Politico, WSJ, WaPo Give 'Messaging' Advice To Left Wing Think Tank

Politico, WSJ, WaPo Give 'Messaging' Advice To Left Wing Think Tank

On September 12th, the Center for Responsible Lending, a left-wing group advocating for greater regulation of the banking industry hosted a national “messaging” conference on “bank reform,” with a special emphasis on curtailing “payday lending”. A centerpiece of the conference was an “off-record” discussion with financial reporters from Politico, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and trade publication, The American Banker. According to conference organizers, the reporters gave the activists “advice” and “insight” for their advocacy campaigns.  

Huge thanks to @DaniDougPost @RachelWitkowski @AlanZibel @KateDavidson for providing good insight and advice today. pic.twitter.com/YJCHYlHkIM

— CRL (@CRLONLINE) September 12, 2014

The participating reporters were Danielle Douglas, consumer finance reporter for the Washington Post, Alan Zibel, consumer finance reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Kate Davidson, banking policy reporter for Politico, and Rachel Witkowski, reporter for The American Banker. 

Ms. Witkowski even tweeted her thanks for being included on the panel:

Loved “off-record” talk w/amazing journos @KateDavidson @DaniDougPost @AlanZibel Thanks@CRLONLINE for hosting: pic.twitter.com/9fioI1xLSM

— Rachel Witkowski (@RachelWitkowski) September 12, 2014

This conference wasn’t simply about the substantive or policy “issues” of banking reform. It was explicitly focused on how to “message” banking reform, or at least CRL’s concept of reform. 

Lisa Donner of @RealBankReform leading a discussion today on national messaging around #paydayreform pic.twitter.com/WQKIGtOiAe

— CRL (@CRLONLINE) September 12, 2014

The conference was particularly focused on how banking reform topics, especially “reforms” to payday lending were covered in the press. Catherine An, media relations manager for CRL tweeted this conference slide:

among predatory products, #payday lending in particular gets a lot of ink cc @CRLONLINEpic.twitter.com/w7PIGTD3mI

— Catherine An (@an_catherine) September 12, 2014

Insights from major mainstream reporters would certainly be helpful if one is concerned about how often the press covers your issues. “Advice” from them while discussing “messaging” of your issue would be singularly helpful. 

The reporters ties to CRL seem to be ongoing. In the days following the conference, the Post’s Douglas retweeted a message from CRL about an activist campaign in Texas:

RT @TXFairLending: El Paso considering additional #paydayreform and #autotitlereform measures.#citiesunite #txlege http://t.co/Hg4ICFxtsc

— CRL (@CRLONLINE) September 15, 2014

Likewise, CRL tweeted links to recent stories written by Politico’s Davidson and American Banker’s Witkowski:

By @RachelWitkowski in @AmerBanker#CFPB‘s Plan to Oversee Auto Lenders Will Have Far-Reaching Impact http://t.co/6OMaaXFjEn [paywall]

— CRL (@CRLONLINE) September 18, 2014

Via @katedavidson in @politico#CFPB to propose rule to oversee non-bank auto lenders (paywall)http://t.co/qo8sfHnEMB

— CRL (@CRLONLINE) September 17, 2014

This is a glimpse into the real way bias works in the mainstream media. There are rarely overt ties between reporters and politically partisan politicians or organizations. Rather, reporters simply segregate themselves within a left-wing cocoon. CRL’s own director of media relations is a 22-year veteran of the Washington Post. It simply doesn’t occur to them that giving “messaging” advice to a left-wing advocacy group would be at all problematic to their status as an “objective” reporter. 

Breitbart News reached out to the reporters involved, seeking clarification on the nature of the panel and a brief summary of the items discussed. Zibel, with the WSJ, said he would “decline to comment” and referred Breitbart News to a PR person within the company. The representative, Colleen Schwartz, emailed that “Wall Street Journal journalists regularly participate in a wide range of public forums where they discuss published reporting, industry trends and provide analysis in their areas of expertise.”

Rachel Witkowski, with American Banker, had a similar explanation. When asked about the panel discussion, Ms. Witkowski wrote “[i]t was a very basic workshop on how groups can communicate to us — the same way in which we tell any person or any party on how to reach us. We have given the same suggestions at other conferences for both consumer and trade groups.”

Asked for an example, Ms. Witkowski said a colleague from her publication recently spoke on a panel at a conference of the Consumer Bankers Association, a banking industry trade group. That panel, however, was limited to a discussion of perspectives around specific regulatory issues. It was a discussion of what was happening within the industry, not what, perhaps, ought to happen, i.e. how to “message” for “real banking reform.”

Danielle Douglas with the Washington Post and Kate Davidson with Politico did not respond to Breitbart News’ questions about the panel.

Again, the organizer’s description of the conference:

ICYMI: On Friday, CRL co-hosted a #payday messaging meeting with @RealBankReform @NCLR. More here: http://t.co/zEYvJ8mIT5 @

— CRL (@CRLONLINE) September 15, 2014

It is important to note that the Center for Responsible Lending is not your ordinary left-wing advocacy group. A 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, CRL spent well over $1 million lobbying for passage of Dodd-Frank banking legislation, according to the House Clerk’s office. It has spent at least $125,000 lobbying so far this year. Interestingly, one of its outside lobbying contracts is to monitor the reauthorization of the “New Market Tax Credit.” 

While that may not be an obvious issue for a consumer advocacy “think tank,” it is important to CRL’s “parent,” Self-Help Inc., a billion dollar credit union headquartered in North Carolina. In 2013, Self-Help made tens of the millions of dollars in loans using the New Market Tax Credit. 

Both Self-Help and CRL were financed, in part, by Herb and Marion Sandler, whose bank Golden West were pioneers of subprime mortgage lending. The Sandlers were even mocked on Saturday Night Live for their role in the creation of the housing bubble and the subsequent financial crisis. 

That saga is a story for another day. It ought, though, to make an amazing disclosure statement when these reporters cover CRL’s new “messaging” on bank reform. Witkowski’s bureau chief, Robert Blackwell, told Breitbart News, “Rachel and the other reporters who appeared at this panel are terrific journalists with high ethical standards. Anything that implies otherwise is unfortunate and deeply misguided.”

Around the same time today, Ms. Witkowski highlighted CRL’s position on a regulatory issue in the following tweet:

Ken Edwards @CRL: Operation Choke Point is “not an attack on payday lenders, it’s to make sure the regulatory gap is closed.” #ABReg14

— Rachel Witkowski (@RachelWitkowski) September 22, 2014

Ms. Witkowski’s ethics aren’t in question. Her close relationship with a group she covers is, however, open to interpretation.


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