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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Essential Redlining Paper

Ever notice that the local television news has become a local street crime news program, along with the prolonged weather report and sports. In city after city, inner city crime on the streets dominates the television stations’ endless appetite for violence, sex and addiction.

But high up in the office building towering over the cities are financial institutions whose behavior increases the deterioration of these neighborhoods. One endemic pattern of behavior is racial redlining by all too many banks and mortgage companies. These stories rarely make the evening local television news, or the three national networks news for that matter. I was reminded of this contrast recently when a group I helped start, called Essential Information, released a detailed report offering strong evidence that 49 major mortgage lenders have engaged in racial redlining in violation of federal Fair Lending laws in 16 major U.S. cities.

Redlining occurs when banks and other mortgage lenders either exclude minority neighborhoods from their “effective lending territories,” or have substantially underserved such

neighborhoods, in likely violation of federal law.

Analyzing the raw data submitted by these mortgage lenders themselves to federal agencies, as required by law, Essential Information’s report prepared color-coded computer maps of these cities showing the redlining by each of these 49 companies.

There were dozens of reporters at the news conference releasing this report. All the major national and regional newspapers were there, along with two tv networks, CNN and other television stations.

The newspapers and wire services covered the report’s findings at some length. But, apart from CNN, the television networks and most of the local television stations in Washington did not. It was not an active news day in Washington, what with the President and the Congress out of town. So, instead of devoting a few minutes to what several of these mortgage companies were doing to Washington’s and nearby Baltimore’s minority neighborhoods, these stations once again went with the police blotter — crimes in the streets.

Viewers must wonder whether anything happens in their home town other than crimes, fires, weather and sports. The television news is sold to viewers as the “evening news”, not the “evening street crime news;” yet what else is going on that is dramatic and affects people’s lives (such as seeking equitable financing to buy a home) rarely makes the screen.

But this is more than a local media’s default. Neither CBS, ABC (whose reporters were there with cameras) nor NBC covered the news conference, nor gave this groundbreaking report and its computer maps one line of attention. In contrast with the news judgment of many newspapers who headlined the study, television news is increasingly becoming graphic-action zoom, boom closeups, or a form of entertainment tonight.

Television producers are addicted to action pictures which can be interpreted by corporate criminals to keep their deeds dull, quiet and technically ridden with jargon. what’s more is that television producers are increasingly unread; so they do not realize the full significance of stories. Their reaction pro or con is very impulsive and visceral.

Consider the broader outrage of redlining. Working Americans have to pay as taxpayers to bailout the S&Ls’ corruption, mismanagement and speculation during the Eighties to the level of half a trillion dollars. These taxpayers are also the guarantors of any future such shenanigans of banks and savings institutions.

Second, millions of small savers are receiving 3% or less on their savings accounts to shore up the banks’ balance sheets which were undermined by the banks’ imprudent management.

Third, taxpayers are required to stand behind the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. government for the secondary mortgage market into which these banks and mortgage firms sell the home mortgages.

So what do many working American families get in return from the guarantees they are obliged to make? Redlining.