October 09, 2008
Financial Crisis Soundbites: I Guess That Journalist Won't Call Again
Posted by Christine Hurt

Awhile back, Gordon posted about speaking with journalists on the phone, and even sponsored a poll seeking to get professor-reader input on chatting with the media.  I for one almost always talk to reporters who call me.  Especially local reporters from the C-U or Chicagoland area.  We're a state school.  I kind of think that's my job.  Anyway, a local news radio person called yesterday to talk about "what's been going on with the banks," and I'm afraid our conversation just annoyed him.  Here are at least three reasons he'll never call me back:

1.  He wanted me to explain the entire credit crisis in 2 sentences or less.  I can't do it.  I pride myself on being able to explain fairly complex areas of law and finance briefly and succinctly, but the interconnectedness of the mortgagor, mortgage broker, holder, purchaser, investor, insurer, etc. takes more than two sentences (unless the sentences are run-on and very ungrammatical).  There is no quick and easy soundbite answer.  I can't explain the theory of relativity in 10 seconds either.  I'm not going to misrepresent the actual situation by saying something pithy but not apt like "Wall Street gobbled up Main Street mortgages like they were candy and now has a bad case of Montezuma's Revenge."

2.  He asked me who the bad guys were in this scenario, and I wouldn't give him one.  I told him that we may found out that this is no one's fault and that there are no bad guys.  A chain of people misassessing risk multiplied into a very big problem.  Although it's hard to sell $700 billion to the taxpayers without someone going to jail, I could easily believe that there are no bad guys.

3.  He asked me if the situation was going to get worse, and I said yes and no.  I said that we might return to an era where it is hard to get a mortgage.  People just won't be able to pick up the phone or get on the internet and get a $300k mortgage without a credit history or documentation of earnings.  I made the mistake of saying, "And that's probably not a bad thing."  That's when we got disconnected.

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