NBC's Myers ignored key facts in reporting on controversy over Obama's home purchase

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In a "web-only" report, Lisa Myers cited anonymous "[c]ritics" who suggest that indicted Chicago businessman Antoin Rezko's paying "top dollar" for a lot adjacent to Sen. Barack Obama's home somehow influenced the price Obama paid for his house. But Myers did not note that Obama has said he was "not involved in the Rezko negotiation of the price for the adjacent lot" or that Obama has asserted that he was able to purchase the house for less than asking price because "the house had been listed for some time, for months, and our offer was one of two and, as we understood it, it was the best offer."

In a January 28 "web-only" report, NBC News senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reported on the controversy surrounding Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) purchase of his Chicago home and indicted Chicago businessman Antoin Rezko's purchase of the vacant lot adjoining Obama's property. Myers reported that "Rezko's wife bought the lot on the same day that Obama bought his home next door," adding: "The seller wanted to unload both properties at the same time. Rezko paid full price for the lot, and Obama paid less than the asking price for his adjoining property." Myers went on to report: "Critics say that in buying the lot for top dollar, Rezko may have essentially subsidized Obama's purchase and enabled him to buy the house." However, while citing anonymous "[c]ritics" who suggest that Rezko's paying "top dollar" for the lot somehow influenced the price Obama paid for his home, Myers did not note that Obama has said he was "not involved in the Rezko negotiation of the price for the adjacent lot" or that Obama has asserted that he was able to purchase the house for less than asking price because "the house had been listed for some time, for months, and our offer was one of two and, as we understood it, it was the best offer."

Additionally, while Myers reported that "Obama has repeatedly denied wrongdoing" in the Rezko property deal, she did not note that, in fact, Obama has not been accused of wrongdoing or that several media reports have noted that there is "no evidence" Obama did anything wrong in purchasing his home.

The Chicago Tribune first reported on the purchase of the adjacent properties by the Obamas and Rezko's wife on November 1, 2006; the Tribune reported that the owner of the house and the adjacent lot listed them as separate properties and that Obama paid $1.65 million for the house -- $300,000 less than the asking price -- while the Rezkos paid the asking price of $625,000 for the lot. On November 5, 2006, the Chicago Sun-Times published an interview with Obama in which the paper asked: "Why is it that you were able to buy your parcel for $300,000 less than the asking price, and Rita Rezko paid full price? Who negotiated this end of the deal? Did whoever negotiated it have any contact with Rita and Tony Rezko or their Realtor or lawyer?" Obama responded:

Our agent negotiated only with the seller's agent. As we understood it, the house had been listed for some time, for months, and our offer was one of two and, as we understood it, it was the best offer. The original listed price was too high for the market at the time, and we understood that the sellers, who were anxious to move, were prepared to sell the house for what they paid for it, which is what they did.

We were not involved in the Rezko negotiation of the price for the adjacent lot. It was our understanding that the owners had received, from another buyer, an offer for $625,000 and that therefore the Rezkos could not have offered or purchased that lot for less.

Myers, however, cited anonymous "[c]ritics" who "say that in buying the lot for top dollar, Rezko may have essentially subsidized Obama's purchase":

MYERS: In 2005, Rezko's wife bought the lot on the same day that Obama bought his home next door. Obama has said he couldn't afford to buy both the house and the lot. The seller wanted to unload both properties at the same time. Rezko paid full price for the lot, and Obama paid less than the asking price for his adjoining property.

Donna Schwan was the agent for the seller when Obama bought the house.

SCHWAN: It sold for $1,650,000 to Senator Obama.

MYERS: Rezko paid $625,000 for the lot next door. From a nearby roof, it looks as though the lot is part of the Obama property.

Critics say that in buying the lot for top dollar, Rezko may have essentially subsidized Obama's purchase and enabled him to buy the house. What's more, at the time Obama did the deal, it had been widely reported that his longtime friend Rezko was already under federal investigation.

Myers' January 28 "web-only" report :

MYERS: For sale: this desirable lot in a trendy Chicago neighborhood. Asking price? $995,000. There's just one hitch. Owner Mark [sic: Michael] Sreenan can't even step foot on his own property without trouncing through his neighbor's yard.

SREENAN: Unless we're going to jump the fence, the only way we're going is through this gate that's on his property.

MYERS: Why? Sreenan's vacant, fenced lot is right next door to the stately home of Senator Barack Obama, and the Secret Service controls all access, even to Sreenan's land.

SREENAN: I would say we just check with him and see if we can.

I own the lot here to this --

SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Can you stop filming there for a second?

MYERS: We did stop the camera. The lot is now at the heart of the controversy over Senator Obama's relationship with Chicago businessman and campaign contributor Tony Rezko, who has been indicted for fraud and today was arrested for an alleged bail violation.

In 2005, Rezko's wife bought the lot on the same day that Obama bought his home next door. Obama has said he couldn't afford to buy both the house and the lot. The seller wanted to unload both properties at the same time. Rezko paid full price for the lot, and Obama paid less than the asking price for his adjoining property.

Donna Schwan was the agent for the seller when Obama bought the house.

SCHWAN: It sold for $1,650,000 to Senator Obama.

MYERS: Rezko paid $625,000 for the lot next door. From a nearby roof, it looks as though the lot is part of the Obama property.

Critics say that in buying the lot for top dollar, Rezko may have essentially subsidized Obama's purchase and enabled him to buy the house. What's more, at the time Obama did the deal, it had been widely reported that his longtime friend Rezko was already under federal investigation.

Sreenan was Rezko's lawyer at the time.

UNIDENTIFIED: You think it was a sweetheart deal by Mr. Rezko for Senator Obama? Or do you think it just looks like one?

SREENAN: I think it just looks like one.

MYERS: Obama has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, but calls the transaction bad judgment.

OBAMA [video clip]: This was a above-the-board, market-based transaction. Everybody who's looked at it has acknowledged it as such. But there's no doubt that it was a mistake on my part.

MYERS: Rezko sold a strip of his property to Obama, who put up a fence. Then, after Rezko was indicted, he sold the rest of the lot to Sreenan. Now, realtor Donna Schwan is trying to sell it again. She says she has no idea if it was a sweetheart deal for Obama.

SCHWAN: I see how people see it that way. But I just see it as I have two kids left in college, I want to sell the lot.

MYERS: For sale, one historic lot. Secret Service protection may be included. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC, NBC
Person
Lisa Myers
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.