TA: …right. Street-level dealers compared to your don up on Wall Street. Is that what you saw after looking at this for a year and a half?
JD: Yeah. It absolutely is. I know from interviews all up and down the chain of the industry. The sense that I got down here was that Countrywide and IndyMac—if Countrywide was willing to accept, say, a 600 credit score, two weeks later IndyMac would come back and say 580.
It was a race to the bottom and it didn’t really matter to them because, it’s a sort of tired tale, but in our parents’ generation, they went to the bank and the guy sitting across the office from them had to decide whether they could pay him back. If they didn’t he lost money. Now one of the great pieces of “progress” of the financial revolution of this decade was that just inherent common-sense checks and balances was just gone completely.
You can’t even find your mortgage. Nobody knows who has it anymore.
TA: We keep hearing about the cuts, and newspapers are in terrible shape, but stories like this show that the metro papers still have some scrap in them. How was it doing this with the level of resources you have versus what you were used to earlier in your career?
JD: It’s not like my editors ever said “Don’t do that it’s too expensive.” But you do a lot of self-editing. When I was at the Hartford Courant, which is not the biggest circulation paper in the country. I was doing a story about the medical schools which produce the doctors who get disciplined most frequently. They flew me to Guadalajara, Mexico, for two weeks. St. Lucia for two weeks. I wouldn’t dream of asking for that now.
TA: Do you think this went on in other states? Have other reporters talked to you? Maybe other states didn’t have a regulator as asleep at the switch as Florida…
JD: I’ll bet they were pretty drowsy.
TA: But have you heard of any other reporting on this line?
JD: I haven’t. There are the obvious daily stories of “There’s been a $10 million mortgage fraud case, or a $20 million case”. If you search those there ‘s an endless supply of them, but I didn’t see anybody else do what we did, and I’m absolutely certain they could have.
TA: I like the matter-of-fact tone in this series. You guys called a spade a spade when you found wrongdoing or gross negligence. I think this is part of what’s been wrong with newspapers in years past, was that when they found stuff they too often made their readers read between the lines.
JD: We’ve all been beat reporters and done dailies, and you don’t know the answers often. You’ve got what this guy said and what that guy said and you’ve got to try to balance it. If you spend eight months and looked at 200,000 criminal backgrounds, by the end of it you know the answer. You’ve presented your findings to everybody who’s gonna get named and had long, sometimes contentious interviews with them.
My editor is a guy named Mike Sallah. I’m a much more flowery writer than he is, and he just said “No. Just tell it.” Like a sledgehammer. And we fought over that a lot, but I think he was right.
TA: Are you still working on this? Is there a lot more out there?
JD: There is. We’re working on trying to do at least one more installment in the series. A bunch of emergency rules were established by the governor and the cabinet after the third installment of our series. Those were really good and really necessary.
But that whole business about the people who are loan originators, the ones who are not licensed. They need the legislature to change the law, so we’re going to keep writing about that.