James Mark Pittman
|Alma mater||University of Kansas|
|Known for||First person ever to sue the Federal Reserve|
|Children||Maggie, Nell and Susannah|
|Awards||2008 Gerald Loeb Award|
2009 George Polk Award
2010 Hillman Prize
James Mark Pittman (October 25, 1957 - November 25, 2009) was a financial journalist covering corporate finance and derivative markets. He was awarded several prestigious journalism awards, the Gerald Loeb Award, the George Polk Award, a New York Press Club award, the Hillman Prize and several New York Associated Press awards.
He met his second wife, Laura Fahrenthold of Rochester, New York, also a journalist. After his death, she spent four summers spreading his ashes on 31,000 miles of cross country/Canada RV trips with their daughters and a stray dog to return him to the land that he loved. Her love story/memoir, THE PINK STEERING WHEEL CHRONICLES, will be released in June 2018 by Hatherleigh Press/Penguin Random House. Their two daughters are Nell and Susannah. His daughter, Maggie, born in 1983, is from a first marriage which ended in divorce.
Five years after moving to Yonkers from Brooklyn, they opened an art gallery there in 2005. The name of the gallery, Y.O.H. Gallery, which stood for "Yonkers on Hudson", was an attempt to blend the city's urban culture with phrasing suggestive of more affluent towns on the Hudson further north.
Pittman died in Yonkers in November, 2009. The precise cause of death wasn’t known, said his friend William Karesh, vice president of the Global Health Program at the Bronx Zoo, New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.
Pittman started out as a police-beat reporter for the Coffeyville Journal in Coffeyville, Kansas before moving to Rochester, where he worked for a year at the Democrat & Chronicle. From 1985 to 1997, he worked as a reporter, editor and bureau chief at the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, New York. He had a reputation there for being intimidating, relentless, funny and brilliant. He joined Bloomberg News in 1997, where he wrote about finance, private equity, mergers and acquisitions, energy markets, politics and economics.
|“||What made it so entertaining to talk with him was his irreverence for the financial industry, which was a refreshing contrast to the industry's self-reverence. He didn't have an angry, confrontational 'Speak Truth To Power!' attitude towards the industry; he just saw them as grifters. Mark didn't see much difference between selling AAA-rated bonds backed by subprime mortgages and sending e-mails claiming to be African royalty in need of help transferring a fortune to a U.S. bank, and he was amused by the financial industry's pretensions that they were making a great contribution to our economy.||”|
|— Congressman Brad Miller|
Predicted financial crisis
In summer 2007, Pittman wrote stories predicting the collapse of the banking system. His article "S&P, Moody’s Hide Rising Risk on $200 Billion of Mortgage Bonds" was excoriated by Portfolio.com in an unsigned post, which was later reversed in a signed apology. He was instead praised for "doing the kind of provocative journalism that treads new ground and rings alarms."
Pittman said that his early experience dealing with police gave him a "big BS detector" because he was lied to so much by the police, the victims, and those helping the victims. He had to sort through all the lies to get to the real story, which was different from the one he was being told. One journalist and friend called Pittman's style of reporting "Hypocrisy laid bare; it’s simple accountability reporting, albeit done with a high degree of technical skill."
In 2008, he was part of the team that won a Gerald Loeb Award in the News Service category for a five-part series called "Wall Street's Faustian Bargain." The Loeb award is the highest accolade in financial journalism. Pittman's lead story, called “Subprime Securities Market Began as 'Group of 5' Over Chinese” explained how precarious the financial markets were, that if a mere 5% of U.S. mortgage borrowers missed their monthly payments, it could lead to a worldwide freeze in lending.
Pittman broke a number of major financial stories, including that of how Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and others gained from the bailout of AIG. He also broke the story about former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's involvement creating the subprime mortgage crisis when he was CEO of Goldman Sachs.
Sues Federal Reserve
Around September – October 2008, as the financial meltdown was taking place, Pittman and his Bloomberg colleagues, including Bob Ivry, were covering the bailout story as it was happening and they started wondering what they could do to show the big picture. They took a whiteboard and began to list all the emergency and lending programs that were being guaranteed to the banks. They discovered the amount going to prop up the financial system dwarfed the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). It added up to $12.8 trillion[note 1] and it wasn't clear in all cases where the money was going. The Federal Reserve alone had programs adding up to $7.7 trillion, including the bailouts of Citigroup and AIG. The Treasury had an additional $2.7 trillion, including the $700 billion for TARP, $24 billion in tax breaks for banks, the $168 billion Bush stimulus and the $787 billion Obama stimulus packages. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) had another $2 trillion in programs. Not all the money was spent, but much was in guarantees to the banks at taxpayer expense, against future losses so the banks wouldn't fail.
A number of the programs at the Federal Reserve were unclear as to who was getting funds and what sort of collateral the government was getting in return for the loans. Pittman decided he wanted to find out who was borrowing from the Federal Reserve, how much they were borrowing and what kind of collateral the Fed was getting in return. He filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to gain records about taxpayer-financed policies that were being withheld from the public, to wit, where the Fed had lent 2 trillion taxpayer dollars and what it was getting in return. The Fed denied the request, he appealed and they denied it again.
Saying "It's not Ben Bernanke's money, it's our money", Pittman then decided to sue the Fed in federal court, making headlines as the first person to ever sue the Federal Reserve. Pittman and his colleague Craig Torres filed the suit in conjunction with Bloomberg News. On August 24, 2009, Judge Loretta A. Preska ruled the Fed had "improperly withheld" the information and gave it five days to turn the information over to Bloomberg. The Fed was rebuffed twice in appellate court, but on August 27, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals granted the Fed's request to delay implementation of the ruling until October 19 so it may appeal to the Supreme Court.
In September 2009, after the initial ruling in Bloomberg's favor, the Clearing House Association, LLC, a group of 20 of the largest commercial banks, joined the lawsuit. It filed an appeal to the Supreme Court on October 26, 2010, but the Fed did not join the appeal. Several news organizations have filed amicus briefs in support of Bloomberg. As of March 2011[update], though Pittman has since died, The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled on March 19, 2010, that the Fed must release records of the unprecedented $2 trillion U.S. loan program launched primarily after the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. The ruling upholds a decision of a lower-court judge, who in August ordered that the information be released.
Documentary film American Casino
His efforts drew the attention of Leslie and Andrew Cockburn, who then featured him prominently in their documentary about the collapse of the subprime market. The title of the unnarrated film, American Casino, comes from something Pittman says in the beginning of the film. It begins with a dissection of bank deregulation, largely by Pittman, and continues with a "thriller-like exposition" of the precarious financial boom built on new homeowners, often minorities, who were charged hidden escrow costs in documents they didn't understand.
Recognition and awards
Nobel Prize winner and economist Joseph Stiglitz called Pittman "one of the great financial journalists of our time.” Pulitzer Prize winning financial journalist Gretchen Morgenson called him "a giant", saying that "His investigative work during the crisis set the standard for other reporters everywhere." A former critic, Felix Salmon, wrote, "His loss to the profession is irreplaceable." He was also well respected at Standard & Poors (S&P), where Chris Atkins, a vice president, on learning of Pittman's death, wrote that he never once called to complain about Pittman's stories about S&P because he could never find a factual error.[note 2] Pittman was the recipient of numerous awards for his work.
- Six New York State Associated Press awards on subjects ranging from an investigation into the deaths of nine children in an elementary school building collapse to coverage of the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival
- 2008 Gerald Loeb Award for News Services for "Wall Street's Faustian Bargain"
- 2009 George Polk Award
- 2009 New York Press Club Journalism Award for newsradio, "Fed Defies Transparency"
- 2010 National Headliner Award for business news coverage, "Lehman's Lessons" (first place)
- 2010 Hillman Prize for newspaper journalism, "The Fight for Transparency"
- Mark Pittman, "Paulson's Focus on 'Excesses' Shows Goldman Gorged (Update1)" Bloomberg News (November 5, 2007). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- Mark Pittman, Bob Ivry and Alison Fitzgerald, "Fed Defies Transparency Aim in Refusal to Disclose (Update2)" Bloomberg News (November 10, 2008). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- Mark Pittman, "Subprime Securities Market Began as 'Group of 5' Over Chinese" Bloomberg News (December 17, 2007). Gerald Loeb Award winning article
- Mark Pittman, "Goldman, Merrill Collect Billions After Fed's AIG Bailout Loans" Bloomberg News (September 29, 2008). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- List of George Polk Award Winners
- Alison Fitzgerald, a colleague at Bloomberg News
- Gary J. Aguirre, lawyer who predicted the financial crisis of 2008 and filed an FOIA suit against the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
- Griftopia, Matt Taibbi's book about the financial crisis of 2008
- Regulatory capture
- Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, Federal Reserve program
- One trillion is a one with twelve zeros. Most calculators cannot display the number because it has 13 digits and most calculators only allow ten.
- In relating Atkins' message in his eulogy for Pittman, Bob Ivry explained the difficulty of such accuracy, that it involved examining large amounts of data in spreadsheets, "800-page" prospectuses of collateralized debt obligations detailing cash flows, default rates, prepayment expectations and so on.
- Bob Ivry, "Mark Pittman, Reporter Who Challenged Fed Secrecy, Dies at 52" Bloomberg News (November 30, 2010). Retrieved March 7, 2011
- Marek Fuchs, "Do Yonkers Artists Find the Paint Greener in Peekskill?" The New York Times (June 12, 2005). Retrieved March 10, 2011
- Doyle Murphy, "Former Record reporter, editor Mark Pittman dies at age 52" Times Herald-Record (November 29, 2009). Retrieved March 7, 2011
- Jennifer Medina, "Brooklynites Find and Fill a Culture Gap in Yonkers" The New York Times (June 6, 2005). Retrieved March 10, 2011
- "Mark Pittman, Reporter Who Challenged Fed Secrecy, Dies at 52 " Bloomberg (November 30, 2009). Retrieved May 5, 2014
- Short biography of Mark Pittman Archived 2012-03-06 at the Wayback Machine UCLA Anderson School of Management. Retrieved March 7, 2011
- "Remembering Mark Pittman" Huffington Post (November 30, 2009). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- Amanda Ernst, "Mark Pittman, Bloomberg Reporter Who Predicted Credit Crisis, Sued Fed, Dies" Fishbowl NY (November 30, 2009). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- Felix Salmon, "Mark Pittman was right" Reuters blog (November 28, 2009). Retrieved March 9, 2011
- J. Jennings Moss, "A Business Reporter's Death" Portfolio.com blog (November 28, 2009). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- Ryan Chittum, "Audit Interview: Mark Pittman" Columbia Journalism Review. The Audit (February 27, 2009). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- Dean Starkman, "The Pittman Way" Columbia Journalism Review (November 30, 2009). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- "2008 Gerald Loeb Award Winners Announced by UCLA Anderson School of Management". Fast Company. October 28, 2011. Retrieved February 1, 2019.
- Alison Stewart, Interview with Bob Ivry PBS/WNET video. "Need to know". "The true cost of the bank bailout" (September 3, 2010). Retrieved March 7, 2011
- Bob Ivry, "Fed Loses Bid for Review of Bailout Disclosure Ruling" Bloomberg News (August 23, 2010). Retrieved March 10, 2011
- "Mark Pittman, A Close Friend, Great Reporter, And The First Person To Sue The Fed And Win, Has Died" Business Insider (November 27, 2009). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- Ryan Chittum, "Bloomberg Wins Its Lawsuit Against the Federal Reserve" Columbia Journalism Review (August 25, 2009)
- Ellen Rosen and Carla Main, "Fed Gets 60 Days to Appeal Court’s Disclosure Order" Bloomberg News (August 30, 2010). Retrieved March 10, 2011
- Bob Ivry and Greg Stohr, "Fed Won't Join Supreme Court Appeal on Loan Disclosures" Bloomberg News (October 26, 2010). Retrieved March 10, 2011
- Bill Weber, Review of American Casino Slant (May 3, 2009). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- Bob Ivry, Eulogy for Mark Pittman Zero Hedge (December 5, 2009). Retrieved March 16, 2011
- Robert D. McFadden, "Times Reporter Held by Taliban Is Among Polk Award Winners" (February 16, 2010). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- Amanda Ernst, "NY Press Club Awards Recognize Times‘ David Barstow, BusinessWeek" Fishbowl NY (May 20, 2009). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- 2010 Winners Archived 2015-04-16 at the Wayback Machine Headliner Awards. Retrieved March 8, 2011
- 2010 Hillman Prize Winners The Sidney Hillman Foundation. Retrieved March 8, 2011
- on YouTube, "Another Writedown For Banks" (April 3, 2009). Retrieved March 8, 2011
- American Casino news Official website. Retrieved March 8, 2011
- Jason Linkins, "Bloomberg Reporter Mark Pittman's Passing Honored By MSNBC's Ratigan" Huffington Post (November 30, 2009). Retrieved March 8, 2011