WHEN THE MEDIA HAS AN AGENDA
by Sharon Rondeau
(Sep. 24, 2017) — On Twitter under a hashtag for “Steve Mnuchin,” Trump’s Secretary of the Treasury, many on Sunday were reacting to Mnuchin’s stated opinion on two morning television shows that professional sports players should refrain from “taking a knee” while they are preparing to play a game.
On Friday, while campaigning for Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, Trump told his audience in very strong terms that he believes athletes who object to standing for the national anthem should be “fired,” a statement reminiscent of his years as host of the popular NBC program “The Apprentice.”
Trump’s commentary appeared to ignite a firestorm on Saturday when the Golden State Warriors, who won the NBA championship in June, waffled on their invitation to visit the White House to celebrate their victory, as is customary for championship teams. In response, Trump rescinded point guard Steph Curry’s invitation, after which the entire team said in a statement that none of them would be going to the White House out of political differences with the president.
One source reported that the team had never been invited.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has called Trump’s comments “divisive” and said that his athletes care greatly about their communities.
On ABC’s “This Week,” Mnuchin supported Trump’s view that “players should have to stand in respect for the national anthem…They can do free speech on their own time,” a phrase which again provided fuel for the mainstream media.
One of those objecting to that viewpoint tweeted a link to an article at the International Business Times bearing the headline, “Steve Mnuchin’s Bank Foreclosed On 90-Year-Old Over 27 Cents: Trump’s Cabinet Pick Reportedly Benefitted Off Housing Collapse.”
The article begins:
A bank established by President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, once tried to foreclose on a 90-year-old Florida woman over a $0.27 payment mistake, reported Politico Thursday. Critics in the story allege that OneWest, founded by Mnuchin and partners, took advantage of the 2008 housing collapse by buying out risky loans from mortgage lender IndyMac and, in turn, getting help from Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to cover the costs.
The headline and body of the article are in disagreement as to whether or not the homeowner in question was actually foreclosed upon, and the word “benefited” in the title is misspelled.
The IBTimes article was reposted by Yahoo! News on the same day, December 1, 2016 and contains an obvious mathematical error, perhaps in the reporter’s rush to publish a story quickly.
In conducting a search under the homeowner’s name to discover whether or not the elderly woman, “Ossie Lofton” of Lakeland, FL, actually lost her home, this writer immediately found an array of articles repeating that “Bank Owned By Trump’s Top Treasury Pick Foreclosed On A 90 …” or some variant thereof.
Arguably, when the word “foreclosed” is used, the reader generally understands that the property was repossessed by the lending institution. However, a notice of foreclosure is not the equivalent of a bank physically repossessing the property after filing the necessary documents with a court to complete the transaction.
The Hill was more accurate in its article which stated of Mnuchin’s former bank, OneWest, “One of the cases involved the bank filing a foreclosure on the Lakeland, Fla. home of a 90-year-old Ossie Lofton in 2014, Politico reports.”
In 2015, OneWest changed its name to “CIT.”
When accessing the original article at Politico, the reader is told that Lofton, with the assistance of a private, non-profit organization, reportedly “fought back and in October the bank agreed not to foreclose.” Further, Politico reported, “Lofton’s lawyers at the nonprofit Florida Rural Legal Services weren’t satisfied. They’ve accused CIT of malicious prosecution and violating state debt-collection laws and have asked the Polk County Circuit Court for a jury trial.”
However, a Reddit community supportive of Donald Trump reported a different story. Beginning with a quote from the Politico article, the Redditer wrote:
The remainder of the post can be viewed here.
The Post & Email clicked the link provided in the Reddit post for the Clerk of Court for Polk County, FL but received a “403” error message.
Launching our own Internet search, we located the Polk County, FL records website and entered the homeowner’s name, locating the reverse mortgage granted by OneWest in 2003.
We were not able to find verification of the claims made by the Reddit user regarding unpaid homeowners’ insurance, but we did locate a “Notice of Lis Pendens” dated November 25, 2014 and subsequent “Notice of Voluntary Dismissal and Release of Lis Pendens” dated December 23, 2014 by OneWest Bank. We have not reproduced or uploaded the documents to avoid an unnecessary intrusion on the homeowner’s privacy.
On April 20, 2016, a second Notice of Lis Pendens was filed by CIT Bank, N.A. against the homeowner, followed by a second Notice of Voluntary Dismissal and Release of Lis Pendens without prejudice entered on October 7, 2016.
The story was widely reported, including internationally, without question. While the UK Daily Mail located the same documents The Post & Email did, it repeated Politico’s claims without verifying them.
A search result on page 2 of this writer’s query resulted in an article by Fox News Insider titled: “Fact Check: Did Treasury Nominee’s Bank Foreclose on a 90-Year-Old Widow?”
The article, dated January 27, 2017, contains a television report by Fox News Channel’s Trace Gallagher stating that the dozens of reports stemming from the Politico article were based on an “untrue story.”
“If you google ‘Mnuchin 27 cents,’ you get tens of thousands of results,” Gallagher told FNC’s Martha MacCallum. “And it might have gotten worse if not for Ted Frank; he’s an attorney who runs the Center for Class-Action Fairness,” Gallagher continued. “Frank did some research and proved that not only did Steve Mnuchin’s company not have anything to do with the 90-year-old woman’s home; the home was never foreclosed upon. In fact, the bank involved is having to pay the woman for her troubles…”
The correction issued by Politico which Gallagher cited, placed at the bottom of its lengthy article propagated throughout the internet, reads:
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that CIT Bank, successor to OneWest after a 2015 merger, was the entity that filed foreclosure proceedings against Ossie Lofton over a 27-cent payment error. The story has also been revised to clarify that there were two separate foreclosure proceedings against Lofton. At the time the second foreclosure was filed in 2016, Mnuchin had sold his stake in OneWest and was on the board of CIT.
The IBTimes article, which contains numerous typographical errors and no independent research, contains no correction or clarification.
In a Twitter “Moments” timeline, Frank stated, showing portions of court documents, that Lofton owed a debt that was “four years past due.”