Stossel in February 2018
John Frank Stossel
March 6, 1947
|Education||Princeton University (BA)|
|Occupation||Libertarian pundit, author, columnist, reporter, TV presenter|
Stossel's style combines reporting and commentary. It reflects a libertarian political philosophy and views on economics which are largely supportive of the free market. He began his journalism career as a researcher for KGW-TV, was a consumer reporter at WCBS-TV in New York City, and then joined ABC News as a consumer editor and reporter on Good Morning America. Stossel went on to be an ABC News correspondent, joining the weekly news magazine program 20/20, going on to become co-anchor. In October 2009, Stossel left ABC News to join the Fox Business Channel. He hosted a weekly news show on Fox Business, Stossel from December 2009 to December 2016.
Stossel has received 19 Emmy Awards and five awards from the National Press Club. Stossel has written three books: Give Me a Break in 2004, Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity in 2007, and No They Can't! Why Government Fails but Individuals Succeed in 2012.
John F. Stossel was born on March 6, 1947, in Chicago Heights, Illinois, the younger of two sons, to Jewish parents who left Germany before Hitler rose to power. They joined a Congregationalist church in the U.S., and Stossel was raised Protestant. He grew up on Chicago's affluent North Shore and graduated from New Trier High School. Stossel characterizes his older brother, Tom, as "the superstar of the family", commenting, "While I partied and played poker, he studied hard, got top grades, and went to Harvard Medical School." Stossel characterizes himself as having been "an indifferent student" while in college, commenting, "I daydreamed through half my classes at Princeton, and applied to grad school only because I was ambitious, and grad school seemed like the right path for a 21-year-old who wanted to get ahead." Although he had been accepted to the University of Chicago's School of Hospital Management, Stossel was "sick of school" and thought taking a job would inspire him to embrace graduate studies with renewed vigor.
At school, Stossel aspired to work at Seattle Magazine, but it went out of business by the time he graduated. His contacts there assisted him in getting a job at KGW-TV in Portland, Oregon, where Stossel began as a newsroom gofer, working his way up to researcher and then writer. After a few years, the news director told Stossel to go on the air and read what he wrote. Despite his stage fright, Stossel says his fear spurred him to improve, examining and imitating broadcasts of David Brinkley and Jack Perkins. Stossel had also stuttered since childhood. After a few years of on-air reporting, Stossel was hired by WCBS-TV in New York City, by Ed Joyce, the same news director who hired Arnold Diaz, Linda Ellerbee, Dave Marash, Joel Siegel and Lynn Sherr. Stossel was disappointed at CBS, feeling that the more limited amount of time spent there on research lowered the quality of its journalism compared to Portland. Stossel cites union work rules that discouraged the extra work that Stossel felt allowed employees to be creative, which he says represented his "first real introduction to the deals made by special interests". Stossel also "hated" Joyce, who he felt was "cold and critical", though Stossel credits Joyce with allowing him the freedom to pursue his own story ideas, and with recommending the Hollins Communications Research Institute in Roanoke, Virginia, that largely cured Stossel's stuttering problem.
Stossel grew continuously more frustrated with having to follow the assignment editor's vision of what was news. Perhaps because of his stuttering, he had always avoided covering what others covered, feeling he could not succeed if he were forced to compete with other reporters by shouting out questions at news conferences. However, this led to the unexpected realization for Stossel that more important events were those that occurred slowly, such as the women's movement, the growth of computer technology, and advancements in contraception, rather than daily events like government pronouncements, elections, fires, or crime. One day, Stossel bypassed the assignment editor to give Ed Joyce a list of story ideas the assignment editor had rejected. Joyce agreed that Stossel's ideas were better, and approved them. Stossel has served as a spokesman for the Stuttering Foundation of America.
In 1981 Roone Arledge offered Stossel a job at ABC News, as a correspondent for 20/20 and consumer reporter for Good Morning America. His "Give Me a Break" segments for the former featured a skeptical look at subjects from government regulations and pop culture to censorship and unfounded fear. The series was spun off into a series of one-hour specials with budgets of half a million dollars that began in 1994. They include:
During the course of his work on 20/20, Stossel discovered Reason magazine, and found that the libertarian ideas of its writers made sense to him. Stossel was named co-anchor of 20/20 in May 2003, while he was writing his first book, Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media, which was published in 2004. In it, he details his start in journalism and consumer reporting, and how he evolved to harbor libertarian beliefs.
In September 2009, it was announced that Stossel was leaving Disney's ABC News and joining News Corp.'s Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network. In addition to appearing on The O'Reilly Factor every Tuesday night, he also hosted a one-hour weekly program for Fox Business Network and a series of one-hour specials for Fox News Channel, as well as making regular guest appearances on Fox News programs.
The program, Stossel, debuted December 10, 2009, on Fox Business Network. The program examined issues related to individual freedom, free market capitalism and small government, such as civil liberties, the business of health care, and free trade. The final episode premiered on December 16, 2016. At the end of that episode, a retrospective that spotlighted moments from seven years of the program, Stossel explained that due to his age, he wanted to help develop a younger generation of journalists with his views, and would continue to appear as a guest on Fox programs, and also help produce content for Reason TV. His blog, "Stossel's Take", is published on both FoxBusiness.com and FoxNews.com.
Stossel has written three books. Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media is a 2005 autobiography from Harper Perennial documenting his career and philosophical transition from liberalism to libertarianism. It describes his opposition to government regulation, his belief in free market and private enterprise, support for tort reform, and advocacy for shifting social services from the government to private charities. It was a New York Times bestseller for 11 weeks. Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel – Why Everything You Know Is Wrong, which was published in 2007 by Hyperion, questions the validity of various conventional wisdoms, and argues that the belief he is conservative is untrue. On April 10, 2012, Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, published Stossel's third book No, They Can't: Why Government Fails – But Individuals Succeed. It argues that government policies meant to solve problems instead produce new ones, and that free individuals and the private sector perform tasks more efficiently than the government does.
With financial support from the libertarian Palmer R. Chitester Fund, Stossel and ABC News launched a series of educational materials for public schools in 1999 entitled "Stossel in the Classroom". It was taken over in 2006 by the Center for Independent Thought and releases a new DVD of teaching materials annually. In 2006, Stossel and ABC released Teaching Tools for Economics, a video series based on the National Council of Economics Education standards.
Stossel's news reports and writings attempt to debunk popular beliefs. His Myths and Lies series of 20/20 specials challenges a range of liberal beliefs. He also hosted The Power of Belief (October 6, 1998), an ABC News Special that focused on assertions of the paranormal and people's desire to believe. Another report outlined the belief that opposition to DDT is misplaced and that the ban on DDT has resulted in the deaths of millions of children, mostly in poor nations.
As a libertarian, Stossel says that he believes in both personal freedom and the free market. He frequently uses television airtime to advance these views and challenge viewers' distrust of free-market capitalism and economic competition. He received an Honoris Causa Doctorate from Francisco Marroquin University, a libertarian university in Guatemala, in 2008. He told The Oregonian, on October 26, 1994:
I started out by viewing the marketplace as a cruel place, where you need intervention by government and lawyers to protect people. But after watching the regulators work, I have come to believe that markets are magical and the best protectors of the consumer. It is my job to explain the beauties of the free market.
I'm a little embarrassed about how long it took me to see the folly of most government intervention. It was probably 15 years before I really woke up to the fact that almost everything government attempts to do, it makes worse.
Stossel argues that individual self-interest, or "greed", creates an incentive to work harder and to innovate. He has promoted school choice as a way to improve American schools, believing that when people are given a choice, they will choose the schools best suited for their children. Referring to educational tests that rank American students lower than others he says:
The people who run the international tests told us, "the biggest predictor of student success is choice." Nations that "attach the money to the kids" and thereby allow parents to choose between different public and private schools have higher test scores. This should be no surprise; competition makes us better.
Stossel has criticized government programs for being inefficient, wasteful, and harmful. He has also criticized the American legal system, opining that it provides lawyers and vexatious litigators the incentive to file frivolous lawsuits indiscriminately. Stossel contends that these suits often generate more wealth for lawyers than for deserving clients, stifle innovation and personal freedoms, and cause harm to private citizens, taxpayers, consumers and businesses. Although Stossel concedes that some lawsuits are necessary in order to provide justice to people genuinely injured by others with greater economic power, he advocates the adoption in the U.S. of the English rule as one method to reduce the more abusive or frivolous lawsuits.
Stossel opposes the minimum wage, corporate welfare, bailouts and the war in Iraq. He also opposes legal prohibitions against pornography, marijuana, recreational drugs, gambling, ticket scalping, prostitution, polygamy, homosexuality, and assisted suicide, and believes most abortions should be legal. He advocates lower and simpler taxes, and has endorsed or explored various ideas in his specials and on his TV series for changing the tax system, including switching to a flat tax, and replacing the income tax with the FairTax.
When the Department of Labor reissued federal guidelines in April 2010 governing the employment of unpaid interns under the Fair Labor Standards Act based on a 1947 Supreme Court decision, Stossel criticized the guidelines, appearing in a police uniform during an appearance on the Fox News program America Live, commenting, "I've built my career on unpaid interns, and the interns told me it was great – I learned more from you than I did in college." Asked why he did not pay them if they were so valuable, he said he could not afford to.
In his first episode on Fox Business Channel, Stossel mocked scientists for warning about climate change. Stossel challenges the notion that global warming would have net negative consequences, pointing to assertedly warmer periods in human history. Central to his argument is the idea that groups and individuals get much more public attention, donations, and government funding when they proclaim "this will be terrible" than groups that say "this is nothing to worry about." He points to groups like the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and to activists such as Rachel Carson and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore as examples of environmental scaremongers.
In 2001, the media watchdog organization FAIR criticized Stossel's reportage of global warming in his documentary, Tampering with Nature, for using "highly selective...information" that gave "center stage to three dissenters from among the 2,000 members of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which recently released a report stating that global temperatures are rising almost twice as fast as previously thought."
As of 2001, Stossel had won 19 Emmy Awards. He was honored six times for excellence in consumer reporting by the National Press Club, has received a George Polk Award for Outstanding Local Reporting and a Peabody Award. According to Stossel, when he was in favor of government intervention and skeptical of business, he was deluged with awards, but in 2006, he stated, "They like me less... Once I started applying the same skepticism to government, I stopped winning awards." On April 23, 2012, Stossel was awarded the Chapman University Presidential Medal, by the current president, James Doti, and chancellor, Danielle Struppa. The award has been presented to only a handful of people over the past 150 years. Stossel received an honorary doctorate from Universidad Francisco Marroquín.
The Nobel Prize-winning Chicago School monetarist economist Milton Friedman lauded Stossel, stating: "Stossel is that rare creature, a TV commentator who understands economics, in all its subtlety." Steve Forbes, the editor of Forbes magazine, described Stossel as riveting and "one of America's ablest and most courageous journalists." P. J. O'Rourke, best-selling author of Eat the Rich and Parliament of Whores praised Stossel, stating:
|“||... about John Stossel's fact-finding. He seeks the truths that destroy truisms, wields reason against all that's unreasonable, and ... puncture(s) sanctimonious idealism.... He makes the maddening mad. And Stossel's tales of the outrageous are outrageously amusing.||”|
An article published by the libertarian group Advocates for Self Government notes praise for Stossel. Independent Institute Research Analyst Anthony Gregory, writing on the libertarian blog, LewRockwell.com, described Stossel as a "heroic rogue... a media maverick and proponent of freedom in an otherwise statist, conformist mass media." Libertarian investment analyst Mark Skousen said Stossel is "a true libertarian hero".
Progressive organizations such as Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) and Media Matters for America (MMfA) have criticized Stossel's work, for what they described as a lack of balance of coverage and distortion of facts on his part. For example, Stossel was criticized for a segment on his October 11, 1999, show during which he argued that AIDS research has received too much funding, "25 times more than on Parkinson's, which kills more people." FAIR pointed out that AIDS had in fact killed more people in the United States in 1999.
In a February 2000 Salon.com feature on Stossel entitled "Prime-time propagandist", David Mastio wrote that Stossel has a conflict of interest in donating profits from his public speaking engagements to, among others, a non-profit called "Stossel in the Classroom" which includes material for use in schools, some of which uses material made by Stossel.
University of Texas economist James K. Galbraith has alleged that Stossel, in his September 1999 special Is America #1?, used an out-of-context clip of Galbraith to convey the notion that Galbraith advocated the adoption by Europe of the free market economics practiced by the United States, when in fact Galbraith actually advocated that Europe adopt some of the United States' social benefit transfer mechanisms such as Social Security, which is the economically opposite view. Stossel denied any misrepresentation of Galbraith's views and stated that it was not his intention to convey that Galbraith agreed with all of the special's ideas. However, he re-edited that portion of the program for its September 2000 repeat, in which Stossel paraphrased, "Even economists who like Europe's policies, like James Galbraith, now acknowledge America's success."
On December 28, 1984, during an interview for 20/20 on professional wrestling, wrestler David Schultz struck Stossel twice after Stossel said professional wrestling was "fake". Stossel said he suffered from pain and buzzing in his ears eight weeks after the assault. Stossel sued and obtained a settlement of $425,000 from the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). In his book, Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity, Stossel noted his regret, believing lawsuits harm innocent people. Schultz maintains that he attacked Stossel on orders from Vince McMahon, the head of the then-WWF.
A February 2000 story about organic vegetables on 20/20 included statements by Stossel that tests had shown that neither organic nor conventional produce samples contained any pesticide residue, and that organic food was more likely to be contaminated by E. coli bacteria. The Environmental Working Group objected to his report, mainly questioning his statements about bacteria, but also managed to determine that the produce had never been tested for pesticides. They communicated this to Stossel, but after the story's producer backed Stossel's statement that the test results had been as described, the story was rebroadcast months later, unchanged, and with a postscript in which Stossel reiterated his claim. Later, after a report in The New York Times confirmed the Environmental Working Group's claims, ABC News suspended the producer of the segment for a month and reprimanded Stossel. Stossel apologized, saying that he had thought the tests had been conducted as reported. However, he asserted that the gist of his report had been accurate.
In a March 2007 segment about finances and lifestyles of televangelists, 20/20 aired a clip of Apostle Frederick K. C. Price, a TV minister, that was originally broadcast by the Lifetime Network in 1997. Price alleged that the clip portrayed him describing his wealth in extravagant terms, when he was actually telling a parable about a rich man. ABC News twice aired a retraction and apologized for the error. The suit concluded with an out of court settlement including a public apology by ABC.
Stossel came to embrace his family's Ashkenazi Jewish heritage after marrying his wife, who is also Jewish. They also raised their children Jewish. Stossel identified himself as an agnostic in "Skeptic or Believer", the December 16, 2010 episode of Stossel, explaining that he had no belief in God but was open to the possibility.
Stossel's brother, Thomas P. Stossel, was a Harvard Medical School professor and co-director of the Hematology Division at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. He has served on the advisory boards of pharmaceutical companies such as Merck and Pfizer. Stossel's nephew is journalist and magazine editor Scott Stossel.
On April 20, 2016, Stossel, despite never having smoked, announced he had lung cancer, and that as a result of its early detection, he would have a fifth of one of his lungs surgically removed.
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