As Seen On TV

I don’t know why I still bother watching television news programs, because it often seems that genuine news is absent from the small screen. This is especially acute when it comes to turning on the TV in search of some intelligent coverage of the housing market and the mortgage industry – you can flick endlessly among the 24/7 news channels and evening news reports and there is almost nothing of value on this important economic subject.

But recently, a pair of high profile TV offerings on the fringes of the news cycle tiptoed into this realm. The fact that they picked up the subject of housing and mortgages is a surprise, but the level of attention they provided was even more shocking.

The first program was “The 700 Club,” hosted by the polarizing televangelist Pat Robertson. Last month, Robertson fielded a question from a 67-year-old viewer who wanted to get his opinion on reverse mortgages. “Retirement money does not cover our basic expenses,” the viewer stated, adding that she had to keep working in order to make ends meet. The viewer was curious if the reverse mortgage was the right way to go.

I am not certain what research went into preparing his answer, but Robertson seemed to have a shaky knowledge of the subject. He stated that a lender originating a reverse mortgage “will not take your house away from you as long as you are alive and living.” Of course, this is not correct – borrowers with reverse mortgages are still responsible for payments on property tax and home insurance, as well as maintenance expenses, and they could face foreclosure and possible eviction if they are derelict in regard to these responsibilities.

Robertson then added, “When you do leave, you don’t have to pay it off, but somebody has to pay it off, namely the United States taxpayer. So, it’s not a good deal for the taxpayers, but for most people it’s a pretty good deal.”

Well, again, Robertson is obviously confused again regarding who is ultimately responsible for the repayment of the loan – and the average taxpayer is obviously not the one stuck with the bill for someone else’s reverse mortgage. But, in fairness, he did get one point right when he told the viewer that sought his help, “Get an advisor to help you on it.”

Yeah, you don’t expect Pat Robertson to be someone who can talk about housing with any degree of expertise. On the other hand, Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” has the reputation of knowing a thing or two about the sociopolitical subjects that come across his TelePrompter.

Alas, Stewart seemed to equal Robertson when it came to creating a baffling television experience. Last month, Stewart hosted U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro to discuss matters relating to the Federal Housing Administration and Washington’s housing policies.

The problem with this interview, it seemed, was that Stewart had no clue how the housing finance system worked. The sublime Trey Garrison at HousingWire observed the following:

“Stewart also asked Castro if there is still the chance for another crash. ‘Once you give people mortgages, you are not selling them, bundling them, making derivatives, handing them over to other banks?’ Stewart said. ‘We’re not doing any of that stuff anymore?’ Castro equivocated for a moment, preparing to touch on the secondary mortgage market. ‘Just say no,’ Stewart interjected. ‘Just say no.’”

I have no problems saying no – at least in regard to worthless television programs that give wrong information about how this crucial element of the American economic engine functions. Bruce Springsteen said it best: 57 channels and nothin’ on.

About The Author

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Phil Hall has been (among other things) a United Nations-based radio journalist, the president of a public relations and marketing agency, a financial magazine editor, the author of six books and a horror movie actor. Also, as you will discover, he is not shy about stating his views.