The International Writers Magazine- Comment
Stossel: Pro or Con Man?
the 1970s I recall watching John Stossel as a consumer advocate
for WABC-TV in New York. He seemed to be a less sensationalistic
Geraldo Rivera. Oy! What a quarter century has wrought.
Now, as one
of the mainstays on ABCs 20/20 JS has become little more than
a shill for corporate America.
Granted, his networks news division has become a joke over the
last year or two, what with several news specials about
a mythic personage (Jesus Christ) and a fictive account of the JFK Assassination
last November. But, I was stunned when on January 23rd the network actually
gave JS a whole hour of infomercial time to push his latest
piece of disinformation. They gave him a whole hour to plug his book:
Give Me A Break, predictably and profligately subtitled How
I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became The Scourge
of the Liberal Media. As my dad would say, Ach du Lieber Gott in
First, I thought Rush Limbaugh crowned himself that scourge? Instead,
JS is merely a known, proven, and grudgingly admitted liar. Second,
when he talks of the Liberal Media does he mean folk like
Peter Jennings, Diane Sawyer, and Ted Koppel? Not exactly a bunch of
bleeding hearts? Third, the special 20/20 had a countdown of 10
Lies, Myths, and Downright Stupidity. Problem is that on that list were
lies that were not, myths long debunked, and a stupidity that was his
Before I do my Casey Kasem let me just background JS a little for those
who do not know his troubling past. In February of 2000, on a 20/20
segment called The Food You Eat, JS made some remarkably inane
and downright fraudulent claims that organic food was not only not better
than regular food, but worse- laced with higher amounts of the E. coli
bacteria. Now, I do not buy in to all the organic nonsense myself. But
the troubling aspect of this exposé was that JS did
not even attempt to hide the fact that his information was plain wrong
in some cases and nonexistent in others.
One of the claims was that tests on pesticide levels on regular produce
were no higher than those on organic produce. The New York Times,
a few months later, exposed that Stossel declaimed that fact
while knowing that no such tests had ever been done. Later that year
he championed the odd notion that while real
tests had confirmed that dioxins were harmful to test animals this in
no way meant humans were at any risk. Wes veggies, I suppose!
A few years earlier a JS special of historical revisionism called Greed
tried to paint that trait as a virtue, from the days of Robber Barons
to Bill Gates. So what if those old guys lied, cheated, stole, and bullied
their way in bilking many out of millions? Never even mentioning the
use of thuggery and murder that would make Joe Hill and Jimmy Hoffa
look like amateurs. Quoth JS: 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. This is a consumer advocate
speaking!? I doubt Enron, Worldcom, and three years of Depression have
moved JS much considering the last century or so could be so neatly
Any doubt that JS could merely be misinterpreting data (at least that
which actually existed) have long since been answered. He willfully
lies. Proof came in 1994 when a report called Are We Scaring Ourselves
To Death? was aired. Two underlings whose research contradicted
the slant JS wanted were rebuked, their data trashed, and they resigned
2001 JS had another public exposing. For an Earth Day special to
debunk environmentalism JS went to a California school to ask kids
their opinions on the environment. One father who witnessed the
taping said that JS tried to lead the children in a chant that All
scientists agree that there is a greenhouse effect.- to try
to convince people that schoolteachers were actually leading the
children in some Stepfordian Left Wing Green plot! Why would a journalist
with many Emmy awards have so dismal a track record? Well, perhaps
because hes one of only a few journalists allowed
by their corporate masters to actually speak on the lecture circuit
in front of political groups for upwards of $200,000 per annum?
Could it be that the tobacco industry funded right wing Cato Institute
claims JS as a member? Repeat after me- Oy!
to the infomercial. Lets go down 10 to 1.
At 10 is the myth that cold temperatures
make you cold. Um
.I learned that was not so in 2nd grade- in 1972!
No one I know has believed that for years. Of course its only
the more confined close quarters of winters that facilitates the spread
of viruses and bacteria. But, if youre a member of Cato you still
believe the 1950s were the height of human culture.
At 9 was the myth that most people have
less free time. JS debunks this by having people keep journals to show
they underestimate their free time. He also compares free time with
that workers had a century ago. Yet, every study of the amount of time
spent by individual workers and that in two income homes over the last
25 years shows that there is far less free time than we had in the 1960s
or 1970s. This is selectively choosing which data to show and which
to hide to make a point.
At 8 is the myth of a need for two family
incomes. I agree in principle that a lot of this is keeping up
with the Joneses- but the majority of two income homes are not
rich people- but the working and poverty classes. The same argument
could be made that no one need work full time. Just pitch a tent and
At 7 is the biggest JS deception so far-
the myth that money can buy happiness is debunked. JS shows that two
rap stars now are more fulfilled as a preacher and philanthropist. They
rail against money, yet only obviate JSs point as they speak.
It was not money that ruined their lives- but its love and pursuit.
Someone made this point long before JS, no? Money can only give you
more freedom in your life. If you screw up its your fault.
At 6 we get Republicans shrink government.
This bit was designed to show JS as impartial. Who but Republicans
has EVER believed that?
At 5 we get more fact-twisting. The myth
is that the rich dont pay their fair share. How does JS wiggle
out of this one? First he sets up a moron- fellow con man Al Sharpton-
to blather away until JS confronts him with the fact
that the top 1% of America actually pays 34% of the taxes, not the 5-15%
Sharpton claimed. Sounds impressive, eh? Well, of course the top 1%
are gonna pay more, but the truer indicator of whether or not this is
fair is to analyze what % of the total American wealth and income that
top 1% pays. A quick check with the IRS and the Tax Foundation reveals
that the top 1% pays 33.89% of the taxes (as of 2001) yet owns 38.1%
of the reported wealth and generated over 40% of the reported
income. The key word is reported for we all know that
what wealthy individuals and corporations squirrel away vast sums in
tax shelters legal and not. This does not even account for bad bookkeeping.
As example, in 2001 I worked at AT&T, which on the front page of
its company newspaper touted that in 2000 it had paid about $4 billion
in taxes to the local state and Federal governments. What dutiful citizens!
A month or so later the same paper had a back page article detailing
the $4.9 billion in aid the US gave the company so it could
buy up companies in the Far East and compete in cable. In short, AT&T
ended up being financed to the tune of nearly a billion dollars (which
its moronic CEO pissed away in bad investments that tanked)- all the
while it could legitimately claim to be a good taxpaying corporate citizen.
Some other interesting things. In the 1980s the top tax rates were lowered
from nearly 70% to 35%. This was not a windfall? Yet the IRS reports
that the top 1% averaged paying taxes on 27.5% of their reported
income, while the middle class paid 28% of their reported income.
JS never mentioned this, I assure you.
Another unreported factor is that the top 1% had a net worth rise of
over 100% in the 1990s. That 100% figure saw only about an 18% increase
in the percentage of taxes that group paid. Another point missed is
that if you take away 40% of a million dollar income that taxpayer is
still sitting pretty at 600k, while even an untaxed poverty level family
is in the dumpster. This is a simple notion known as progressivity-
one of the hallmarks of fairness in taxation.
At 4 we get the canard that chemicals
are killing us. As proof JS defends DDT by stating that its deleterious
health effects came from overuse and that many Africans could be saved
from malaria if DDT were used sparingly. While this is true in regards
to DDT, note that JS claimed chemicals (plural) are killing us and could
only manage a single instance where this claim is only partially true.
As for all the chemicals in our food, lawns, garments, etc., well- distortion
is time consuming.
Besides, 3 awaits.
That is guns are bad. Well, only a minority of people agree
with that in the first place. Believe it or not the NRA position is
in the majority, so heres another myth that was never a myth!
Any online search for gun statistics confirms that guns are used far
more often in defense than crime. And did we not know that gun laws
dont deter criminals? I knew that from my youth. You mustve
seen Scared Straight?
At 2 we get were drowning in
This bizarre myth no one has ever claimed. JS recycled an old 1987 floating
garbage barge tale that became a national joke to inflict this upon
us. Implicit in the telling, though, is that consumerism is good and
recycling a plot to annoy you.
At 1 we get the Chicken Littleism of Life
is getting worse. Yes, most mouth that but most people dont
really believe it - nor was it something that needed exposing.
Jeez! Then again, no one should expect much from John Stossel nor infomercials.
That ABC still allows this known fraud and liar to pose as a consumer
advocate is bad enough, but to give him a full hour to promote
his book is a new low- even for ABC. But, since they keep resurrecting
the myth, I can only shake my head and wonder What would Jesus
© Dan Schneider Feb 2004
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