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Loan Ranger: If You've Got a Car, He's Got the Keys to Cash

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Al Sharpton, 2004: candidate for president of the United States. Al Sharpton, 2005: pitchman for car title loans.

In commercials airing locally, the ever-colorful Sharpton stands on a stage with an American flag and happily declares, "Finally, there's someone in Virginia who will loan money to people the big guys won't loan to."

Car title lenders give cash to those who own their cars free and clear, with interest rates that can approach 300 percent annually. The lender can repossess and sell the car if the short-term loan is not repaid on time. The controversial practice is permitted in about half the states, and consumer groups are pushing hard for more regulation. "These are predatory small loans," said Jean Ann Fox of the Consumer Federation of America.

"If I felt this is in any way abusive, I would stop doing the ads," Sharpton said yesterday. He filmed three commercials for LoanMax, a Georgia-based company with 150 offices across the country, and said he considers these loans different from predatory ones because the borrowers have assets (the car) but not the credit rating to get bank loans.

"The ads are working very well," said LoanMax President Rod Aycox, who declined to say what Sharpton was paid. The spots began airing last week in Virginia, Iowa and New Mexico, states where legislators have proposed capping interest rates, and Aycox plans to continue them for another few weeks. "People just love Reverend Sharpton."

Fox News, Declining to Stand With These Media Power Players

The idea at Washingtonian magazine, as it put together a "50 Best & Most Influential Journalists" package, was to open with a big photo of behind-the-scenes players -- D.C.-based editors and executives who "set the news agenda."

Editor-at-Large Garrett Graff drew up a pantheon that included Washington Post Executive Editor Len Downie , New York Times bureau chief Philip Taubman , Hotline's Chuck Todd , "Meet the Press" producer Betsy Fischer and 10 other media alpha dogs. Most agreed to pose for the group picture, save for a few with scheduling conflicts.

One bigwig Graff named was Fox News VP and bureau chief Kim Hume (wife of Brit ), whom he praised for building "an unrivaled dominance in the ratings." Graff told our colleague Howard Kurtz (yeah, he's on the list, too) that when the mag approached Fox, spokesman Paul Schur at first showed interest. But after learning who else was in the lineup, Schur told Graff the crowd wasn't "prestigious enough" for Hume.

Among the less-lofty TV types in the pic: just-a-producer Tammy Haddad of MSNBC, just-a-bureau-chief David Bohrmann of CNN, and just-a-political-director Elizabeth Wilner of NBC. Graff said he sent Hume an e-mail pleading his case and that she agreed to join the photo shoot. But she ultimately backed out, Graff said, apologizing that it was a decision by Fox. Hume did not return our calls yesterday.

Graff put the "not prestigious enough" comment in his December article, and Schur yesterday slapped back: "The Washingtonian has lost its relevancy since [Graff's predecessor] Chuck Conconi left. They're no longer a must-read."

Peeping Mom: Couric at U-Va.

Stranded in Charlottesville for the holiday weekend, U-Va. senior Jenni Allen was minding her own business when she sensed the kind of low-grade invasion of privacy known to those who live in rooms bordering Thomas Jefferson 's picturesque Lawn: Someone trying to peek in through her mail slot!

As she went to catch the voyeur, she heard a knock. Opening the door, she found . . . Katie Couric , Class of '79, hoping to show her two daughters the room she herself lived in as a senior.

Oh, those Wahoos! Always trying to sell their kids on the legacy thing.

Lifeguard Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy

Headline on a Cape Gazette (of Lewes, Del.) story about D.C. lobbyist Michael Scanlon , an on-and-off employee and longtime supporter of the Rehoboth Beach Patrol. The article quotes the beach patrol captain as saying he doesn't think there's a connection between the federal bribery case against the former Jack Abramoff partner and his work as a lifeguard. All news is local, after all . . .

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