Mark Pittman, A Close Friend, Great Reporter, And The First Person To Sue The Fed And Win, Has Died

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Mark Pittman, the Loeb Award-winning Bloomberg journalist, a personal friend, a legendary financial reporter and the first person to sue the Fed (in conjunction with Bloomberg News) and win, passed away on Wednesday. He was 52. Our thoughts are with his family.

Bloomberg's brief on Mark's legacy.

Nov. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Mark Pittman, the award-winning
investigative reporter whose fight to open the Federal Reserve
to more scrutiny led Bloomberg News to sue the central bank and
win, died Nov. 25 in Yonkers, New York. He was 52.

Pittman suffered from heart-related illnesses. The precise
cause of his death wasn’t known, said his friend William Karesh,
vice president of the Global Health Program at the Bronx, New
York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

Pittman, a former police-beat reporter who joined Bloomberg
News in 1997, wrote stories in 2007 predicting the collapse of
the banking system. That year, he won the Gerald Loeb Award from
the UCLA Anderson School of Management, the highest accolade in
financial journalism, for “Wall Street’s Faustian Bargain,” a
series of articles on the breakdown of the U.S. mortgage
industry.

Pittman’s fight to make the Fed more accountable resulted
in an Aug. 24 victory in Manhattan Federal Court affirming the
public’s right to know about the central bank’s more than $2
trillion in loans to financial firms. Pittman drew the attention
of filmmakers Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, who gave him a
prominent role in their documentary about subprime mortgages,
“American Casino,” which was shown at New York City’s Tribeca
Film Festival in May.

“Who sues the Fed? One reporter on the planet,” said Emma
Moody, a Wall Street Journal editor who worked with Pittman at
Bloomberg. “The more complex the issue, the more he wanted to
dig into it. Years ago, he forced us to learn what a credit-
default swap was. He dragged us kicking and screaming.”

Police Reporter, Ranch Hand

James Mark Pittman was born Oct. 25, 1957, in Kansas City,
Kansas, where he played linebacker on the high school football
team. He took engineering classes at the University of Kansas in
Lawrence before graduating with a degree in journalism in 1981.
He was married soon after and had a daughter, Maggie, in 1983.
The marriage ended in divorce.

Pittman’s first reporting job, covering the police
department for the Coffeyville Journal in southern Kansas, paid
so little he took a part-time job as a ranch hand across the
Oklahoma border in Lenapah, according to an interview he gave to
Ryan Chittum for the Columbia Journalism Review’s The Audit, a
watchdog for the business press.

“What a funny guy -- huge personality,” Chittum said in
an e-mail message. “Mark was my favorite reporter working. In a
time when too much journalism is timid or co-opted, Mark
personified the whole ‘afflict the comfortable’ tenet of the
business. Mark’s passing is a huge loss for journalism at a time
when we can least afford it.”

No Small Moves

Pittman spent a year in Rochester, New York, with the
Democrat & Chronicle newspaper and 12 years at the Times Herald-
Record in Middletown, New York, where he met his second wife,
Laura Fahrenthold-Pittman in 1995.

“All I know is we fell in love the moment we met,”
Fahrenthold-Pittman said in an interview Friday. “We moved in
together a week later. He was as serious about his family life
as he was about work. Mark did nothing in a small way.”

Pittman joined Bloomberg News in 1997. In 2007, he was
writing about the securitization of home loans when subprime
borrowers, who have bad or limited credit histories, began
missing payments on their mortgages at a faster pace.

Pittman’s June 29, 2007, article, headlined “S&P, Moody’s
Hide Rising Risk on $200 Billion of Mortgage Bonds,” was
excoriated at the time by Portfolio.com for “trying to play
‘gotcha’ with the ratings agencies
.”

“And that really isn’t helpful,” said the unsigned
posting. [TD: the posting is not unsigned, it was authored by "Yves Smith" and Felix Salmon]

Beating the Pack

Pittman’s story proved prescient. So did his reports on
U.S. banks exporting toxic mortgages overseas, on Treasury
Secretary Henry M. Paulson’s role in creating those troubled
assets while he was chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs
Group Inc. and on the U.S. bailout of American International
Group Inc.

“He’s been on this crisis since before the crisis,” said
Gretchen Morgenson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning financial
columnist for the New York Times. “He was the best at burrowing
into the most complex securities Wall Street could come up with
and explaining the implications of them to readers of all levels
of sophistication. His investigative work during the crisis set
the standard for other reporters everywhere. He was a giant.”

In the “Faustian Bargain” series, Pittman explained how 5
percent of U.S. mortgage borrowers missing monthly payments
could lead to a freeze in lending throughout the world.

‘Fearless, Most Trusted’

“Mark Pittman proved to be the most fearless, most trusted
reporter on the most important beat during the 12 years he wrote
about credit markets, corporate finance and the Federal Reserve
at Bloomberg News,” said Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief Matthew
Winkler
. “His colleagues will miss his laughter and generous
sense of mission. Bloomberg readers were rewarded by his many
achievements culminating with a federal court ruling validating
his search for records of taxpayer-financed policies withheld
from the public and the Gerald Loeb Award.”

Public policy would be more effective if reporters,
lawmakers and citizens understood how the financial system
worked and why the crisis happened, Pittman said in the Feb. 27,
2009, interview with Chittum.

“Hopefully, we will be able to inform the people enough to
know how badly we’re getting screwed,” he said with a laugh.
“We need to know how to prevent it from happening again, and we
need to know who did it.”

Standing 6 feet 4 inches with a booming laugh, a loud
telephone voice, and a taste for bourbon, Pittman made lifelong
friends on Wall Street, in Congress, in journalism circles and
in the artistic community after he and his wife opened an art
gallery in Yonkers in 2005.

‘A Great Loss’

“I always learned something new when I spoke with Mark,”
said Representative Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican on
the House Financial Services Committee. “He was dogged in
pursuit of the truth. This is a great loss for journalism and
for those who relied on Mark for his insight.”

In “American Casino,” the title of which comes from an
expression Pittman uses in the documentary, the filmmakers
profile subprime borrowers who are losing their homes, mortgage
brokers who made loans they knew their customers could never
repay and bankers and ratings analysts whose companies profited
from the housing boom.

Pittman provides an anchor for the narrative, at one point
searching the Bloomberg terminal and finding the mortgage of a
Baltimore teacher going through foreclosure inside a security
underwritten by Goldman Sachs.

Celebrating Life

“He was a wonderful friend, a seeker of truth, a fighter
for right, a proud family man, a big and jovial hand, a lover of
food, drink and celebration of life,” said Joshua Rosner,
managing director of Graham Fisher & Co., a consulting and
analysis firm in New York. “This is a personal loss, a
professional loss and a societal loss. He is truly
irreplaceable.”

Along with his wife and daughter Maggie, Pittman is
survived by daughters Nell, 10, and Susannah, 8, from his second
marriage; his father Warren Pittman; mother Donna Pittman-
Nealey; and brothers Barry Pittman and Craig Pittman.

“He was so large -- in spirit and in person -- and his
passion for his craft was so great, it is impossible to think
that it could just end,” said Jeffrey Taylor, Pittman’s editor
on the “Faustian Bargain” series.

Bloomberg’s lawsuit against the Fed, which was filed after
Pittman’s requests under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act
were denied, continues without him. The central bank won a delay
pending an appeal, which is scheduled for the week of Jan. 4.

“He was one of the great financial journalists of our
time,” said Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist
and Columbia University professor. “His death is shocking.”

At the time of his death, Pittman’s outgoing messages
offered a link to a black-and-white photo of Woody Guthrie.
Written on Guthrie’s guitar: “This machine kills fascists.”

Zero Hedge staffers met with Mark days before his death at which point we discovered he was working on a major financial expose. We would be humbled to pick up the torch and bring his last opus to closure.

We are sure Bloomberg News will keep Mark's spirit alive, and will continue his lifelong pursuit of eliminating secrecy and opacity, and bringing truth and justice to all corners of high finance.

Mark shall be missed.