Nightline correspondent Vicki Mabrey profiled self-described "financial terrorist" Bruce Marks on Friday, painting his actions in a religious light as a "revival of spirits" and "hopes." Co-host Cynthia McFadden began the show by rhapsodizing, "The financial terrorist. He’s on the front lines of the foreclosure front using guerrilla tactics on a crusade to restore the American dream."
She continued, "And he's taking dead aim at the big banks. Is there anything he could do for you?" Mabrey did offer Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) CEO Marks a few tough questions, noting that his organization, which tries to help homeowners restructure their loans, also uses extreme tactics, such as protesting outside the homes and schools of the children of financial executives.
However, she also spun the intimidating, thug-like actions of NACA as some sort of religious movement: "Like an itinerant preacher, Bruce Marks moves NACA's Save the Dream tour from Cleveland to St Louis, Chicago, Atlanta and other cities. He expects to have over a million members by fall. One million converts for the movement."
Mabrey did press Marks on his "guerrilla tactics," noting, "Dumping furniture on the lawn of Greenwich Financial's William Frey to make him feel the embarrassment of foreclosure, Marks says, even going so far as protesting at the schools of some executives' children." She complained, "You’re accosting children...You're embarrassing children. You're embarrassing these executives in their neighborhood. Take it to their office."
On February 10, 2009, reporter Bianna Golodryga filed a profile of Marks for Good Morning America that was even more fawning and friendly. She ignored the fact that Marks likes to refer to himself as a "bank terrorists" and that he attempts to scare the children of financial executives. So, Mabrey should be commended for at least highlighting these issues.
However, much of the segment included flowery language, such as when the reporter covered a NACA conference on how homeowners can try to save their homes from foreclosure. Mabrey gushed that the event was "A revival of spirits...of hopes...of the American dream."
She also asserted that the "enthusiasm" of this man who frightens school children "has earned him many enemies but it's also garnered him legions of devoted followers."
It would have been nice if Mabrey had produced more questions such as this one about Americans who are in homes they can’t afford: "These people who got houses they couldn't afford, you're getting them a good deal and what's going to happen is it's going to come back to the rest of us. We're going to get charged more."
A partial transcript of the segment, which aired at 11:35pm EDT on September 4, follows:
11: 35pm tease
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: Tonight, on Nightline: The financial terrorist. He’s on the front lines of the foreclosure front using guerrilla tactics on a crusade to restore the American dream. And he’s taking dead aim at the big banks. Is there anything he could do for you?
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: We begin tonight with the economy and news today that the unemployment rate climbed yet again last month to 9.7 percent, with more than 215,000 jobs lost. It is the highest jobless rate since 1983, but believe it or not, it is the smallest monthly job loss in a year. Certainly many Americans are feeling pressure from job security to the threat of foreclosure. And the man you're about to meet has vowed that he will do whatever it takes to keep people in their homes. He's proud to be called a financial terrorist as Vicki Mabrey reports in tonight's "Realty Check".
VICKI MABREY: Bruce Marks is his name, though he's quite happy to be known as a financial terrorist. He'll do whatever it takes he says to keep people in their homes.
MARKS: We wear nonviolent bank terrorism as a badge of honor.
MABREY: As head of the housing advocacy and mortgage lending group, NACA, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, Marks leads a volunteer army and at his command, they take to the streets, to the halls of Congress-
GROUP (NACA): What about us?
MABREY: -to the posh homes of CEOs...
GROUP (NACA): Fix our loan so we can save our home.
MABREY: -in an effort to persuade lenders to modify mortgages.
MARKS: These lenders knew that the mortgages were structured to fail and yet they were making huge amounts of fees - billions and billions of dollars. That's what got us in trouble. So, they should have done what we're doing, way back when. You should determine what a homeowner can afford in an affordable payment and lock that in.
MABREY: His Save The Dream tour attempts to do just that.
MARKS: It's important that we get the word out.
MABREY: In arenas across the country each weekend the scene is like a revival.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: NACA. When I say NACA, you say NACA. NACA.
HOMEOWNER (FEMALE): They saved my house from foreclosure, you know.
HOMEOWNER (FEMALE): They're saving us $900 a month and that's all I can say is God is good.
MABREY: A revival of spirits-
HOMEOWNER (FEMALE): And the lord bless all of you okay.
MABREY: -of hopes-
HOMEOWNER (MALE): My family can stay in the house. You know what I'm saying? I got two grandkids. They can stay.
MABREY: -of the American dream.
MARKS: We're saving the dream of home ownership.
MABREY: NACA's counselors assess homeowners' income and expenditures to come up with what they consider an affordable mortgage. Representatives from major lenders wait in a back room to evaluate the data and come up with their own figure. The plan is for homeowners like Holly O'Donnell to leave with a lower interest rate, decreased principal, or both. You know what's going to happen and you know what your critics are going to say. You're getting these people a good deal. These people who got houses they couldn't afford, you're getting them a good deal and what's going to happen is it's going to come back to the rest of us. We're going to get charged more.
MARKS: Well, you know what the fact is, there's not $1 of taxpayer money here. We're saying to the servicers and the investors who have created the crisis, profited from the crisis, fix the crisis.
MABREY: The mortgages aren't refinanced. They're restructured.
MARKS: Refinances don't work because it's a new loan. The only thing that works is if you take the existing mortgage and you restructure one or two elements, and then you lock it in forever. [In front of a CEO’s house.] We are going to do a picket line around his house, okay?
MABREY: Marks is convinced his guerrilla tactics bring lenders to the table. But some say he goes too far. Dumping furniture on the lawn of Greenwich Financial's William Frey to make him feel the embarrassment of foreclosure, Marks says, even going so far as protesting at the schools of some executives' children.
MARKS: We go into their gated communities, we go and we knock on their door and we say, we want you to meet the homeowners whom you're throwing out of their homes.
MABREY: You're accosting children. You're embarrassing-
MARKS: I'm not-
MABREY: You're embarrassing children. You're embarrassing these executives in their neighborhood. Take it to their office.
MARKS: My response to these CEOs is accountability. It's a bitch.
MABREY: His enthusiasm for the cause has earned him many enemies but it's also garnered him legions of devoted followers.
HOMEOWNER (FEMALE): Thank you so much.
MARKS: You're very welcome. I know that the vast majority of you when I get arrested you want to get arrested as well, but we can only have bail money for 300 or 400 people at one time. So we need you to participate in whatever way you feel comfortable.
MABREY: Holly O'Donnell is definitely on board.
O’DONNELL: Thank you. Thank you.
MABREY: After a day of waiting and worrying, she got good news from her lender.
O’DONNELL: I am elated. Like probably one of the best things that's ever happened to me.
MABREY: What happened?
O’DONNELL: I got my interest rate dropped from 10.34 percent to 4 percent, which drops my payment about $340 a month.
MABREY: You look like a different person now.
O’DONNELL: It's such a huge relief. Something affordable within my reach.
MARKS: You grew up on this street.
O’DONNELL: Yes. I lived on this street since I was eight-years old.
MABREY: This is the house she can now afford two doors down from her childhood home.
O’DONNELL: It's fantastic. Thank you.
MABREY: It's not all altruism for Marks. NACA is a corporation, making low-interest loans of its own around earning $500 for each successful loan modification. Marks pays himself a salary of $150,000 a year. Hate to say it, but bad economy is good for your business.
MARKS: No, we - what we want to do is put ourselves out of business.
MABREY: Like an itinerant preacher, Bruce Marks moves NACA's Save the Dream tour from Cleveland to St Louis, Chicago, Atlanta and other cities. He expects to have over a million members by fall. One million converts for the movement. This is Vicki Mabrey for Nightline, Cleveland.