In Which NPR And Congressional Oversight Panel Chair Elizabeth Warren Hate Each Other

While we were concentrating on other things (Snuggie testing, for example), there has apparently been something of a backlash going on against NPR’s Planet Money podcast for its rude treatment of Congressional Oversight Panel Chair Elizabeth Warren. NPR’s Adam Davidson has since expressed regret that he talked over Ms. Warren in a rude way — but despite the mea culpa, a series of links about the issue has popped up in our inbox more than a week later.

So what was the argument about? Davidson takes issue with Warren’s “point of view,” and wants her to “put aside [her] pet issues” until the financial crisis is over. When she’s not keeping an eye on the bailout, Warren is a Harvard law professor who teaches contract law, bankruptcy, and commercial law. She’s extremely interested in debt and its affect on the American family — a topic about which she has co-authored several books.

This concerns Davidson because he is worried that Warren, who he introduces as someone who is on Fresh Air a lot for her work on “credit and bankruptcy and financial stuff,” is in “opposition to the banks.” Davidson maintains that TARP has “one problem to solve” which is not to “look at 30 years of inequity to the American family or the other issues that she happens to care passionately about.”

Warren defends herself, claiming that the debt crisis and the banking crisis are the same thing, and that you can’t have a healthy banking system without considering the American consumer.

The Colombia Journalism Review has a partial transcript of the interview, or you can listen to the entire thing here:

ADAM DAVIDSON: What it feels to me is what you are missing is that – I think we put aside your pet issues. We put them aside. We put them aside until this crisis is over.

ELIZABETH WARREN: The cr- What you’re saying makes no sense. Now come on. [interpolate Davidson sputtering and attempting to interrupt throughout.] It makes no sense. On an emergency basis, on one day, one week, one month, there’s no doubt in my mind we’ve got to step in, we’ve got to make sure we have a functioning banking system. I think I’ve said that like nine times now. Of course we’ve got to have a functioning banking system.

DAVIDSON: Wait a minute. I want to make you go further. I want to make you madder before I –

ELIZABETH WARREN: No no no. [Davidson snickers] We’re now at what – we’re now seven, eight months into this. And it’s the second part of what you said. We can’t do anything about the American family until this crisis is over? This crisis will not be over until the American family begins to recover. [More Davidson sputtering.] This crisis does not exist independently –

DAVIDSON: That’s your crisis.

ELIZABETH WARREN: No it is not my crisis! That is America’s crisis! If people cannot pay their credit card bills [Davidson tries to interrupt] if they cannot pay their mortgages –

DAVIDSON: But you are not in the mainstream of views on this issue. You are not –

ELIZABETH WARREN: What, if they can’t pay their credit card bills the banks are gonna do fine? Who are you looking at?

ELIZABETH WARREN: Who says a bank, a bank is going to survive – Who is not worried about the fact that the Bank of America’s default rate has now bumped over 10%? That’s at least the latest data I saw. So the idea that we’re going to somehow fix the banks and then next year or next decade we’re going to start worrying about the American family just doesn’t [Davidson talking over] make any sense.

DAVIDSON: The American families are not – These issues of crucial, the essential need for credit intermediation are as close to accepted principles among every serious thinker on this topic. The view that the American family, that you hold very powerfully, is fully under assault and that there is – and we can get into that – that is not accepted broad wisdom. I talk to a lot a lot a lot of left, right, center, neutral economists [and] you are the only person I’ve talked to in a year of covering this crisis who has a view that we have two equally acute crises: a financial crisis and a household debt crisis that is equally acute in the same kind of way. I literally don’t know who else I can talk to support that view. I literally don’t know anyone other than you who has that view, and you are the person [snicker] who went to Congress to oversee it and you are presenting a very, very narrow view to the American people.

ELIZABETH WARREN: I’m sorry. That is not a narrow view. What you are saying is that it is the broad view to think only about trying to save the banks [Davidson sputters] and say “Hey! the American economy will recover at some point and we’ll worry about the families [Davidson talking over].” I think that is the narrow view and I think I have the broad view. The broad view is that these two things are connected to each other. And the notion that you can save the banking system while the American economy goes down the tubes is just foolish.

You can listen to NPR’s reaction to the backlash here. The conclusion was that NPR should have treated Ms. Warren with the same level of respect that they gave to another recent interviewee — Tim Geithner.

So, bad manners aside, who is right?

So That’s Why the Press Won’t Cover Elizabeth Warren! [CJR]
Hear: Elizabeth Warren Checks In [NPR Planet Money]
Hear: Follow Suit [NPR Planet Money]