A public service announcement

By Felix Salmon
May 22, 2009

Are you thinking of buying or reading Edmund Andrews’s book about how subprime lenders drove him to insolvency? Read this first. And thank your lucky stars that there are bloggers out there (in this case, Megan McArdle) who do a much better job of policing NYT journalists’ memoirs than any MSM journalist is ever likely to.

Update: Andrews responds to McArdle, in a lily-livered way: he does it to PBS, rather than to McArdle directly, and he genuinely asks us to believe that his wife’s two consecutive bankruptcies are entirely irrelevant to the story of his own foreclosure. McArdle is actually quite gentle in her response; she could have been much harsher. As one of her commenters says, “if the two bankruptcies were as innocuous and unrelated as Mr Andrews described, why would he be afraid to include this information in the narrative?”


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My gut instinct on somebody putting out such a book was confirmed after reading the linked writeup on it you supplied.

One more tale of freeloading folks wanting something for nothing, and um…we buy their book to give them spending money they can no longer borrow, now that lending has tightened (and even the family cat can’t apply like in the “good old days”).

I suppose I should follow such a stupid purchase up by holding the door to a stor for a shoplifter running out the door with a new TV, and pay the manager when he comes to give chase?

Posted by Brian Foulkrod | Report as abusive

I think the fact that this econ-writer married a serial bankrupt makes the story more poignant, actually. The extra facts might make it a bad book but still ….

She’s a main stream journalist. She used to write for The Economist and currently writes for The Atlantic Monthly. She may have a great blog, but her bills are mostly paid by journalism, and journalism is where she learned the skills to do the investigation she did.

As McArdle herself notes in the comment to her piece, the “skills,” such as they are required to write the piece were (1) having received a tip from someone about the wife’s prior bankruptcies; (2) knowing that bankruptcy filings are a matter of public record; (3) having the $10 or so it required to retrieve those public documents; and (4) having the writing skills to tell the story in a compelling way.

Of all of those skills or pieces of knowledge perhaps only the last, writing skill, is learned via the journalism trade; nonetheless, many people outside of journalism know how to write well.

So, no, I don’t buy that anything she did was inherently special to the journalism trade: many bloggers have broken stories.

As for the reporter/book writer: I have very little sympathy for people who find themselves in desperate financial straits. McArdle’s story reinforces that notion.

(A propos of perhaps nothing: the CAPTCHA required to submit this comment is “rent”: perhaps the NYT report ought to take that to heart.)

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

This is certainly salient information, but it basically comports with the magazine excerpt, which mostly left me with the impression that their big problem was that his new wife can’t rein in her spending. McArdle indicates that the book is more anti-banker than the excerpt was; if that’s the case (though I suppose even if it isn’t), this is a bigger omission in the case of the book than of the magazine.

Didn’t one of the econ/finance blogs run a bit recently on financial opposites attracting? Savers and spenders? I’ve seen that.

The key message here: don’t buy the book, don’t trust the reporter, and don’t use his story to draw lessons about the larger world.

Posted by ed | Report as abusive

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