Foreclosure filings in February 2008 were down 4 percent from January, but you wouldn’t know that from watching NBC’s “Today” show March 13.
That’s because CNBC contributor Erin Burnett only reported that “foreclosures were up 60 percent in February,” citing RealtyTrac.com. She was referring to the year-over-year increase in filings from February 2007, although she didn’t make that distinction.
The March 13 RealtyTrac.com press release Burnett cited had quite a different headline: “Foreclosure Activity Decreases 4 Percent in February.”
The release was by no means overly optimistic, as RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio noted that “the year-over-year increase of 60 percent this February was significantly higher than the 19 percent year-over-year increase in February 2007, indicating we have still not reached the peak of foreclosure activity in this cycle.”
This isn’t the first time in recent days that Burnett has taken already-negative numbers and made them look worse. On the “Today” show March 7, she reported that “we had about 8 percent of homes in this country right now are in the foreclosure process.”
That number nearly quadrupled the percentage of homes actually in foreclosure, which the Mortgage Bankers Association put at 2.04 percent. Burnett added that number to the 5.83 percent of mortgages in “delinquency,” or past due, although not all delinquencies result in actual foreclosures. Burnett’s report gave the incorrect impression that 8 percent of homes are in foreclosure.
But Burnett isn’t the only journalist to spin RealtyTrac’s numbers. RealtyTrac Vice President Rick Sharga told the Business & Media Institute in July 2007 that his group’s data are often misrepresented by the media – for example, when reporters count the number of paperwork filings as a total number of foreclosures.
In October 2007, Sharga said members of the media “don’t always get or they don’t appreciate the nuance or they may have an agenda of their own,” resulting in skewed reporting on foreclosure numbers.
Still others have questioned the reliability of the RealtyTrac data, with or without media misrepresentation. Real estate industry expert Steve Dutra told the Business & Media Institute that “the reason that a lot of media sources use the RealtyTrac press releases is because it makes a good headline since the numbers are so negatively high.”