The Edmund Andrews Soap Opera

Sometimes I think that the blogosphere is filled with nothing but creeps. Tonight is one of those times.

You may recall that I put up a link to a story by Edmund Andrews, a writer for the NY Times, that describes his descent into foreclosure hell. It was a good story, told without venom and certainly didn’t convey at least to me a sense of victim-hood. My take on the story was that Andrews had been incredibly stupid for a man with his background but no more so than a lot of other Americans.

The story received reviews just sort of raves from both Clusterstock and The Atlantic Business Channell.

Here is what Henry Blodget said about the story:

New York Times economics reporter Edmund Andrewsdescribes his journey to the heart of the American nightmare–debt, default, and dread.  It’s a journey that tens of millions of other Americans are now intimately familiar with.

Andrews doesn’t blame anyone else, including his mortgage broker (startling and refreshing). He doesn’t curse the economy.  And he speaks openly and forthrightly about an all-too-familiar topic that most people are embarrassed to talk about.

Don’t miss it.

And here is what Megan McAardle at the Atlantic had to say:

This the bravest thing I’ve read for a long, long time.  For a reporter–an economic reporter–to admit that he’s been in the hell of excess debt and unpaid bills that he reports on is a major statement in middle class America.  There was a time when America tolerated a certain amount of this in its writers–one reads nearly approvingly of the repeated flirtations with bankruptcy undertaken by the likes of Dorothy Parker or F. Scott Fitzgerald.  But these days, their profligacy, like their alcoholism, is no longer admired, or even tolerated, in the editorial world.

McArdle went on to empathize as a writer with the Andrews with the Andrews saga. She talked about the difficulties of interacting with people that made much more money than she could ever hope to aspire to but at the same time indicated the sacrifices were worth the satisfaction she derived from writing.

Subsequently McArdle somehow discovered that Andrews wife had twice filed for bankruptcy and in fact had done so in 2007 which was in the middle of the decline in the fortunes of the couple. It is worthy of note that she filed individually and that Andrews was not a party to the bankruptcy.

Overall, McArdle was kind in her second column and used the undisclosed BK’s more as a launching point for an indictment of consumer credit than an attack on the credibility of Andrews, his article and book. Nevertheless, she does express the opinion that the Andrews writings are besmirched by the fact he omitted the facts of his wife’s bankruptcies from his narrative. My only quibble with her column would be that she should have contacted Andrews and tried to ascertain the entire story prior to posting it. She contends that she did so and as you will see, Andrews tells a different story.

Frankly, I hadn’t given the entire episode much more thought until this evening when I went online and read Henry Blodget’s second post on Andrews. In it he references McArdle’s revelations about the bankruptcies and says, “These details, in McArdle’s opinion (and ours), changed the tenor of the story considerably.  Instead of a got-carried-away could-happen-to-anyone story of financial stress, denial, and default, the real story suddenly seemed to be about serial bankruptcy and a relationship that warped Andrews’ judgment.”

That’s how he introduces the public statement that Andrews has issued with regard to the McArdle article. As you read it note Boldget’s comments that this is now about bankruptcy and warped relationships that warped judgments.

Here from PBS is Mr. Andrews response:

Ed Andrews: 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.

But Megan McArdle, a blogger for the Atlantic, accuses me of omitting crucial information: namely, that my wife, Patty, was involved in two bankruptcies, one in 1998 with her former husband; and one in 2007, while she was married to me. McArdle says this is “material information that changes the tenor of the story,” and then accuses Patty of “serial bankruptcy.”

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.

Since Patty had been so brave in letting me tell our own story so candidly, I wanted to spare her the public exposure on these older woes. But that is now impossible, so here is the story:

The first bankruptcy in 1998, five years before Patty and I got together. It occurred because Patty’s former husband, a producer of TV commercials in Los Angeles, didn’t file income tax returns for five years. Patty, who was a stay-at-home mom and wasn’t earning money, was blindsided. She had been signing returns, but he hadn’t actually been filing them. Because her husband’s business income was reported on their personal tax returns, she had to join him in the bankruptcy filing.

All that happened in 1998, and it obviously had nothing to do with the story inBusted. It never even occurred to me to mention it.

Patty’s second bankruptcy stemmed from a loan she received from her sister, while Patty was still living in Los Angeles. At the time, she was caring for four children, working for very modest pay, and receiving almost no child support from her ex-husband. (Despite multiple court orders, he remains chronically delinquent on untold thousands of dollars.)

When Patty couldn’t repay, her sister followed her east and sued her. I offered to pay off the loan by withdrawing money out of my 401k, but I wasn’t allowed to because the purpose didn’t qualify as a “hardship.” Without an alternative, Patty had no choice but to seek bankruptcy protection.

None of this has any connection to our story. It had nothing to do with Patty being a spendthrift. It had no bearing on my ability to take out a mortgage, and it had nothing to do with our financial problems.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Busted is a simple story: we took out a mortgage we couldn’t afford, earned less than we hoped and couldn’t bridge the gap.

One final note: I tried to return McArdle’s call three or four times on Wednesday, but received a busy signal every time. I couldn’t leave a voicemail message.

If you’re still with me after all of this, you probably have the same urge to go gargle as I do. This is stuff that really belongs in the checkout line of the grocery store. But hang with me for a second because it starts to get a little nasty.

Blodget could have stopped or at least gone a little easy after he got his first shot in but instead he decided to do a little groin kicking while Andrews was on the ground:

That’s the explanation.  After Andrews’ omission, unfortunately, it doesn’t quite wash.  (No choice?  Why?  Wouldn’t the sister have preferred some sort of installment payback plan?  Couldn’t the couple have gone without some of the things they later bought to save to pay back the sister?)

And here’s Andrews’ interpretation:

None of this has any connection to our story. It had nothing to do with Patty being a spendthrift. It had no bearing on my ability to take out a mortgage, and it had nothing to do with our financial problems.

We have to disagree there.  On the contrary, it seems an integral part of the financial problems.  After enduring two bankruptcies, Patty wasn’t the least bit gun-shy?  She hadn’t developed a deep-seated fear of owing people money?  Based on Andrews’ original story, apparently not.  On the contrary: She seemed annoyed that he was concerned about it. 

The prospect of going bust again , in other words, was no longer scary. It was just what you did when you owed people money you couldn’t pay back.  And given that she had done that twice and it had worked out, what was the harm in charging right down that same path again?

If there was one blog writer that I would have expected a little more consideration out of it would be Henry Blodget. After all he’s been through and all the undeserved slings and arrows he had to endure in his previous career I expect more of him. I truly like his writing and respect his ideas but this time he seems to have glanced at the evidence and decided the accused should hang.

Now I could stop here but this is when the creepiness comes in. I was interested to see what kind of comments Blodgett got on his post. Here is a sample:

Commenter One: LMAO at this beta chump. 

That beastly woman married a film producer. When she was old and unwanted by anyone else, she hooked up with that Times reporter. 

What a chump!

Commenter 2: look at her eyes = cold hearted bitch. 

look at his eyes = deer in the headlights. 

he’s lucky she hasn’t killed him yet for the life insurance.

I know, there are some strange people prowling around the Web but can we just get a little break now and then. There are a lot of people bleeding badly in this country and Andrews may or may not be one of them. I don’t know if he’s a total con man or just some guy that got caught up in all the mania and is paying the price like millions of others. I do know that he told a good story and maybe in the end that’s what really counts. He let’s you feel the pain that’s rampant in this country and maybe we should just thank him for that insight and quit chipping away the last vestiges of his privacy.

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