NBC Blames Mortgages and Unemployment, but Not Borrowers for Debt

     It was the day after Christmas and borrowers were the only ones not blamed for credit card debt, by “NBC Nightly News.” Instead, the economy took the bad rep.


     NBC senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reported on mounting credit card debt, but presented borrowers as victims of credit card companies and a struggling economy.


     “Why” have American households accumulated almost $10,000 in credit card debt on average – 64 percent more than a decade ago? And why have accounts “seriously delinquent,” late at least 90 days, increased 50 percent over a year ago along with an 18 percent increase in defaults?


     According to Myers, “Experts blame fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis and increased unemployment and warn of broader economic consequences.”


     Myers didn’t mention that unemployment has only risen 0.3 percent since March and is still relatively low, at 4.7 percent for November. According to USA Today, “Most U.S. employers plan to keep their payrolls stable early next year [2008].”


     The December 17 Wall Street Journal pointed out that although unemployment has increased slightly, a rise in layoffs that would signal an economic slowdown or recession – one that might cause credit card delinquencies to soar – has not occurred.


     “The job market is signaling a modest slowdown in hiring but not a sharp increase in layoffs,” The Wall Street Journal’s Sudeep Reddy wrote. “While jobs continue to bleed from the housing and finance sectors, growth in service jobs remains robust and most other sectors remain afloat.”


     Myers’ story cited data from a December 23 Associated Press analysis on credit card debt and the economy. But the AP story made it clear that mortgage problems and unemployment are primarily factors in certain geographic regions.


     “Mark Zandi, chief economist and co-founder of Moody's Economy.com Inc., cited mounting mortgage problems that began after this summer’s subprime financial shock as one of the culprits, as well as a weakening job market in the Midwest, South and parts of the West, where real-estate markets have been particularly hard hit,” wrote AP.


     Benjamin Garber, another Moody’s economist warned “Nightly News” of the consequences of unemployment and credit defaults, but didn’t blame the credit crunch on unemployment.


     “We’re entering a danger point where rising unemployment and higher mortgage defaults lead us into a delinquency rate that really could not support a growing economy,” Garber said.


     Neither “Nightly News” nor AP accused borrowers of irresponsible spending, but “Nightly News” did fault lenders for raising interest rates in cases where risk is considered higher because borrowers are unable to make payments on other debt.


     “Once consumers get into a hole, lenders – credit card companies included – will slap on fees and have other policies that just dig the consumer in deeper and deeper,” Kathleen Day, from the Center for Responsible Lending, told “Nightly News.”


     No lenders were represented in the NBC report, though the borrower interviewed was treated as a victim of circumstance.


     However, credit card debt could be an issue in the 2008 presidential election. Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is just one candidate who has advocated more regulation of lenders.


     “The truth is, our middle-class families are not going to be secure so long as they can't get out of debt,” said Obama according to a December 3 AP story. “If we’re serious about stopping Americans from falling deeper in debt, we’ve got to crack down on predatory credit card companies that are pushing them over the edge.”

     According to Business & Media Institute’s recently released study on debt issues, “Nightly News” was the worst of the three networks—blaming business nine times as often as borrowers. The program also tied with “World News with Charles Gibson” for ignoring the issue of personal responsibility.