Last weekend, The New York Times Magazine published an excerpt from economics reporter Edmund Andrews's book, Busted, which is about how he and his wife, Patricia Barreiro, signed onto a subprime loan that threw them into the innards of the mortgage crisis. Everyone was very complimentary of it until Megan McArdle at The Atlantic noticed that Andrews neglected to mention that Patricia Barreiro had filed for bankruptcy not once but twice, which suggested that the Andrews-Barreiro problems were less a result of the practices of the subprime industry than of their own poor financial acumen. The omission made Andrews's thesis — that they were the victims, like so many Americans, of predatory lenders — ring false, and this was noted by many, including us.
Then, this weekend, Andrews defended himself, and — because apparently no one at all went to the beach or outside, despite the fact that the weather was beautiful — even more voices added themselves to the chorus! It became a full-on Internet clusterfuck! Here's what happened, in short (ish):
Andrews dismissed McArdle's argument on the website for the Newshour.
"It is hard to believe that anybody would accuse me of trying to airbrush a story in which I recount the cringe-inducing details of my calamitous plunge into junk mortgages ... These bankruptcies did occur, but they had nothing to do with our mortgage woes. They were both tied to old debts from before we were married or bought a house. They had nothing to do with my ability to get a mortgage; nor did they have anything to do with our subsequent financial problems ... None of this has any connection to our story.
Ombudsman Clark Hoyt wrote a column about various ethics problems at the Times in which he defended Andrews.
He makes him sound like kind of a tragic figure, actually. First off, Andrews was "desperate" to sell the book, Hoyt reports, so that he could pay off his debts. When he did, the Times had to wonder if he should be allowed to be a finance reporter at all since his own finances were in disarray, and Andrews probably had to wonder if now his job was in limbo as ethics experts were consulted (although we don't know why — anyone who has read the Shopaholic series knows that makes you an even better finance expert). And now he had "come under attack" from "a blogger for The Atlantic" for this little thing.
"The blogger said the omission undercut Andrews’s story, but I think it was clear that he and his wife could not manage their finances, bankruptcies or no. Still, he should have revealed the second one, if only to head off the criticism."
Hoyt also added (rather petulantly, we thought) that it was hard enough for the Times, which is just "trying to protect the paper’s integrity," without being under siege from hordes of vicious bloggers "ready to pounce on transgressions by Times journalists."
Berkeley economist Brad DeLong became incensed at Hoyt's laissez-faire attitude.
First, he took umbrage at Hoyt's old-media snobbery.
"a weblogger" has a name: Megan McArdle of the Atlantic Monthly. She deserves credit for her work.
He then went on to dissect the Andrews-Barriero personal finances in a way that caused us to believe he knew what he was on about. Then he finished with this!
Megan McArdle's point is that dysfunctions in mortgage lending have next to nothing to do with Edmund Andrews's personal financial crisis. The crisis comes from the radical disjunction between the style of life Andrews and his wife expect and Andrews's income — $10,000 a month, $3,500 in taxes, $4,000 (in the book; $5,000 in the bankruptcy filing) in alimony and child support, leaving $2,500 a month to live on for all expenses .... Hoyt's claim that "I think it was clear that [Andrews] and his wife could not manage their finances, bankruptcies or no" appears to me to be a deliberate attempt to miss the entire point.
We're pretty sure no one in Hoyt's role deliberately misses points, but nonetheless: Burn.
Felix Salmon at Reuters also had something to say about the "whiff of latent blogophobia which wafts through the whole thing"
It seems that McArdle should have mailed Hoyt an official complaint, on Atlantic letterhead, signing herself the Business and Economics Editor of The Atlantic: Hoyt would probably have taken that more seriously. It’s very sad that he still hasn’t moved on from that credentialist world.
What will happen next??? We hope Andrews sells some books, so that he can keep his house. Oh, and as overzealous webloggers ourselves, we might as well get in there and POUNCE on the Times for one other thing:
The hyperlink for Clark Hoyt's column has the word "pubed" in it. Tee-hee.