Lee Siegel, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated author who wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times advising people to default on their student loans rather than remain stuck with crippling debt, has been on the receiving end of harsh rebuke for his stance.
defending his position to Talk Radio 1210 WPHT, accusing the “elite” media of disregarding the plight of the middle-class and poor people who struggle to pay for college.
“I looked around at the people who are in my world anyway here in New York journalism and most of these people come from elite wealthy backgrounds, and they couldn’t care less about the plight of the lower middle class,” Siegel said. “They will talk about the poor and they will talk about the black poor because they don’t have to have anything to do with the black poor.”
That supposed attitude angers Siegel, a Bronx native whose family experienced financial stress during his childhood. He said he wanted to write something for people who are struggling under cruel and oppressive student debt.
His op-ed has put him on the receiving end of vitriolic furor, with people calling him dangerous and an elitist who attended an Ivy League institution and now doesn’t want to pay back his loans, he said.
Siegel was infuriated at the insinuation that he should have gone to a cheaper state school if he couldn’t afford college. He called that thinking anti-democratic.
He then told a more nuanced story about his experience defaulting on loans than the one in his op-ed, where he seemed to suggest the consequences of default were minimal.
“My credit was ruined, destroyed,” he told radio host Dom Giordano. “I spent 20, 30 years in the wilderness because of that.”
When asked to go into more specifics about why he never had some of the repercussions of defaulting, such as having your wages garnished from the government he said, “I never made enough money to have my wages garnished.” And he said that Columbia University has sued him and frozen his bank account several times.
Still, Siegel says the financial hardship was worth it because he has a career that he loves, even though his family sometimes struggles to make ends meet.
Rather than spurring a discussion on the barriers to higher education for middle and lower classes, Siegel says the response to his op-ed highlights the elitist slant in the media. “I’m crucified by the pampered elite media,” he said.
Giordano, the radio host, brought up so-called elitism in The New York Times, referencing Marco Rubio who was recently the subject of a Times piece delving into his finances.
But Siegel pointed out that he’s quite different from Rubio. “As far as Rubio, he was buying Audis. We own Hondas,” he said.
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