John Stossel

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John Stossel — arguably the highest-profile libertarian journalist in the world — joined Fox News Channel (FNC) and Fox Business Network (FBN), effective October 2009, to begin a weekly show that may well be the most consistent, intelligent, ongoing presentation of libertarian views in television history.

Stossel said Fox offered him the opportunity to air his uncompromising libertarian viewpoint much more often than he was able to do at ABC.

“I want to dig into the meaning of the words ‘liberty’ and ‘limited government,’” Stossel wrote in his blog. “ABC enabled me to do some of that, but Fox offers me more airtime and a new challenge.

Fox describes Stossel’s show as featuring “in-depth reports and discussions surrounding libertarian issues in the United States and abroad. Each week Stossel will be joined by experts to explore consumer-focused topics such as free-market economies, civil liberties, the business of health care, social security and free trade.”

Stossel gained national fame through the ABC news program 20/20. He began there in 1981 and became a co-anchor in 2003. He has received 19 Emmy awards and has been honored five times for excellence in consumer reporting by the National Press Club.

Along the way, Stossel became increasingly skeptical of government. Eventually he became a full-fledged libertaria, and his libertarian views became a hallmark of his 20/20 reporting.

As 20/20 co-host, when he uttered his signature catch-phrase — “Give me a break!” — there’s a good chance he’s talking about some government program, regulation or policy.

And he takes libertarian positions on just about every issue. Some examples:

• On why government doesn’t work: “Government almost never polices itself. When government agencies lose money, or fail at their missions, they ask Congress for more money. They usually get it, citing their failure to achieve their goals as proof that they need more funds.” (Chicago Sun Times, February 15, 2004)

• On the War on Drugs: “It’s not like the drug laws are keeping the stuff out of the country. We can’t even keep it out of prisons. How do we think we’re keeping it out of the country?” (Independent Institute, January 30, 2004)

• On the proper role of government: “We need government to do a few things like keep the peace, enforce contracts, create pollution laws. But government can never do anything as well as the private sector, so anything the market can provide effectively the government should stay out.” (WashingtonPost.com, April 9, 2004)

• On freedom versus safety: “Isn’t leaving us a choice what America’s supposed to be about? Patrick Henry didn’t say, ‘Give me absolute safety or give me death.’ It’s supposed to be about freedom.” (Independent Institute, January 30, 2004)

• On how his politics influence his reporting: “I look at the world with the awareness of the benefits of limited government and individual freedom in the back of my mind.” (WashingtonPost.com, April 9, 2004)

Stossel’s increasing willingness to promote his pro-liberty beliefs — in speeches and on his TV specials — has won him praise from the libertarian movement. Anthony Gregor, writing on LewRockwell.com (January 11, 2005) described Stossel as a “heroic rogue… a media maverick and proponent of freedom in an otherwise statist, conformist mass media.” The Republican Liberty Caucus hailed him for his “concise libertarian messages” and investment analyst Mark Skousen said Stossel is “a true libertarian hero.”

But Stossel’s pro-liberty viewpoint has won him few friends among the elite. In fact, Ralph Nader called Stossel “the most dishonest journalist I’ve ever encountered.” Stossel takes such comments in stride. In Give Me a Break, he wryly wrote: “I was once a heroic consumer reporter. Now I’m a threat to journalism… I did a terrible thing. Instead of just applying my skepticism to business, I applied it to government.”

Stossel did get his start in TV journalism as a pro-consumer muckraker. As consumer editor for WCBS-TV in New York City — and later on ABC’s Good Morning America — he did exposés on the “dangers” of exploding coffee pots, Alar-tainted apples and secondhand smoke. However, Stossel said, “The more reporting I did, the more it dawned on me that government is often the problem rather than the solution. Free markets, not coercive governments, are the consumer’s best friend.” (Chicago Sun Times, February 15, 2004)

When Stossel joined the 20/20 team in 1981 — first as a correspondent, later as co-anchor — he brought his libertarian perspective with him. In his popular “Give me A Break!” segments, he took a sardonic look at everything from corporate welfare to $300,000 government-funded outhouses. In 1994, Stossel began doing a series of libertarian-themed prime-time specials for ABC, including Are We Scaring Ourselves To Death? (about American’s exaggerated fears); Junk Science: What You Know That May Not Be So (about misleading scientific claims); and Sex, Drugs, and Consenting Adults (about victimless crimes).

Stossel’s 2004 book, Give Me a Break… How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media, continued his libertarian streak. Part autobiography, part discussion of the major media’s anti-capitalism mindset, and part reiteration of his belief that free minds and free markets “make good things happen,” it reached #3 on The New York Times bestseller list. Stossel told the Washington Times (May 5, 2004) that he wrote Give Me a Break because “I want people to learn that freedom works, that limited government works… Let’s celebrate it rather than sneering at it the way intellectual elites of America do.”

Quotable

“I used to be a Kennedy-style ‘liberal.’ Then I wised up. Now I’m a libertarian … libertarians want government to leave people alone — in both the economic and personal spheres. Leave us free to pursue our hopes and dreams, as long as we don’t hurt anybody else.” — John Stossel in his syndicated column.

“I admit that my guiding political and economic philosophy – libertarianism – now shapes my reporting; in this way, it prompts me to ask questions that others don’t ask.” (WorldNetDaily, September 23, 2009)

“I am a libertarian in that I believe in limited government and as much individual freedom as possible.” — John Stossel on WashingtonPost.com (April 9, 2004)

Resources

John Stossel is the author of Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel – Why Everything You Know is Wrong and Give Me a Break : How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.

To see John Stossel, watch his libertarian show, ‘Stossel.’ To find out where you fit on the political map, take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz.