So the blogosphere's verdict is in. New York Times' economics reporter Edmund Andrews' tell-all about his personal credit crisis, which ran in the newspaper's Sunday magazine, is brave. Courageous. Unflinching. A must-read. "Bravo to Andrews for leaning into the strike zone and taking one for the team," cheers The Atlantic's Megan McArdle, who is thrilled that someone has finally spoken up about how economically risky it is be a writer, thanks to the expensive education required and all the rich friends you're likely to accumulate along the way. "And you come to feel that shopping at the farmer's market, traveling to Europe, drinking good coffee, are minimum necessities," she notes.
It seems Andrews' "minimum necessities" included a $460,000 home in Silver Spring, Md., and a $500,000 mortgage to pay for it -- a stretch considering that he was handing over $4,000 a month to his ex-wife for alimony and child support, which whittled down the take-home on his $120,000 annual salary to $2,777 a month. But Andrews had a new wife, Patty, who "was brainy, regal, sexy, fiery and eclectic." Patty didn't have a job, but she did have two children who would be living with them; Andrews had three sons of his own who stays with them on weekends.
Andrews reports that despite bringing home "barely enough to make ends meet in a one-bedroom rental apartment" he was able to get a mortgage and move into his dream home. "It had been so easy and fast. Almost fun," he admits. Five months later, however, he is broke. And while he is worried sick, Patty, who eventually gets a decent job but loses it, is clearly not. "Patty spent little on herself, but she refused to scrimp on top-quality produce, Starbucks coffee, bottled juices, fresh cheeses and clothing for the children and for me," Andrews reports. "She regularly bought me new shirts and ties to replace the frayed and drab ones in my closet. She thought it wasn't worth agonizing over nickels and dimes. I was almost exactly the opposite." The couple soon wracks up nearly $50,000 in credit card debt, thanks, we are led to assume, to Patty.
What follows is a predictable trail of refinancings, panic attacks, marital stress and looming foreclosure. At the end of the piece, Andrews admits he hasn't paid his mortgage in eight months, but his lender, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSEJPM), is too busy to deal with him. His story is certainly compelling, but was it really "brave" or "courageous" of him to tell it? Or was it simply self-indulgent and really smart marketing?
Turns out that the piece is adapted from a book by Andrews that is coming out next month, called "Busted: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown." Andrews has found a way to potentially profit from his recklessly lousy decisions by writing a book about them, and then using his position as a Timesman -- not just a Timesman but an economics Timesman! -- to help promote that book. Nice going, Ed! How many others who are mired in debt have that option? Andrews does own up to the mistakes he made - "nobody duped or hypnotized me," he writes -- but I can't help but wonder if, when he signed on the dotted line, he knew somewhere deep inside that things would be alright. After all, he writes for The New York Times. Based on McArdle's view of what well-educated writers deserve -- and $120,000 is hardly chump change -- doesn't Andrews deserve a decent house? Doesn't his status as a reporter for one of the world's premier newspapers dictate that he should have a certain lifestyle, despite a divorce, children (who's paying for college?) and a killer mortgage? If the book is successful enough -- and Andrews keeps the house -- then maybe being a Timesman is worth it.
In fact, Andrews offers a different, more Oprah-ready excuse for his behavior -- "the money was there and I was in love." Well, who isn't? And for all that love, he has no trouble throwing Patty under the bus for running up bills at J.Crew and GapKids. It does make you wonder: What would this story read like if Patty wrote it? And I'm not convinced that Andrews' airing of his dirty laundry is such an act of bravery. At the end of the piece, he reports that the kids are "thriving." We wonder how they feel now that their parents' financial lives have become fodder for Sunday morning breakfast conversation.