Media Watch: Guest Post from Economic Fairness Oregon
Enjoy this post from Economic Fairness Oregon, our partner group devoted to fighting for financial security of all Oregonians by calling for an end to abusive financial practices that have drained our bank accounts and ravaged our economy.
You can't believe everything you read
In anticipation of next month’s foreclosure mediation program commencement, some media outlets are reporting that recent foreclosure spikes in Oregon are a direct result of lenders speeding up the foreclosure process to try and avoid the new law. From a little TV station in Medford to the state’s biggest paper, The Oregonian, reporters have turned this correlation into causality through interviews with two people not actually qualified to make such an assessment. Don’t get us wrong – we wouldn’t put it past the lending industry, but what we take issue with is that both reports present the new legislation to protect homeowners as the problem, instead of the real issue – that if this rise in foreclosures is truly because lenders are worried about the new legislation, it means that lenders are trying to get away with as much bad behavior as they can fit in before they actually have to follow some very basic new rules. This point is unfortunately not made in The Oregonian article, but was succinctly expressed by the first reader to comment on it:
“I heard that bullies in school are taking as much lunch money as they can steal before summer vacation starts, just like the bully lenders are jamming more foreclosures through while they can.”
One would think that if a media outlet claims an entire industry is behaving in a certain way, they would actually interview someone from said industry – in this case, a mortgage servicer. Surprisingly, it seemed neither reporter could find a mortgage servicer willing to state what was actually needed to anecdotally verify their claim: “As a mortgage servicer, I am pushing through more foreclosures right now because I would like to avoid a new law that will make it harder for me to take peoples’ homes.”
In the absence of this hypothetical honest mortgage servicer, both KDRV and The Oregonian rely on the opinions of unqualified observers – the former quotes a real estate agent and the latter a representative of a company that flips foreclosed homes. In this age of a 24-hour news cycle, it can be tough to do the actual legwork needed to form an accurate insight into a complex issue. But this is not a free pass for journalists to not do the research and instead put up an ill-informed statement about an issue with their only supporting evidence being the opinion of people who are not qualified to weigh in on the issue.
Perhaps a remedial lesson in basic statistics is necessary: “Without clear reasons to accept causality, we should only accept correlation. Two events occurring in close proximity do not imply that one caused the other, even if it seems to makes perfect sense.”
Yet, both media reports clearly state that the correlation of the state’s impending law and a spike in foreclosures is actually a cause and effect relationship. Take this lead paragraph from The Oregonian’s article:
“Foreclosure filings fell in the Portland area last month, but they jumped statewide as lenders worked overtime to get ahead of new foreclosure legislation taking effect in July.”
KDRV bought themselves a bit more wiggle room in their statement, with the inclusion of the word “likely”:
“Back in April, Governor Kitzhaber signed Senate Bill 15-52 into law. This likely lead (sic) to the 19% rise in May, as lenders try and push through foreclosures before the law kicks in on July 12th."
The job of the press is to provide the public with well-vetted information. To cry that the sky is falling and foreclosures are on the rise due to pending regulations is a statement that requires more research than a simple phone call to a real estate agent with an opinion on the matter.