Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel is misinforming about a new fair-housing case under consideration by the Supreme Court, scaremongering that a decision to uphold half a century of civil rights precedent could force sellers, lenders, and landlords to establish policies that amount to "informal quotas."
On January 21, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Texas Department of Housing v. the Inclusive Communities Project, a fair-housing case that could make it more difficult for victims of discrimination to bring legal challenges against policies that reinforce decades of racial segregation, unintentionally or not. The Inclusive Communities Project argues that the way the Texas Department of Housing administered an affordable-housing plan had a discriminatory effect by entrenching racially segregated housing patterns in the Dallas area. This kind of lawsuit is known as "disparate impact" litigation, which has long been used under various civil rights statutes, including the Fair Housing Act (FHA). It does not require that intentional discrimination be demonstrated, rather that the challenged policies had an unjustified and disproportionate, negative impact on vulnerable groups protected by the FHA. Even though the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other fair-housing advocates have successfully relied on disparate-impact litigation for almost 40 years, Texas is arguing that lawsuits under the FHA should newly be required to provide evidence of intentional racial discrimination.
On the January 21 edition of the Journal's WSJ Live video series, Kissel used a hypothetical about the government forcing a bank to make mortgage loans to attack the logic of disparate-impact analysis. Kissel said in this scenario, "Effectively, the government is saying, 'We want informal quotas. You have to lend x to Hispanics, y to blacks, and z to whites.' That doesn't sound constitutional to me." Kissel then went on to say that the Obama administration had "used this theory to shake down banks for millions of dollars. Let's hope the justices actually read the text of the law":
Right-wing media have long objected to the use of disparate impact in fair-housing litigation, calling it a "dubious legal theory." In fact, every one of the 11 federal circuit courts that have considered the question over the last 40 years have reaffirmed that the amelioration of discriminatory effects is a core component of both the intent and text of the FHA, and Congress specifically amended the statute in 1988 in recognition of the fact. Such overwhelming consensus was unsurprising -- the need to begin the slow process of integration after centuries of residential apartheid was specifically designed to be a systematic task, and not a game of Whac-A-Mole aimed at individual bad actors. It was anything but a fringe theory, but rather the product of bipartisan efforts, including those of the Republican HUD chief George Romney in the Nixon administration.
From the July 15 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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A New York Post editorial dismissed the decrepit and dangerous condition of homeless shelters in New York City, claiming a New York Times exposé of the realities of poverty for homeless children demonstrated how "generous" the city had been.
On December 8, the New York Times published the first in a five-part series on poverty in the city titled "Invisible Child," which featured the story of one of the city's 22,000 homeless children whose family currently resides at the Auburn Family Residence, a homeless shelter. The Times described the shelter as "a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers."
The Post editorial board responded to the story on December 9 by dismissing the family's problems, claiming that because they lived in a 540 square ft. shelter, they "aren't really homeless at all," and concluded that the city of New York had been "too generous" to provide the family with any shelter, even one that featured "mice and reports of sexual assaults and other crimes":
Begin with the family at the center of this story. The mother, father and eight kids aren't really homeless at all. True, they live in housing meant for "homeless families." But their 540-square-foot unit gives them a solid roof over their heads, in addition to city-provided meals and services.
Yes, the family's housing has problems, including mice and reports of sexual assaults and other crimes. But the Times and Elliott, like much of the liberal establishment, seem to think it's the city's job to provide comfortable lives to outrageously irresponsible parents. In this case, that's a couple with a long history of drug problems and difficulty holding jobs.
Something's wrong with that picture.
If the city is at fault here, it might well be for having been too generous -- providing so much that neither the father nor mother seems much inclined to provide for their kids. That would be a story worth reading.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel falsely claimed that no American homeowners have been wrongfully foreclosed on since the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. In fact, federal investigations found more than a million homeowners have faced potentially wrongful foreclosures.
On the October 11 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., guest host Charles Payne was joined by Fox contributor Monica Crowley and Kissel to discuss the latest quarterly earnings report from JPMorgan Chase. The firm, which has been beset by legal battles, reported robust profits despite extensive legal expenses in the last fiscal quarter.
The discussion turned to an alleged government "shake down" of the bank and demonization of Wall Street when Kissel interjected that, in fact, the financial industry had done nothing whatsoever to deserve extra scrutiny:
KISSEL: There hasn't been a single homeowner who has been identified who was foreclosed on that shouldn't have been foreclosed on. Somebody who was paying his bills.
In fact, more than a million American homeowners were potentially wrongfully foreclosed on during the housing crisis.
An independent review of foreclosures, conducted by the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), found that up to 30 percent of the 3.9 million households foreclosed on by 11 leading financial institutions faced wrongful challenges or should have been subject to certain legal protections. From the Huffington Post:
Close to 1.2 million borrowers, or about 30 percent of the more than 3.9 million households whose properties were foreclosed on by 11 leading financial institutions in 2009 and 2010, had to battle potentially wrongful efforts to seize their homes despite not having defaulted on their loans, being protected under a host of federal laws, or having been in good standing under bank-approved plans to either restructure their mortgages or temporarily delay required payments.
They reveal that nearly 700 borrowers who faced foreclosure proceedings had actually never defaulted on their loans.
The Huffington Post further reported, according to OCC data, that nearly a quarter-million borrowers eventually lost their homes. JPMorgan Chase, the bank being discussed on Varney & Co., has paid out millions of dollars in settlements over wrongful foreclosures, "leading Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan's chief executive, to personally apologize for his bank's errors."
Kissel's argument that banks like JPMorgan Chase did nothing do deserve current legal investigation - and instead praising Dimon for not "blow[ing] up the bank" - denies the reality faced by millions of Americans over the past five years.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney misleadingly downplayed the harm that a government shutdown would inflict on the U.S. economy by claiming Wall Street would be mostly unaffected and that it could help the housing market. In fact, a shutdown would harm the housing recovery and economists say it would slow economic growth.
Rush Limbaugh charged that a new rule proposed by the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) aimed at promoting fair housing practices was "social engineering" and an attempt on the part of the federal government to "force" people to live in certain neighborhoods.
In the 1970s, schools were ordered to bus children into neighborhoods far away in order to racial balance in the schools. ... [W]hen forced busing erupted, there was outrage all over the country, including liberal Boston. But the social architects of the left didn't listen, and they kept at it ... 'cause they were forcing people to do what people weren't doing of their own volition. People were choosing neighborhoods where they wanted to live, and leftists didn't like the choices they were making. So they basically used the power of the government to force them [to move].
Okay, let's fast forward to today. Social engineering is on the verge of being imposed on entire neighborhoods, adults and children alike. ... What this is, is central planners imposing their will on where you live, not just where your kids go to school--and it's all being done, of course, for our own good.
Limbaugh cites a Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Rob Astorino, the Republican Westchester County executive, as proof that HUD "wants the power to dismantle local zoning" ordinances in order to impose diversity in local communities. Limbaugh goes on to claim that "[a]ll of this is Obama and the Democrats. They run these agencies. They look at zoning as disguised discrimination." Any effort to balance out segregated housing patterns, according to Limbaugh, is "part of [an] ongoing effort to achieve utopia" by "the elites."
What Limbaugh fails to note is that HUD's efforts to integrate racially homogenous neighborhoods is not new, nor was it invented by President Obama or anyone in his administration. It was actually Republican George Romney (father of Mitt), in his role as Richard Nixon's HUD Secretary, who began this effort with the "Open Communities" program in 1968. The program would have given federal grants only to those local governments that provided subsidized housing for poor minorities, in an effort to promote equal opportunities in housing and education.
President Obama has given three high-profile speeches in July and August outlining an economic policy agenda for his remaining term in office as part of the White House's attempts to refocus the national media on pressing economic issues. An analysis of live coverage found that these speeches received unbalanced coverage across cable news outlets, with Fox News devoting by far the least amount of time.
From the August 8 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Fox Business host Stuart Varney falsely claimed that policies outlined in President Obama's housing speech will inflate a new housing bubble by "coercing" private banks to provide low interest rates and easy money to unfit borrowers, ultimately setting the stage for another financial collapse.
On the August 7 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Varney argued that the president's call to wind down government involvement in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, perhaps dissolving the two mortgage giants altogether, was in fact a ploy to over-regulate private industry. According to Varney, Obama eventually planned to force other banks to lend to the "poor credit borrowers" currently served by Fannie and Freddie. Varney and Fox host Heather Childers agreed that it was a policy of lending to so-called "poor credit borrowers" that caused the financial collapse more than five years ago. They went on to state that the president's proposal would set the precedent for another crash.
Varney continued his attack on the president's housing initiatives on the August 7 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co. with senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano who agreed that the president "wants to transform them [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] ... into something more sinister" through federal regulation of the banking industry for his own political gain.
Fox is once again attacking the president for policies he does not actually support. Furthermore, they are once again blaming the financial collapse on bad borrowers who were extended loose credit through government regulation, even though economists conclude otherwise.
On August 6, President Obama spoke at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Arizona, on the merits of "responsible homeownership." The president outlined a vision to build upon stable growth in the housing market without burdening American taxpayers with the failures of risky borrowers and lenders. From the speech:
We've got to give more hardworking Americans the chance to buy their first home. We have to help more responsible homeowners refinance their mortgages, because a lot of them still have a spread between the rates they're paying right now on their mortgage and what they could be getting if they were able to refinance.
And we've got to turn the page on this kind of bubble-and-bust mentality that helped to create this mess in the first place. We got to build a housing system that is durable and fair and rewards responsibility for generations to come. That's what we've got to do.
The president specified that his plan will not bail out risky lenders and borrowers at the expense of the public, and that it would take steps to curtail some of the rampant market speculation that helped drive the housing bubble before the 2008-09 crash. The president indicated support for winding down the two government-backed mortgage giants; meanwhile, legislation to gradually dissolve Fannie and Freddie over the course of five years is already proceeding through the House and Senate.
President Obama also outlined a multi-step program that would allow borrowers to refinance at today's low rates, make more credit available to well-qualified borrowers, rebuild hard hit communities, and ensure affordable rent to families who opt not to buy a home.
The president also commented on the prospect of immigration reform providing a boost to the housing industry. According to The New York Times, a study by the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals estimates that the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill could generate up to $500 billion in mortgage lending to new citizens and documented legal residents.
Contrary to Varney's continued accusations, economists argue that loose private sector lending, rather than government-sponsored loans to "poor credit borrowers," precipitated the housing market's collapse. While Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did contribute to the market's overall instability, a Brookings report finds that "Fannie and Freddie did not catalyze the market for subprime MBS [Mortgage Backed Securities]; rather, they started to hold such mortgages in the pools they purchased, perhaps because of shareholder pressure or to regain market share."
According to Brookings senior fellow Alice Rivlin, it was the private sector's "extraordinary decline in lending standards" that caused the crisis, and GSEs do not deserve the blame. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes that GSEs began buying junk bonds "late in the game" as a response to pressure from private market, citing a Moody's investor document. Data comparing GSE lending to the private sector indicates that GSEs took fewer risks than the private sector.
Right-wing media have responded to a proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with a barrage of false attacks and overheated rhetoric. The rule, which attempts to increase minority access to community resources like public transportation and education, has been called an act of "tyranny" designed to "encourage diversity, for diversity's sake."
After calling today's presidential address on the economy "a case of political déjà vu," America Live guest host Shannon Bream claimed that the economy has "mostly struggled" since Obama took office, despite evidence to the contrary.
The July 24 edition of Fox News' America Live opened with a preview of President Obama's economic speech taking place at Knox College in Illinois. Bream immediately framed Obama's economic record negatively, saying, "Critics argue, they think it's just going to be more of the same, returning to themes of higher taxes and higher spending, leaving some thinking he's just out of ideas. President Obama took office, since then the economy has mostly struggled." She then asked, "If the critics are right and there's nothing new here, what is the speech really all about?"
But in fact, housing prices have consistently risen, the Dow Jones Industrial average, also on the rise, has posted record highs, and private sector job growth has steadily increased since February 2010:
Although the economy has improved, Republican obstructionism "has blocked pro-growth policy and backed job-killing austerity," Guardian columnist Michael Cohen argued. Economic experts have argued that lowering public sector spending has held the economy back and government spending cuts have consistently lowered GDP growth in recent years, but Bream made no mention of Republican plans to gut the president's proposals to remedy this.
While the five largest network and cable Sunday shows underreported economic developments in the past month, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry provided ample discussion of the economy.
A Media Matters analysis of Sunday show coverage from May 12 to June 9 found that ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX and NBC devoted less than 36 total minutes to the economy. This lapse in coverage occurred despite multiple economic developments emerging over that period.
Of the Sunday shows analyzed, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry stood out for its economic coverage. In five weeks, the show dedicated almost three hours to discussion on the economy -- by far the most coverage of the seven shows Media Matters analyzed. Melissa Harris-Perry was almost five times more likely to discuss the economy than CNN and network Sunday shows combined.
The show's discussion of the economy was diverse, touching on a range of topics including poverty in America, food insecurity, student loan reform, and the recent rebound of the housing market.
The show's ample and diverse economic coverage comes at a critical time -- according to a May 7 Gallup poll, a majority of Americans view an array of economic issues as high priorities.
Is the media's heavy focus on Washington "scandals" pushing positive economic developments to the wayside?
CNN correspondent Christine Romans observed that focus on Washington "scandals" may be knocking positive economic news off the agenda, claiming "now the economy is slowly healing, all the conversation is about controversies though."
Romans isn't alone in her observation. On the May 29 edition of MSNBC Live, Talking Points Memo's Igor Bobic highlighted the fact that "scandal-mania" in Washington is taking all the oxygen out of positive economic developments, prompting host Thomas Roberts to note, "There really is this obsession we have in D.C. right now talking about the IRS or Benghazi or even the DOJ scandal, but we're not talking about where we're moving economically as a country, but it is in a positive direction."
Indeed, media has been largely silent on economic gains, most recently demonstrated by an underreporting of the housing price surge.
On May 28, Standard & Poor's released its Case-Shiller index of home prices. The report showed that in March, housing prices rose at an annual rate above 10 percent, posting the largest gain in the housing market since April 2006.
This positive news, however, did not garner any significant attention from cable news networks. According to a Media Matters analysis, in the day following the release of the Case-Shiller report, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN spent a total of nine minutes and 32 seconds discussing the surge in housing prices.
Housing prices in March rose at the highest annual level since April 2006, a sign of positive economic development that went largely underreported by cable news networks.
Right-wing media continue their relentless campaign to undermine the Labor Secretary nomination of Thomas Perez, pushing the baseless claim that he acted unethically in his involvement with a withdrawn Supreme Court case that could have undone decades of civil rights precedent.
The Wall Street Journal and the National Review Online have been at the forefront of allegations, most recently made by the WSJ on May 6, that Perez perpetuated a "shady quid pro quo" with the City of St. Paul, Minnesota, because of his involvement in deliberations that resulted in a withdrawn Supreme Court case, Magner v. Gallagher, and the decision of the Department of Justice to not intervene in an unrelated False Claims Act lawsuit.
By holding a surprise hearing for the "whistleblower" who initiated the False Claims Act case against St. Paul, Congressional Republicans have used the allegations that something "awfully suspicious" occurred to push back Senate mark-up of Perez's nomination until May 8. The "whistleblower," a small business owner named Frederick Newell, may have lost a sizeable sum of money he could have been awarded if DOJ had intervened. As explained by Mother Jones, "given all the hard work he put in, it's understandable he's ticked off at Perez. But the fact that Newell didn't get his money doesn't mean Perez did anything improper."
Indeed, it's unclear if Newell could have won even if DOJ had joined the case. DOJ's top expert on these sorts of claims, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael Hertz, determined the case was weak, reportedly deciding "this case sucks" and to not intervene. The Magner case at the other end of this "quid pro quo," however, was of far greater significance.
Because Magner had the potential to present yet another opportunity for the conservative Justices to dismantle long-standing civil rights precedent, advocates ranging from civil rights attorneys to former Vice President Walter Mondale joined the DOJ in requesting St. Paul drop its appeal that had brought the case to the Supreme Court. In a recent op-ed for Politico, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, explained the stakes:
As any lawyer knows, bad facts make bad law. This adage aptly applies to a fair housing case involving the city of St. Paul, Minn., that is now being unfairly used to tarnish the integrity of Tom Perez[.]
What made [Magner] so unusual was landlords' claim that by enforcing housing codes against them the city was committing a civil rights violation under the Fair Housing Act. Their argument was that bringing their buildings up to code would cost too much money, cause them to dispose of the properties and thus, affect the access of their minority tenants to housing. The district court dismissed the landlords' claims, but they prevailed on appeal.
This case represented a real threat to established civil rights laws that have protected millions of Americans from discrimination. It would be a real threat to the integrity of the Fair Housing Act if these landlords could use it to keep tenants in squalor.
St. Paul's mayor, Chris Coleman, was working with Perez on this issue and on an unrelated False Claims Act case against the city. The false claims case was relatively weak, and the Justice Department chose to dismiss it. During this same period, I was among the civil rights advocates who initiated conversations with the mayor to ask if he would withdraw the city's Supreme Court appeal in the landlords' case. Coleman's public interest background and commitment to preserving the Fair Housing Act made him uniquely sympathetic to our concerns. After due deliberation, the city dropped its Supreme Court appeal.