John F. Stossel (born March 6, 1947) is a consumer reporter, investigative journalist, author, libertarian columnist, and co-anchor for the ABC News show 20/20. Stossel began his journalism career as a researcher for KGW-TV and later became a consumer reporter at WCBS-TV in New York City before joining ABC News as 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. In his decades as a reporter, Stossel has received numerous honors and awards. Stossel has also written two books entitled Give Me a Break and Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity.
Stossel practices advocacy journalism where he often challenges "conventional wisdom". His reports, a blend of commentary and reporting, reflect a roughly libertarian political philosophy and his views on economics are largely supportive of the free market. ABC is reported to believe "his reporting goes against the grain of the established media and offers the network something fresh and different...[but] makes him a target of the groups he offends.
Biography and work
Education and Early career
John Stossel was born in Chicago Heights
, the second of two boys and graduated from New Trier High School
. He overcame a stuttering
problem so he could become a reporter, and is now a supporter and advocate for The Stuttering Foundation
. Stossel graduated from Princeton University
with a BA
in Psychology in 1969 and was a member of Princeton Tower Club
while there. He began his journalism career as a researcher for KGW-TV
in Portland, Oregon
. He later became a consumer reporter at WCBS-TV
in New York City
before joining ABC News
as consumer editor and reporter on Good Morning America
Stossel is Jewish. He lives in New York City with his wife and their two children. Max is attending Haverford College near Philadelphia. John's older brother, Tom, is a doctor.
Stossel was named co-anchor
of ABC News
in May 2003. He joined the weekly news magazine program in 1981, initially as a correspondent
. His "Give Me a Break" segments featured a skeptical
look at subjects from government regulations
and pop culture
and unfounded fear
. The series was spun off
into a series of one-hour specials, beginning in 1994, with titles including "Stupid in America", "Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?", "Junk Science: What You Know That May Not Be So", "Boys and Girls Are Different", "Freeloaders", "Greed", "Is America #1?", "You Can't Say That!", "Stossel Goes to Washington", "The Power of Belief
", and "Sick in America".
Stossel has written two books. Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media is an autobiography 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 questions the validity of various conventional wisdoms, and argues that the belief he is conservative is untrue.
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". In 2006, Stossel and ABC released Teaching Tools for Economics, a video series based on the National Council of Economics Education standards.
Stossel often makes public appearances and speeches, advocating his brand of free-thinking, libertarian-esque thought.
Stossel's news reports and writings attempt to debunk popular beliefs. His Myths and Lies
series of 20/20
specials challenges a range of widely held beliefs. He also hosted The Power of Belief
(October 6, 1998), an ABC News Special that focused on the claims of the paranormal and people's desire to believe. Another report outlined why opposition to DDT
is misplaced and that the ban on DDT has resulted in the death of millions of children, mostly in poor nations.
As a libertarian
, Stossel 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 told The Oregonian
, on October 26, 1994:
Stossel argues that personal greed creates an incentive to work and to innovate. He has promoted school choice as a way to improve American schools, because he believes that when people are given a choice they will choose the better schools for their children. Referring to educational tests that rank American students lower than others he says:
He has also criticized government programs as inefficient, wasteful, and harmful.
Awards, Praise and Criticism
Stossel has won 19 Emmy Awards
. He was honored five times for excellence in consumer reporting by the National Press Club
, and has received the George Polk Award for Outstanding Local Reporting
and the Peabody Award
. In one year, according to Stossel in his book Give Me A Break
, "I got so many Emmys, another winner thanked me in his acceptance speech 'for not having an entry in this category'". According to Stossel, when he was in favor of government intervention and skeptical of business he was deluged with awards, but in 2006 he joked, "They like me less... Once I started applying the same skepticism to government, I stopped winning awards."
“John Stossel is the most consistently thought-provoking TV reporter of our time," said the Dallas Morning News. Nobel Prize
-winning economist Milton Friedman
lauded John Stossel saying, "Stossel is that rare creature, a TV commentator who understands economics, in all its subtlety." P. J. O'Rourke
, best-selling author of Eat the Rich
and Parliament of Whores
praised Stossel saying, "... 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.” Steve Forbes
, the editor of Forbes Magazine
, described Stossel as riveting and "one of America’s ablest and most courageous journalists." An article published by the libertarian group Advocates for Self Government
notes praise for Stossel. Anthony Gregor, 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.
Some organizations such as Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting
(FAIR) and Media Matters for America
(MMfA), have criticized Stossel's work, for an ostensible lack of balance of coverage and distortion of facts. 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 responded that, "In fact, AIDS killed more than 16,000 people in the United States in 1999," whereas Parkinson's averaged "a death toll in the United States of less than 4,000 per year.
Stossel claims in his books that he also receives criticism from the political right, because of his libertarian stance on such issues as drug legalization
Galbraith and Stossel
Liberal economist James K. Galbraith
said that Stossel, in a story on laissez-faire
economics in September 1999, used an out of context clip of Galbraith to make it seem that Galbraith had said nearly the opposite of what he meant. Stossel denied that Galbraith's views had been misrepresented but changed the words with which he introduced the Galbraith clip in rebroadcasts of the program.
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 recollection that the test results had been as described, the story was rebroadcast months later, uncorrected, 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 a TV minister originally broadcast by the Lifetime Network
in 1997. The clip made it seem that the minister was describing his wealth in extravagant terms, when actually, he was telling a parable about a rich man. ABC News twice aired a retraction and apologized for the error. The minister filed a lawsuit against Stossel, his source for the clip, 20/20, and ABC for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
"Sick Sob Stories"
In an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal
in September 2007 called "Sick Sob Stories", Stossel described the case of Tracy and Julie Pierce that was explored in Michael Moore
's film, Sicko
. Julie criticized Stossel, saying her husband would have been saved by the Canadian health care system, and she thought Stossel should have interviewed her and her doctor before writing about them. Stossel expressed sympathy, but said she had been misled to believe the treatment was routinely available in Canada. He said that the treatment is also considered "experimental" in Canada, and is provided there even more rarely than in the U.S.
Stossel agrees that global warming
exists, but he is skeptical of definitive claims that it is caused by human activity. He asserts the science is not settled regarding the cause, and has argued that there is not a scientific consensus. He also challenges the notion that man-made climate change
would have net negative consequences, pointing to 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
, Rachel Carson
, the Environmental Defense Fund
, the Natural Resources Defense Council
, and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore
as examples of environmental scaremongers
At Live Earth New York, Stossel was one of a handful of media personalities named by environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. as "these Flat Earthers, these corporate toadies, lying to you, lying to the American public, and telling you that global warming doesn't exist.... In 2001, 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."
Conflict of Interest
David Mastio of Salon.com wrote in February 2000 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.
David Schultz incident
On December 28, 1984, during an interview for 20/20
on professional wrestling
, wrestler David Schultz
struck Stossel after Stossel asked whether professional wrestling was fake. Stossel stated that he still suffered from pain and buzzing in his ears eight weeks after the assault. Stossel sued and obtained a settlement of $425,000 from the WWF
. In his book, Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity he writes that he has come to regret doing so, having adopted the belief that lawsuits harm hundreds of innocent people. Schultz maintains that he attacked Stossel on orders from Vince McMahon
, the head of the WWF.
- John, Stossel (2007). Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel - Why Everything You Know is Wrong. Paperback, Hyperion. ISBN 0-78689-393-1.
- John, Stossel (2005). Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.... Paperback, Harper Paperbacks. ISBN 0-06-052915-6.
Biographies of, and articles about, Stossel
Articles by Stossel
Stossel Supporters and Critics