HuffPo Live: The Fox News of the knee-jerk left?

By Felix Salmon
August 13, 2012
Let's play Celebrity Google Hangouts!

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Huffington Post Live launched today. Don’t call it streaming video: “it’s really a platform for engagement,” in the words of its founding editor, Roy Sekoff. What does that mean in practice? Let’s play Celebrity Google Hangouts! Here’s your host, Josh Zepps. Take it away, Josh:

John Cusack, you brought this to our attention. What struck you about it? It’s one of those ideas that sounds just crazy enough to work?

Amazingly, they’re talking about Mortgage Resolution Partners, and its plan to make lots of money by buying up performing mortgages on the cheap using eminent domain. I wrote about MRP here, and here, and here; suffice to say, it’s a bad idea. But! Let’s see what John Cusack thinks!

Yeah, I just thought it was a, seemed to be a question of um, you know, um, fundamental fairness, um, and, I, these, these, er gentlemen, um, John, um, Vlahoplus, who’s, who’s a Rhodes Scholar, and who’s studied this stuff and worked in the financial industries, and has a long history of working with that, and Kevin McCabe, who is, is working with the, er, is a founder of the Community Partnerships, which is an independent group which is working with Mortgage Resolution Partners, er, gave us a view from 30,000 feet, and, um, they really feel like this eminent domain thing can work, and kind of reset the markets.

There’s actually a certain amount of timeliness to this subject: Joe Stiglitz and Mark Zandi have one of those bipartisan op-eds in the NYT today, praising Jeff Merkley’s excellent proposal to help underwater homeowners. That proposal could scale to hundreds of billions of dollars and make a real dent in the problem; it also wouldn’t exclude you if, say, your mortgage is owned by Frannie, or a bank.

But over the course of more than 18 minutes, Merkley and his proposal are never mentioned. Instead, we have that guy from Hot Tub Time Machine explaining that “I would imagine from our discussions that the opposition is a very narrow group of people, as opposed to the very broad public good this would do… All the smart people that I talk to, and believe me I’m no expert even though I have a big mouth, tell me that this is in everybody’s best interest except a very narrow group of people”.

To which Arianna Huffington can only respond: “That’s what it comes down to, a very narrow group of people versus the public interest”.

In reality I’m far from alone in being a big supporter of principal reductions, while opposing this particular idea, which seems to benefit Mortgage Resolution Partners first and everybody else only as an afterthought. But HuffPo didn’t invite anybody like me along for their chat: instead, they invited John Vlahoplus, the chief strategy officer at… Mortgage Resolution Partners. And he was allowed to get away with saying that he has “the overwhelming support of communities and of homeowners” and that the only opponents to his scheme are “a very narrow group of companies who’ve bought these securities very cheaply, and they’ve been fighting really hard, together with Sifma and the American Securitization Forum, to stop this. And they’re intimidating local communities. They’re threatening to red-line local communities”.

This kind of uncontested demagoguery is decidedly unpleasant, and feels as though HuffPo has decided it wants to be the Fox News of the knee-jerk left. Or, as Cusack might put it, “What’s beautiful about this” is that “it’s a real grassroots thing”. It’s a rare — and quite scary — window, directly into the psyche of how HuffPo thinks. Let’s just hope they don’t decide to start covering autism the same way they’re covering underwater mortgages.

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