New York Times economics reporter Edmund Andrews has responded to The Atlantic's Megan McArdle's takedown of him for glossing over important details in his "I'm broke!" Times piece. It's an ugly scene.
Full recap: Edmund Andrews writes about economics for the Times and went broke. Because he's an NYT reporter, there's the rub! He wrote a book about the experience of going broke as a Rich White Guy Who Should Know Better and excerpted it in last week's New York Sunday Times Magazine. The Atlantic's Megan McArdle did some research and found that Andrews' second wife, with whom he experienced the fiscal woes, filed for bankruptcy not once, but twice, the second time after they were married. The bankruptcies aren't mentioned in the article (and most likely, the book), which makes Andrews' story slightly less "this happened to us" and slightly more "we did this to us," which still probably could've sold the book! But leaving this out is at best, sketchy, and at worst, a lie by omission. So what'd Andrews have to say to McArdle?
NewsHour, who ran a segment on his book Thursday night, asked him for a quote on the kerfuffle. He cries innocence:
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.
..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.
...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.
Schwah? What? Old debt from previous marriages unresolved during a current marriage is still an issue when you're applying for a home loan. Let's assume Andrews got the seedy flex-loan money without his wife's name on it, without her history on it, without her having any association to the mortgage whatsoever. He would still have to consciously omit her from any attempt to get said home loan. And how is that - and her financial history at large - simply not relevant to the book he's writing on his family's financial issues? Maybe because the bankruptcies were kinda scandalous, and shady in their own right.
Bankruptcy Number One came from an ex-husband who's apparently far sketchier than Andrews, five years previous to their marriage. Her ex-husband (a TV commercial producer, naturally) didn't file returns for five years. Since Patty was reporting them on their personal tax returns, she had to join him in the filing. Bankruptcy Number Two is a little more salacious:
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.
So Andrews wanted to help and couldn't; he certainly doesn't sound like a bad guy. But then again, his wife was apparently appalled at some of the things he wrote in the book while he was writing them. How is this any more scandalous than her being a chronic cash profligate? It's not! Which is why Andrews claiming that he's protecting the emotional interests of his wife sounds like bullshit.
Cover-up or foolish omission, it was just a bad play. And now, without reading or knowing the book, it's completely evident that this omission changes the context of the story at large. A financial history is just that, and Andrews' revisionist account - however supposedly well-intentioned - gets shucked of some serious credibility that's central to the conceit of the book (and the Times article, which stems from the book).
Between this and the whole Maureen Dowd thing, the Times isn't looking too good lately. All parties involved might find it in their best interests to shut up Andrews and start getting the spin-control engine turning before their credibility (and, thus: book sales) are further affected. As evidenced below, they might want to move quickly.