lender. A Brooklyn, N.Y., homeowner on the brink of foreclosure sent a letter to a lender asking for some leeway on her mortgage payments.
"I'm a single, divorced mother living alone with my children," Jillian Simmons said to CNN, reading the letter she sent to Fremont Investment and Loan (NYSE:FMT). "Please lower my rate from 7.95 percent I have at the moment so that somehow my payments will be more affordable and changed to a fixed rate. Thank you, Jillian Simmons."
Congratulations to The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein - being on the "economy is destined for calamity" bandwagon early. It has won you a Pulitzer Prize.
Pearlstein was named as one of the recipients of the 2008 Pulitzer Prizes, for his columns on the nation's economic problems. Granted, Pearlstein called the fundamental problems with some of the shenanigans going on in the home mortgage early. But, he hasn't stopped there.
If you keep banging the downbeat economy drum, you'll be rewarded. According to the Pulitzer Prize citation for his award, Pearlstein was awarded the most coveted award in print journalism for "his insightful columns that explore the nation's complex economic ills with masterful clarity."
The April 3 "World News" featured a Staten Island family that managed to purchase a $335,000 home, but with only an annual income of $30,000.
"Karen and David Shearon, working people who made less than $30,000 a year at the time, refused to be intimidated and fought foreclosure - claiming the mortgage broker promised them a fixed-rate, low-interest loan on their $335,000 house, despite their income," ABC correspondent Jim Avila said.
As economic issues move to the front of the on-going presidential campaign, the mainstream media have given an increased amount of coverage to what is happening on Wall Street. However, they have portrayed Wall Street as something completely alien to what happens on "Main Street."
"Now to Wall Street, which, as you know, doesn't always like what Main Street likes, and by the end of the trading day, it was up," NBC "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams said on Oct. 31, 2007.
But something positive on Wall Street and something positive for Main Street are not mutually exclusive.
In a news brief on Thursday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Russ Mitchell reported: "Homeowners struggling to pay the mortgage may soon be getting help from Congress -- Congress, rather, but efforts may fall short." Correspondent Wyatt Andrews went to explain why the measures may not help enough people: "Senate leadership believes it finally has a tentative deal in place to help some, but certainly not all, distressed homeowners stay in their homes...Senate Democrats wanted a much larger package, reaching tens of thousands more homeowners, but compromised with Republicans to get this deal done."
Andrews went on to describe the overwhelming desire for a government bailout plan while also pitting Wall Street against main street: "As Congress took off for the last two weeks, both parties took heat at home for doing nothing, letting average Americans absorb the loss of their homes while losses at Bear Stearns, $29 billion worth, were being absorbed by the Fed." Andrews followed with a clip of Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney: "Wall Street has been helped. Now it's time to help main street."
Challenged by George Will during This Week of March 30th, liberal economics professsor Paul Krugman looks nervously to liberal economics professor Robert Reich. Krugman was one of four liberals at the round-table versus the sole conservative, Will.
Surprise - another foreclosure hardship story on the national evening news.
This time it was the March 27 "CBS Evening News." CBS correspondent Ben Tracy had no difficulty finding one family affected, it's just that they were paid well to be affected. He showcased a family in Oakland, Calif., that had to move due to a foreclosure.
"What they did not know is that the owner of the home they've been renting near Oakland, California, wasn't paying her mortgage, and the bank foreclosed on the property at the worst possible time," CBS correspondent Ben Tracy said.
If there was ever an obvious conflict of interest in economic reporting, this may very well qualify.
NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell evaluated the housing crisis solution proposals of both Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) on the March 25 "NBC Nightly News."
"Clinton was the first of the two to sound alarms about the subprime mess with a plan a year ago," Mitchell said. "Obama followed a week later with a call for a summit. Since then both have gotten more specific."
Yesterday's Existing Home Sales report for February issued by the National Association of Realtors had better than expected news: On an annualized basis, sales were up. They were expected to go down. Someone interested in getting to the bottom of things would have found that the improvement reported by the NAR may be an early indicator a broader recovery in existing-home unit sales and sales prices.
That appears to be the last thing the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger was interested in yesterday. In his report, he instead seemed determined to do all he could to portray the increase as a one-month respite in a long-term gloomy scenario. Additionally, he, in my opinion, presented changes in annualized sales volume as if they were one-month changes in actual sales, causing readers to possible believe that the housing market remains more in the doldrums than it really is.
"Meet the Press" host Tim Russert asked Bartiromo and CNBC's Erin Burnett if Bernanke was "up to the task" to take on problems with the U.S. economy. Bartiromo didn't blame the Fed chief for the current economic environment, but defended Bernanke and said the foundation of the housing problems was in place prior to his tenure.
"I really don't think you can blame Ben Bernanke for this, Tim," Bartiromo said. "You know, I think that he is, as Erin said, throwing the kitchen sink, doing a lot at this point. And remember, he's a new chairman. You know, so what was put in place before he was actually in this role has set us up for this."
A recent AP story about 50-year-olds moving back into their parents homes because the economy is so bad is one of the best examples of taking anecdotal evidence and stretching it into a universal truth that I have seen for a while. Filled with the sadly common "many say" and all based on the tale of one person who moved back home at 52, the AP magically discerned a national trend. This is the sort of shoddy reporting that is geared for one thing and one thing only: to promulgate a political agenda.
Taking shelter with parents isn't uncommon for young people in their 20s, especially when the job market is poor. But now the slumping economy and the credit crunch are forcing some children to do so later in life -- even in middle age.
With the housing market sinking and causing panic about the American economy, Moody's Economy.com Chief Economist Mark Zandi thinks the time is right for the government to invest in the housing market.
"They're very difficult to tackle these - but I think they are coming forward with plans that eventually will have some benefit," Zandi said on CBS's March 14 "The Early Show." "But they do need to do more. I do think this is a very large problem, and it's going to require a big answer - probably taxpayer money at the end of the day and I think we're headed down that path."
Jim Cramer is known for wearing his heart on his sleeve. But the host of CNBC's "Mad Money" normally lets his emotions show over matters financial. In August, for example, he went ballistic at Ben Bernanke, pleading with the Fed chairman to lower interest rates in the face of widespread home foreclosures.
This morning, however, Cramer got verklempt not over the discount rate but at the falling fortunes of his friend Eliot Spitzer. Cramer went to Harvard Law with the embattled governor and his wife Silda, and over the years has defended Spitzer against the torrent of criticism directed at the so-called sheriff of Wall Street for his high-handed tactics.
Cramer appeared on this morning's Today to discuss with Meredith Vieira yesterday's dramatic Fed move. But at the end of the interview, Vieira raised the Spitzer situation, and that sent Cramer to the verge of tears. The transcript below doesn't do justice to just how emotional Cramer became, so readers might want to view the video.
"[Michael] Wiggins, a city bus driver, was one of millions of Americans caught in the subprime mortgage crisis," CBS correspondent Randall Pinkston said. "His mortgage lenders' network loan gave him an 11-percent interest rate with a payment of $3,900 a month. But that jumped to $4,200 a month because of delinquency fees and penalties. Knowing he was sinking fast, Wiggins looked for refinancing at commercial banks."