Off Beat

Heck, Renting's Simpler Anyway

Apparently even in the best of times, the best of times are not spread evenly. In the midst of what has been characterized as the largest economic and housing boom in history, two national studies released September 15 raise concern over discrimination toward minority groups in mortgage lending. In 1998, according to a study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and another conducted by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), black homebuyers nationwide were about twice as likely to be rejected for both conventional and government-backed home mortgage loans as white applicants with the same employment and credit history. Lenders turned down Latinos at a slightly lower rate--about 50 percent more frequently than their white counterparts. If those national numbers are grim, locally it's even worse. According to the ACORN findings, when it came to doling out conventional mortgages, Twin Cities lenders rejected Latinos 166 percent more frequently than whites--the second-highest Latino rejection rate in the 41 cities studied. Government-backed mortgages for Latinos were slightly better, garnering 69 percent more rejections. Blacks, meanwhile, got 105 percent more denials than whites for conventional mortgages, and a whopping 222 percent more for government-backed mortgages, the latter being the second-highest such rate in the study. "There are still too many people being left behind," laments Minnesota ACORN chairman Alton Bennett. "African Americans and Latinos have fallen so far behind. If we couldn't gain any ground last year, then when will we?"

The Stain Masters

In the midst of the February ratings sweeps, WCCO-TV (Channel 4) aired a story claiming to have uncovered potential new evidence in the June 1995 disappearance of Mason City, Iowa, news anchor Jodi Huisentruit. Though the lead subsequently proved bogus, the station is still getting mileage out of the story--in April it snagged a first-place award in the Minnesota Associated Press Broadcasters competition, and now it's one of ten finalists for an investigative-reporting Emmy. The ten-minute report was constructed documentary-style, with reporter Caroline Lowe leading Iowa authorities to an abandoned silo in the town of Tiffin to partake of "clues" purportedly tied to Twin Cities serial rapist Tony Dejuan Jackson. A man who was in jail with Jackson in 1998 had told the station the rapist had confessed to kidnapping and murdering an anchorwoman and recited rap lyrics about her "stiffin' around Tiffin"--presumably in the silo. No body was found, but fabric and wood samples were sent to the state's crime lab. After the story aired, Star Tribune TV columnist Noel Holston wrote a scathing piece in which he pointed out that the segment had been held since the previous October, presumably for sweeps time--a theory pooh-poohed by WCCO news editor Ted Canova, who told Holston the station originally postponed the story as a favor to police, then decided to hold it until the lab results were in, and finally resolved to air it because the state's failure to examine potential evidence "[was] part of the story." Indeed, the 'CCO report prompted Iowa governor Tom Vilsack to raise a stink about the crime lab's backlog of cases--whereupon staffers quickly found there was no evidence of human remains. Holston is disappointed to hear the story is up for an Emmy, but he's not surprised. "This isn't the first time a local station has entered or even won for a piece that has come under critical fire," he points out. "When I talked to the chair of one of the blue-ribbon Emmy committees some years ago about an instance of this sort, he basically told me that they have no apparatus for checking the journalistic accuracy of the entries. If it looks good, they just assume it's correct." Canova refused to supply Off Beat with a copy of the Emmy entry but asserts that follow-up stories reporting that authorities had eliminated Jackson as a suspect in the Huisentruit case were part of the package. "Not everybody associated with the case is convinced that a complete test of the wooden boards was taken," Canova adds. "They did a simple 20-minute blood test. We were told by several crime experts that a thorough test takes two weeks. And one of the top homicide cops in the country says Iowa is nuts for not investigating Jackson thoroughly. The story leaves a lot of lingering questions." Counters Holston: "I can't speak for the other pieces of the entry, but the one that I particularly criticized--I don't see how you can expect to get an award for legwork that didn't pan out.


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