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."
Yours truly had a memorable series of exchanges with MarketWatch Washington Bureau Chief Rex Nutting roughly 18 months ago. At one point, he appeared to reveal an expectation (otherwise, why provide a graph of it?) that home prices might actually fall like the NASDAQ did from 2000-2002 -- which, for the record, was almost 78%, from a peak of 5048 in March 2000 to a trough of 1114 in October 2002). He also described the housing market, which was still advancing nicely, as "in a free-fall."
Given the history, we shouldn't be surprised that Nutting pounced on the Fed's latest household net worth report, producing the following (link requires free registration):
.... for what I believe is a painfully obvious reason.
It is reports like the one written up by Shobhana Chandra at Bloomberg yesterday on household net worth that make you wonder if everyday US citizens will ever get the information needed to accurately evaluate what's going on in the economy without doing more digging than they have time for -- or that they should even have to do.
Chandra's writeup seemed to deliberately omit any and all context readers could have used to understand the significance of the information presented. She (based on this source, I'm assuming that Chandra is female -- if I'm wrong, please let me know) also sought out an "expert" to support a specious case that the reported results were masking a greater deterioration.
During a story suggesting that Angelo Mozilo, the former CEO of the mortgage company Countrywide, is unworthy of his millions of dollars and perhaps enjoys too much time lying in the sun, ABC's Dan Harris, possibly not picking up on the former CEO's Italian ethnicity which could be the source of his skin's dark complexion, remarked that Mozilo's "deeply tanned face" could become the "face of the mortgage mess." The story ran on Friday's World News with Charles Gibson, substitute hosted by George Stephanopoulos, with Harris beginning his report: "This may well become the deeply tanned face of the mortgage mess. The face belongs to Angelo Mozilo, the once-celebrated CEO of Countrywide, now facing allegations of predatory lending and rapacious greed." Harris also ended the report seeming to lament that Mozilo is not facing foreclosure on any of his homes: "If the sale [of Countrywide] goes through, Mozilo will walk away with about $40 million. And with not one of his homes in foreclosure." (Transcript follows)
Delivering a ridiculous level of vacuous hyperbole, Thursday's CBS Evening News greeted reports of a 0.83 percent 4th quarter foreclosure rate with just under 6 percent of mortgages more than a month past due as proof “the American dream” is “slipping away” since “foreclosures are spreading like cancer.” Those may indeed be unusually high levels, but the American dream is hardly “slipping away” when 99.17 percent are not in foreclosure and 94.18 percent are paying on time or nearly on time.
Anchor Katie Couric at the top of the March 6 CBS Evening News, with "Foreclosure Crisis" on screen:
Good evening, everyone. It's one of the worst things that can happen to a family, but it's happening to more and more in this country. They're losing their homes to foreclosure. The mortgage industry reported today that the foreclosure rate in the final quarter of 2007 hit an all-time high [0.83%]. And the government says, that for the first time ever, lenders own a greater percentage of the average home than the homeowner does. Anthony Mason now on the American dream that's slipping away.
On Wednesday, Associated Press Business Writer J.W. Elphinstone used a curious definition of "narrow" to emphasize the importance of a home-price measurement index that only looks at the country's largest metro areas, while minimizing the significance of one that catalogs virtually the entire USA -- all apparently done to create an overwrought portrayal of home values as being "in freefall."
No end in sight: Housing in freefall until credit loosens and supply recedes, experts say
House prices may still have a long way to fall.
Across much of the nation, home values are dropping -- even those backed by solid mortgages -- and banks are repossessing more every day. Most experts say the dive won't hit bottom for another year and only after excess inventory is sharply reduced and credit markets improve.
It certainly is no surprise the stock market's big decline on Friday would be the lead story for evening news programs.
But, citing an economic study from an organization with direct and verifiable ties to Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as simply a "consumer group" while not even mentioning the liberal leaning of the think-tank seemed pretty absurd even for NBC.
Yet, that's what occurred Friday evening as the NBC "Nightly News" began its broadcast:
BMI Vice President Dan Gainor took to the Fox Business Network Thursday to explain the difference between "depression," "recession" and "slow growth," terms the mainstream media has blurred.
Economists "don't even agree that we're in a recession yet," Gainor said. "But then if you watch the network news shows, we're already up to eight times this year - that's once a week where they've made a comparison to the Great Depression."
For years, NewsBusters and the Business and Media Institute have informed readers about how the press, since George W. Bush was first elected, have tried to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by misrepresenting economic data in as negative a way as possible.
This is likely the cause of the public's continued pessimism about economic conditions even as the economy has expanded for 25 consecutive quarters.
On Tuesday, in an interview on CNBC, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell took this thinking a little further when he suggested to "Squawk Box" anchor Becky Quick that many of the economic problems facing the country today are caused by fear-mongering and politicking by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
“Not since the Depression has a larger share of Americans owed more on their homes than they are worth,” New York Times reporters Edmund Andrews and Louis Uchitelle wrote in a February 22 article. “With the collapse of the housing boom, nearly 8.8 million homeowners, or 10.3 percent of the total, are underwater.”
Granted, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is a trade organization which will, as trade organizations do, try to put the best face on a bad situation. And granted, part of the press's job is to filter through hype and false sunniness to report the truth of what's really going on.
But that is most emphatically not what the Associated Press did with yesterday's NAR report on the state of the national housing market. Instead, AP failed to report overall statistics in favor of reporting individual metro areas; ignored most of the legitimately good news; ignored an important piece of historical context; and, most importantly, and as has been the case for well over a year in the national business press, emphasized reductions in unit sales while de-emphasizing much smaller reductions in sale prices.
One home supposedly burned because Sheryl Christman, a 38-year-old Michigan woman, was three days short of foreclosure. She pleaded no contest after the Sept. 1, 2007 arson. The other case was a Colorado arson where a man "may have" committed arson before an "imminent foreclosure."
In a class-warfare driven media, where the "haves" are often pitted against "have-nots," you would think an outgoing CEO giving up $37.5 million in pay would be celebrated.
Not quite. CNN's "American Morning" didn't think it was quite good enough when Countrywide Financial's Angelo Mozilo forfeited $37.5 million in severance pay because he said he felt it was the "right thing to do."
It's really frightening to imagine that people who get the bulk of their news from Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" will be making what they probably think are educated decisions at the ballot box come Election Day.
Stewart, who is now a self-proclaimed economist, said on his January 23 show, "Our economy is tanking." And now you can add financial media critic to Stewart's list of titles.
"For insight, I turned to the two major financial networks to find out what is going on, or as they're known around here, ‘hot ladies talk economy with bald dudes,'" Stewart said.
Billionaire investor George Soros called for more government monitoring and involvement in markets in an interview on CNBC January 23.
"Now we really have to reconsider the whole policy, which has been in my opinion misplaced, of relying on the markets to police themselves," Soros told Maria Bartiromo in Davos, Switzerland, "to recognize the risks. And there are risks which it is the job of the authorities to control, and the authorities have abdicated their responsibilities. So did the rating agencies."
Soros slammed the government for "not taking the right steps in dealing with" what he called upset financial markets. "[T]he authorities ought to move into the market makers, look at the books and make sure that the bad risks are recognized and reassure the markets that the main actors, the banks that are too big to fail, will not fail, that they will in fact be bailed out the same way as Northern Rock was bailed out even if that means wiping out the shareholders or greatly reducing their benefits."
It's no longer enough to say the economy is heading into or already is in a recession. Invoking the memory of the Great Depression has become the latest way to dramatize the economic turmoil caused by the credit markets.
Zuckerman told viewers we're heading into uncharted territory with this current credit freeze-up.
"You have the entire banking system now that is virtually frozen. And there are, not just this subprime mortgage thing, there are other things called credit default swaps where they will lose as much money, $250 billion on. The banks are frozen. They are not making loans because they have such huge debts that they have to take on to their balance sheets and nobody knows how to deal with that," he continued.
The headline "The Economy Sucks" might be something you'd expect to see in Rolling Stone or on Slate.com, but certainly not in a reputable news magazine, right?
Yet, the January 21 issue of Newsweek defied expectations by using that for part of a headline for a one-sided, pro-Bill Clinton view of the economy. The article recalled the 1992 "It's the economy, stupid!" campaign as it tore down the current economy.
So, why does the economy "suck" according to Newsweek? It isn't that there's a depression looming or that we're in recessionary times, we're just "perilously close to sliding into a recession."
"Today, the nation is perilously close to sliding into a recession; in '92, the economy had already started growing, though a jobless recovery doomed George H.W. Bush's re-election bid anyway," Gross wrote. "The lesson? Voters' perceptions matter more than whether the economy is technically expanding or contracting."
You might disagree with how he slashed the Fed funds rate during times of economic turmoil as Federal Reserve chairman.
You might have even disavowed him after showing his coziness with the Clinton administration throughout the 1990s. But after 18 years of public service, you can't deny that Alan Greenspan should have a shot in the private sector.
"Nightly News," however, based its report completely on a 78-year-old story who felt she was deceived.
"Reverse mortgages allow seniors 62 and older to borrow against the equity they've built up in their home," NBC correspondent Tom Costello said. "But upfront costs can be steep, $12,000 for Ms. Munoz. Then, her attorney claims, the sales agent who suggested the reverse mortgage sold the 78-year-old woman long-term investment annuities that don't mature until 2033. When she tried to withdraw some of that money, she faced a 20-percent penalty."
"[W]ell, as you said the economy certainly is front and center," Bolton said. "And in fact in the latest survey of Bloomberg economists, economists putting the odds of developing a recession at about 40 percent. Jay Bryson - he's a global economist at Wachovia - he says we are skating on the edge of recession, but it's all going to come down to the consumer. Another economist that we spoke with said that consumers right now are really hanging on by their fingernails. And of course it's not really a surprise."
Never underestimate the power of the media with a "doom and gloom" agenda - especially when it comes to such a renowned contest like the 18th annual American Dialect Society "Word of the Year" contest.
"‘Subprime' has been around with bankers for awhile, but now everyone is talking about ‘subprime,'" said Wayne Glowka, a spokesman for the group and a dean at Reinhardt College in Waleska, Ga. "It's affecting all kinds of people in all kinds of places."
A January 4 Associated Press story by Jeannine Aversa pointed to the job data as one of the "problems in the economy" that has "elevated fears about a recession." But even with all these "problems" - housing woes, the credit crunch, high oil prices, weak job numbers - the criteria of the economy being in a recession still haven't been close to being met.