Jonathan Karl Plays the Freddie/Fannie Blame Game

News that Newt Gingrich was receiving millions of dollars to advise Freddie Mac has to be a little unsettling for at least some conservative voters, who are accustomed to demonizing the government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for causing the housing bubble, and hence the recession.

But it’s not just right-wing pundits like Bill O’Reilly who are fond of blaming it all on Fannie and Freddie. Here’s ABC reporter Jonathan Karl, speaking in conservative shorthand in his job as network news correspondent on This Week yesterday:

Meet this week’s new front-runner. He’s a good debater, man of ideas, and now Newt Gingrich is riding high in the polls, which means now the spotlight turns to all his baggage. Exhibit A: the nearly $2 million he got from Freddie Mac, a government-backed mortgage company that made so many bad loans, it helped bring the economy down.

We’ll set aside the stuff about Newt Gingrich, Man of Ideas (his most recent one involving having poor children replace janitors at their schools).

The more important question: Did Freddie Mac make the bad loans that crashed the economy?

No. You can read about that here or here, among many others. (UPDATE: To be clear, Fannie/Freddie don’t actually lend money to people buying homes– as McClatchy‘s Kevin Hall and David Goldstein explained back in 2008).

Or read this concise explanation from Fannie/Freddie critic Dean Baker, part of this response to a David Brooks column on this subject:

The worst junk mortgages that inflated the housing bubble to extraordinary levels were not bought and securitized by Fannie and Freddie, they were securitized by Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Lehman and the other private investment banks. These investment banks gobbled up the worst subprime and Alt-A garbage that sleaze operations like Ameriquest and Countrywide pushed on homebuyers.

The trillions of dollars that the geniuses at the private investment banks funneled into the housing market were the force that inflated the bubble to its 2006 peaks. Fannie and Freddie were followers in this story, jumping into the subprime and Alt-A market in 2005 to try to maintain market share. They were not the leaders.

So why is conservative mythology being treated as if it were fact by Jonathan Karl? Because that’s what he does.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.