NBC’s Andrea Mitchell navigates tricky path in covering financial crisis

By Carol Eisenberg

September 25, 2008 at 3:43pm

NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell is taking some heat for her reporting on the unfolding financial crisis.

Mitchell, a veteran NBC reporter who is married to former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, has played a lead role in covering the 2008 presidential campaign. In the last week, she has also participated in the network’s coverage of the growing turmoil in financial markets and its political fallout.

The Columbia Journalism Review argued yesterday that Mitchell is heading into treacherous territory, even while praising her as a consummate professional, “who knows what conflict of interest is - and how to avoid not only its appearance, but also, one hopes, its effects.”

In most cases, a reporter would be barred from covering a story in which he or she has a personal stake, or which involved a member of her immediate family.

But the boundaries of this one are difficult to navigate since the crisis has multiple economic and political dimensions, and has become interwoven with the 2008 presidential race, which Mitchell is covering.

CJR argues that NBC should err on the side of too much, rather than too little caution in drawing the lines because Greenspan, “by virtue of his nearly-nineteen-year chairmanship of the Federal Reserve Board, is, to some extent, culpable in the crisis we’re facing.”

Greenspan stepped down as chairman on Jan. 31, 2006.

In particular, CJR criticizes Mitchell for veering from straight reportage to analysis yesterday in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” (italicized quotes from CJR):

Once there’s some stability in the market, then the real value of these mortgage loans will become apparent, and then people will get back in.

And, by the way, there’s some really interesting data that is just beginning to surface in these hearings. Lockhart, the regulator of Fannie and Freddie, testified to this yesterday, largely overlooked. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal, an op-ed, by a Columbia professor and by Peter Wallason, who has done some advising for McCain, but is a former treasury official and a former White House counsel. And what they said is that there was a domino effect.

What happened was, the Bush Administration started threatening to regulate Fannie and Freddie and to take away some of their special, implicit benefits where they got cheap money, where they got special implicit subsidies in their interest rates, they could get money at a lower cost. And during that period, they had to prove - and Congress was pressuring them - both parties - pressuring them to prove that they were fulfilling their commitment to low-income housing…. And all of a sudden, you saw a surge in what they were putting into these subprime loans. And it practically doubled in the last couple of years, in what they were putting into those subprime loans. This was between 2006, 2007 - that’s when you saw the big increase in bad loans. So there’s a lot of blame here to go all around, but they’ve got a lot of answers to deliver, as well.

CJR asks whether this is objective historical analysis, or an effort on Mitchell’s part to at least partially absolve her husband of blame for the crisis.

Another question that might be asked is whether Greenspan’s consulting work could pose other conflicts.

Jossip, a website for women, was even more critical of Mitchell in a post entitled, “Should Andrea Mitchell Be, Like, Kicked Off NBC Entirely?”

NBC News said in a statement today that it had no concerns about Mitchell’s reportage.

“We make decisions about Andrea’s reporting on the current financial crisis on a day-to-day, case-by-case basis,” said Allison Gollust, senior vice president for communications. “There are countless aspects of the story that present absolutely no potential for conflict whatsoever.

“In cases where we feel the focus of a given storyline may present a problem, we assign those stories to another correspondent. We are 100-percent comfortable with all of her reporting thus far.”

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