"Busted" author gets busted, for real

The strange case of the subprime N.Y. Times reporter gets much stranger.

Published May 21, 2009 10:26PM (EDT)

Megan McArdle has quite the scoop over at the Atlantic. It seems that Edmund Andrews, the New York Times economics reporter whose new book, "Busted: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown," tells a shocking story of descent into subprime hell, did not tell us the whole story.

Patty Barreiro, Andrews' wife, has declared bankruptcy twice. The second time was while they were married, a detail that didn't make it into either the book or the excerpt that ran in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

Andrews' desire to shield his wife is understandable -- hell, laudable. No decent person wants to parade their spouse's financial trouble in front of the world. But this is material information that changes the tenor of his story. Serial bankruptcy is not a creation of the current credit crisis, and it doesn't just happen to anyone, particularly anyone with a six figure salary.

Barreiro's second bankruptcy declaration, McArdle reports, came just four months after she became eligible to do so, after the eight-year wait mandated by a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.

McArdle's revelation makes Andrews look extraordinarily bad. One of "Busted's" selling points is the level of personal detail Andrews provides about his finances and his marriage. To leave out a detail so relevant to his tale of debtor's woe smacks of outright dishonesty -- and it's exactly the kind of behavior that you would hope a New York Times reporter would avoid at all costs. But it's all too obvious why he didn't want to incorporate it into his narrative: As McArdle points out, to have done so would have substantially undermined his thesis that Wall Street banks and mortgage lenders led ordinary Americans like himself down the garden path of fiscal irresponsibility.

I still don't fundamentally disagree with that thesis, overall, but as a reviewer who said nice things about "Busted," I feel used and abused. The very section of the book that I quoted at length in my review, in which Edmund and Patty argue about their finances, with Patty telling him not to make such a big deal about it, takes on a whole new cast if one knows that right about the time of that conversation, she had declared personal bankruptcy for the second time!

My original post on "Busted" was headlined "The Subprime New York Times Reporter." But I had no idea how appropriate the negative connotations of "subprime" would turn out to be.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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