"Any bright girl who really applies herself to the handling of the checking problem can have a very pleasant time with it and fill the week with happy moments and memorable occasions" - Edward Kennedy, Time magazine, stated tongue-in-cheek according to Sarah Harrison Smith
While there are many myths about credit scores (and there is enough blame to go around), here is an account of one in particular, and how one big-media company chose (and will choose) to deal with its part in furthering that myth.
But this isn't just about credit scores. It is also about truth and sheer fact in American political reporting. So, if we can't even fix simple errors of fact, then we have a much bigger problem.
The Jeff and Jeff show
Jeff Bewkes, the CEO (and, not to mention, the chairman) of Time Warner Inc. is the main man. Jeff Zucker is the president of CNN Worldwide, which is a part of Time Warner. Jeff Z. assumed his position in January.
The problem is that CNN.com states that employers use credit scores, but employers do no such thing. Try as they might, Jeff2 won't be able to prove that they do. And, if you're CNN Worldwide, your errors have a world-wide reach.
You can see the offending passages below, but here is a check to see if Jeff/Jeff/Time Warner/CNN are even paying attention or care one whit about accuracy. Three years ago, in "McConnell: Tea Party not racist," CNN published, "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says that the Tea Party movement is not racist, clarifying a position voiced last week in which he sidestepped the prickly issue."
Of course, the network committed an error in the first sentence. Mitch McConnell (while a fine man), is not and has never been U.S. Senate Majority Leader. Leaving that misstatement uncorrected for even a minute after being made aware of it would not be just bad journalism, it would be un-American.
That is the McConnell Bind: Connecting disparate errors to put those erring in a bind.
Now, the credit score myth (herein bound to the McConnell myth): In a July 21, 2010 story (coincidentally, dated only a week before the McConnell story), CNN states, "Unfortunately, just as average credit scores are slipping, more employers are using them to winnow out job applicants."
Even the html title (the one that appears in the title bar at the top of an internet browser window) is: "Employers are looking at candidates credit scores. Be wary."
Wariness is the right idea, but it's directed at the wrong institution of society. That title is exactly what shows up on search engine results pages, too. So, a citizen doesn't even have to read the page, itself, to be misinformed by big media. You get a preview of the news, and it ain't good—but it ain't true, either.
And, that is not just a one-off. In another, recent, example of the error, TIME.com (as in Time Warner) states, "Insurance companies, landlords, and employers are increasingly checking credit scores, too" (March 14, 2013).
But can you blame Henry Luce's famous brainchild? The well-worn series in that sentence even occurs in a credit score company document. And, by the way, not only do they both tell you that something that is not true is happening, they both say that it is, indeed, increasing. The VantageScore "Credit Scoring Primer" (different holiday) says: "Credit scores are an increasingly important facet of everyday life. Not only do they play a significant role when a bank or credit issuer considers whether (and at what terms) to approve a consumer application for a mortgage, car loan, or credit card, but they are increasingly being used by non-lenders, such as insurance companies, landlords, and employers, to help them determine whether they want to establish a business relationship with someone"
You can surely blame that score company, but you can blame media, just the same. Of course you can blame media. If that part of society isn't looking out for citizens by countering nonsense like that, what good are they?
Meanwhile, CNN.com seems to argue with itself, publishing earlier this year, "And because employers aren't able to view credit scores -- just the information contained in a report like debts, payment history and bankruptcies -- their evaluation of an applicant's creditworthiness is completely subjective, said [public policy organization Demos' Amy] Traub."
While that contradicts the previous CNN reports, there is an even deeper, ironic, twist. The organization referred to in the story testified, falsely (and, even, with detail) that employers, indeed, use credit scores.
Before and after April 24, 2008
In its first sentence, a CNN story dated May 19, 2004 says, "Lenders, landlords, insurers and even employers scrutinize this rating which sums up all of the information in your credit report with three digits ranging from 300 to 850."
The title is "Credit score myths," but the sentence above was not presented as one. It was a premise for the whole story: Credit scores are important—PAY ATTENTION! That setup is used in various forms and in countless stories—and never with evidence or attribution. Pinning it on VantageScore and its CEO, Barrett Burns, might seem easy, but VantageScore didn't even exist until 2006.
That 2004 CNN piece was 4 years before April 24, 2008, the date when the third of the three national consumer reporting agencies stated (within days of the other two) that it does not provide credit scores for employment purposes. And, the CNN story just laid out the claim as a matter of fact, apparently so obvious that it was a foregone conclusion and no source or substantiation was needed. The same thing happened the following year on the same website in "8 credit score myths," as that article (with a slight change) stated, "Lenders, landlords, insurers, utility companies and even employers scrutinize this rating -- which sums up all of the information in your credit reports with three digits ranging from 300 to 850."
The 2005 occasion was the release of a survey conducted for the Consumer Federation of America (a consumer advocate) and the Fair Isaac Corporation (a credit score company), who both repeated the myth, too.
National consumer reporting agency Experian's website CreditReport.com says it today. You can also see actual evidence (a screenshot of its website) of national CRA Equifax making the employers/scores statement in 2009.
CNN Newsource has no source
Time Warner's reach extends beyond its television news network, website and newsmagazine. CNN Newsource, a syndication service, is paid by others for stories to air on their media outlets.
In Philadelphia, the CBS-owned television station reported, "Whether you’re hoping to buy a new home, a new car or even find a new job, you’d better be sure that your credit score is in good shape."
Meanwhile, WPRI-TV in Providence made an identical statement. Both stations' reports are dated May 3 and it is not a coincidence. Time Warner's CNN Newsource provided the story according to the WPRI reporter.
Months later, on its Twitter.com social media account, CNN Newsource published, "A bad credit score can prevent you from getting a job."
If you try to talk some sense into them, you get a woman in Atlanta whose response to a challenge to Time Warner's information includes, "Hey, Greg... Hey, Greg," and little else.
Fact-checking the fact checkers
One more thing: From (heh, heh) "CNN Fact Check: Medicare cuts, again?" (March 1, 2010), CNN claims, "Key GOP lawmakers - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee - all used it while making the rounds of Sunday's political talk shows."
Again, Senator McConnell is the minority leader.
One last thing: From "Is Rand Paul Good or Bad for Republicans?" (March 17, 2010), Time states, "In doing so, he is upsetting not only expectations in Kentucky but also overturning the local power structure: he has outraised Kentucky secretary of state Trey Grayson, the handpicked favorite son of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell."
This Labor Day, don't worry about that credit score thing. Here is the truth: Employers may use credit reports, but they can't get the number—and there is a big difference between the two and how they might be used. Check back next year (or occasionally) to see how it all turns out for mainstream media. Bugs Bunny and Chicken Noodle News are hardly alone in this sorry mess.
1. Riley, C. (2010, July 28). McConnell: Tea party not racist. Retrieved from cnn.com
2. Fisher, A. (2010, July 21). Bad credit, no job?. Retrieved from cnn.com
3. White, M. C. (2013, March 14). Do we really need another credit score? Maybe. Retrieved from time.com
4. VantageScore Solutions LLC. (2008, August 10). Press kit. Retrieved from vantagescore.com
5. Ellis, B. (2013, March 4). Employer credit checks keep jobless out of workforce. Retrieved from cnn.com
6. Max, S. (2004, May 19). Credit score myths. Retrieved from cnn.com
7. Max, S. (2005, March 16). 8 credit score myths. Retrieved from cnn.com
8. CBS. (2013, May 3). 3 on your side: Keeping your credit score in good shape. Retrieved from cbslocal.com
9. WPRI. (2013, May 3). Clean up your credit score. Retrieved from wpri.com
10. CNN Newsource. (2013, August 12). (no title). Retrieved from twitter.com
11. Smith, M. (2010, March 1). CNN fact check: Medicare cuts, again?. Retrieved from cnn.com
12. Newton-Small , J. (2010, March 17). Is Rand Paul good or bad for Republicans?. Retrieved from time.com
Updates regarding Time Warner and the employers myth