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By David Podvin

With profuse apologies to Geraldo Rivera and Tim Russert, ABC reporter John Stossel is the state of the art in the lucrative field of sell-out journalism. While there are countless other reporters who are willing to be dishonest if the price is right, in Stossel’s case the price is always right. He has publicly admitted that he cashiered his principles in order to increase his standard of living, which equates to candidly acknowledging that nothing he says should be believed. Stossel has repeatedly brought shame to his network with his unethical conduct. Through it all, Disney’s ABC News subsidiary defends him, and rewards him.

Stossel masquerades as a crusading journalist whose mission is to cut through political correctness and just tell the truth, consequences be damned. In reality, he is a smarmy shill for the highest bidder, which is Corporate America. His “truths” are limited to manipulating facts in order to show that completely deregulating big business would lead to a much better world for everyone. He advocates the honor system, but only for multinational corporations.

Many reporters feed false information to the public, but Stossel’s deceit is especially malignant. His real crusade is to convince viewers that they should put their trust in the powerful conglomerates that have subsidized his career, the same companies that have a financial conflict of interest on life and death issues that endanger public safety. Towards that end, he uses deceit and innuendo to smear those who really are concerned about protecting the average citizen.

Stossel has repeatedly proven that he is believes the ends justify the means. It is well documented that he engages in sophistry, deliberately misquotes statistics, discards research material that contradicts his premises, constructs half truths, and tells outright lies. He began as a consumer advocate, but the lure of big corporate money has led Stossel to now advocate that consumers should not be protected at all. Greed has motivated him to devolve into being the Pied Piper of the law of the jungle, which in turn has led to his status as the fair haired boy at ABC News. It is symptomatic of the modern corporate media, and the right wing politics it self-servingly forces down the throats of the American people, that Stossel becomes more successful every time he is caught being dishonest:

By David Bauder
Associated Press
Tuesday, August 8, 2000; Page C07

NEW YORK, Aug. 7 –– ABC News admitted today that a "20/20" report by John Stossel questioning the relative purity of organic produce was wrong and that the reporter would apologize on the air Friday for his mistake.

The network wouldn't say whether Stossel or any "20/20" staffers would be disciplined. An environmental watchdog group is calling for Stossel to be fired.

The report, which was first aired in February and was repeated last month, seemed to debunk the common belief that organic food is safer than regular foods because no pesticides are used.

Stossel said on the air that tests conducted on produce for ABC News "surprisingly found no pesticide residue on the conventional samples or the organic."

The Washington-based Environmental Working Group charged that pesticide tests on produce were never conducted for the show. ABC, in its statement today, confirmed that the tests were not done…

It was as blatant an example of corporate disinformation as has ever been seen on TV, with Stossel as deceiver-in-chief. Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting revealed that, “The chief critic of organic foods in the report was Dennis Avery, identified as ‘a former research analyst for the Agriculture Department.’ But Avery's current and more relevant work is as director of the Center for Global Food Issues for the Hudson Institute, which receives funding from chemical companies like Monsanto, DuPont, ConAgra and Procter & Gamble, among others.”

Stossel told the American people that food not laced with the chemicals made by Monsanto and DuPont is no safer than the food saturated in chemicals, which is a lie. He did so without revealing that the source of his “information” was a spokesman for the interests of Monsanto and DuPont, which is unethical. When he was caught with his pants down, he was not fined, suspended or fired by ABC, which counts among its advertisers Monsanto and DuPont. In fact, Stossel has been given more exposure on ABC since he was caught lying.

Deceiving the American people on behalf of multinational corporations, and getting caught doing it, turned out to be a shrewd career move.

John Stossel also likes to put his words into other people’s mouths. He is especially adept at manipulating small children:

Parents Lash Out at ABC, Stossel
By ELIZABETH JENSEN, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK--A group of parents, most of them from Santa Monica's Canyon Charter School, charged that producers for ABC News' John Stossel misled them and now they are revoking the permission they granted for ABC to use interviews with their children in Stossel's Friday special, "Tampering With Nature…"

Brad Neal, a Venice Beach real estate investor and the children's father, said he gave permission for Samantha, 8, and Brandon, 10, to participate in the children's panel ABC  producers assembled, without knowing that Stossel was involved in the program. Parents were told that ABC was doing a special on Earth Day and wanted to know "what your second- and third- and fourth-graders feel about the environment," Neal said.

But when questioning began, Neal, who said he is planning to open organic juice bars, says he recognized Stossel as the anchor of last year's program attacking organic foods, "and I had this bad feeling inside." He is most bothered, he said, that "ABC hid Stossel's involvement, because some of us would have been less inclined to let our children participate." And once the interviewing began, he said, "it was not about sharing our children's thoughts on the environment with this guy, it was about getting the response he wanted.”

"It was clear from the very first couple minutes that the questions were not leading, they were misleading," and at one point, Stossel tried to lead the children in a chant to the effect that "all scientists agree that there is a greenhouse effect," he said. "They manipulated our children for their own agenda."

Stossel set out to prove that public schools are brainwashing children with anti-corporate left wing environmental propaganda, which is part of his ongoing effort to convince viewers that they should only trust big business. Since the evidence did not support his premise, he decided to improve on the truth. This is nothing new; two ABC producers have refused to work with him after being coerced by Stossel to discard facts that contradicted his assumptions.  The interesting factor is that he is now so notorious for his lies that ABC had to hide his involvement in the Earth Day project so as to manipulate the parents into granting permission for their children to be interviewed/used. The key point here is that ABC News was a knowing participant in this episode of Stossel deception, which reveals the earlier “reprimand” for lying about organic foods to be a farce.

Stossel claims to be a libertarian, a term which has come to mean someone who believes that laws should not apply to corporations. He was once a consumer advocate ("I got sick of it. I also now make so much money I just lost interest in saving a buck on a can of peas."). He is now a TV news version of Gordon Gecko, if Gordon Gecko had porn star hair and mustache. In the program “Greed”, Stossel spent an hour proclaiming the virtue of robber barons and monopolists who engaged in illegal practices to destroy their competition and steal from the public. He then concluded that, “greed is good”.

"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."
--ABC News correspondent John Stossel (Oregonian, 10/26/94)

Stossel could start by explaining the beauties of the deregulated free market to the shareholders and employees of Enron. He does not choose to respond to such challenges, however, preferring to dismiss criticism of him as “part of the left wing plot to destroy me”.

His free market epiphany led him to the conclusion that corporate greed is the proper organizing principle for society. He condemned environmentalist Erin Brockovich for suing Pacific Gas and Electric after the company deliberately contaminated groundwater in California. This is a classic example of the approach that has made him wealthy. To Stossel and his loyal fans, the problem is not the praiseworthy corporations that violate the law by poisoning the environment; the problem is the obnoxious mothers who object to their children being exposed to cancer causing chemicals.

Stossel is shameless in promoting his extreme ideology. He has argued that seat belts in school buses are a waste of money. He says that the way to eliminate delays at airports is to have more planes land at the same time, a concept that would definitely make air travel infinitely more exciting. He said that ergonomics, the study of workplace safety, is “a new and uncertain science.” He’s off by two centuries. He claimed that less than half of public high school students graduate. The number is more than three quarters. He claimed that Parkinson’s Disease kills more Americans than AIDS. He actually had a fifty-fifty chance of getting this one right, but the fates were against him.

John Stossel, in The November 2000 Issue of Natural Foods Merchandiser:

"What happens when government policy is based on junk science? Billions of dollars are misspent, and people's lives altered forever. Love Canal. Times Beach. Defoliant Agent Orange. These names arouse fear because of the chemical dioxin. Dioxin is very poisonous. We know that from animal tests. Tiny amounts kill guinea pigs. That's why our government's spending hundreds of millions of dollars to protect us from dioxin."

"But is that good science? Just because a chemical hurts animals, does that mean it's harmful to us?"

Stossel’s dishonest defense of dioxin was part of an industrial effort to prevent the substance from being classified as a known human carcinogen. While he was on TV lying about how the chemical was not dangerous to humans, the producers of dioxin were in federal court claiming the same thing. The World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency have both classified dioxin as “a known human carcinogen”, but Stossel’s strategy to enrich himself by promoting the agenda of big business does not allow him to tolerate “junk science”.

The attempt to portray one of the most toxic chemicals on Earth as harmless to humans was so despicable that Stossel should have been fired immediately, but that would have upset the dioxin-generating manufacturers that advertise on ABC.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has been monitoring Stossel:

In a one-hour Stossel news special, "Is America # One?" (9/19/99), one of Stossel's main sources on Hong Kong claims that Hong Kong is "the only government in the world that makes a surplus, a big surplus."

In fact, as FAIR pointed out in a September 28 action alert, 11 countries-- including the U.S., which at the time had been running a federal budget surplus for more than a year-- ran a budget surplus in 1998. In a written response to FAIR from Stossel "and some of his staff," Stossel did not defend the accuracy of his show's claim. Instead, he made a different one: that Hong Kong is the only country which consistently runs a budget surplus. Even on his new point, Stossel is wrong: Hong Kong ran a sizeable $4.4 billion deficit in 1998, according to the International Monetary Fund. And the government forecast a $4.7 billion deficit for 1999 (Agence France Presse, 3/3/99).

In "Greed with John Stossel," a March 1998 hour-long special, Stossel claims that labor's complaints about rising CEO salaries are unreasonable since "factory wages were up, too-- up 70 percent" in the last 15 years, so workers hadn't been hurt.

Actually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wages for manufacturing workers had risen 55 percent since January 1983-- but only if you don't adjust for inflation. After that crucial adjustment is made, factory workers' real wages have fallen by more than 6 percent since 1983. (Extra! Update, 4/98)

In a 20/20 segment attacking public schools, Stossel stated that "the U.S. Education Department says that only one in five teachers feels prepared to teach to high standards." (11/12/99)

Stossel appears to be referring to a Department of Education study released in January 1999. This study dealt with teacher preparedness, but it said nothing about teaching to "high standards." Instead, it found that one in five teachers felt comfortable integrating high technology into classroom instruction. The Department of Education could find no study that more closely matched Stossel's description; ABC refused to provide any more specifics. (FAIR Action Alert, 11/24/99)

The common denominator of these lies is that they hew to the corporate party line. The premise of Is America # One? was that the United States was in decline, which also happened to be the Republican Party’s theme headed into the 2000 election. On Greed, Stossel demonstrated that extremely wealthy people are virtuous, whereas those who don’t believe in redistributing wealth upwards are really quite evil. On 20/20, he frequently    attacks public education; it is the position of the corporatist libertarians that all schooling should be voluntary and private. As Henry Ford said, some children don’t need formal education because they were born to be drones.

Stossel’s unrelenting assault on reality has won him a large following. His admirers are the corporate sponsors of ABC News programming, and America’s vast legion of angry conservatives who agree with former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed that they must use any means necessary to destroy their liberal enemy in America’s culture war. Ronald Reagan was referring to the latter when he said that to disagree with them once is to be viewed by them as a mortal enemy for eternity. They are the people who condemn John McCain and his eighty five percent conservative voting record for being leftist. They are the ones who insist that guns are safe and movies are dangerous. They are tormented by the realization that the middle class has too much money and the rich don’t have enough, despite the fact that they are middle class. Their hearts bleed, but only for America’s most persecuted class: multinational corporations.

The common clay of the new west has enthusiastically embraced Stossel. They agree with Randall Terry, who said that conservatives are right and liberals are wrong, so fairness dictates that objectivity should be replaced with conservative dogma. The right wing rank and file have provided Stossel with a vocal base of support that has helped him weather one scandalous breach of journalistic ethics after another.

The Wall Street Journal, no stranger to assaulting the truth on behalf of the conservative cause, claimed that Stossel wasn’t lying about organic food. Michael Fumento of the Journal invented a fairy tale in which Stossel’s assistant forgot to pass relevant information along to him, thereby exonerating the reporter from any wrongdoing.

This is an example of one conservative liar attempting to exonerate another. Fumento deceitfully omitted the inconvenient fact that, after the false report was first broadcast, advocates with the Environmental Working Group wrote a letter alerting Stossel that the researchers said they had not conducted the tests. The report was then broadcast again.

Without correction.

ABC News defends Stossel. Senior vice president Phyllis McGrady refers to Stossel as an “original thinker” who has a unique contribution to make. As a result, he is not required to observe the same standards as other reporters at ABC. He has the latitude to editorialize during news broadcasts. He collects huge speaking fees for appearing before partisan groups, which other journalists at the company are forbidden to do. The “original thinker”, whose thoughts would not have been original in the Dark Ages, is given the unique latitude that goes with saying things that the network’s corporate sponsors long to hear.

The significance of Stossel’s successful career in broadcasting is not that he is a charlatan who is willing to say anything for cash; the world is teeming with such people. The relevant point is that his appearance on television news is a deterrent to the practice of honorable journalism. Other reporters see that it is the habitual liar Stossel who is given unparalleled latitude at ABC News to interpose his point of view into a story. They know that it is the corporate demimonde Stossel who is provided with his own prime time specials. They cannot help but notice that it is the right wing Stossel who is rewarded with the big bucks. The message is delivered without ever being spoken: If you want fame and fortune at ABC News, then lying plus whoring times partisanship is the proven formula for success.

John Stossel is the gauge of integrity at ABC News. His presence on the network, after he has been caught lying repeatedly, is a devastating indictment of the entire organization’s credibility. As long as a man who treats facts as though they have leprosy is allowed to appear in the guise of a journalist, Disney’s news operation will continue to be nothing more than the disinformation arm of a major conglomerate that has replaced journalism with corporate propaganda.

Podvin on the Media

Podvin, the Series


Last changed: December 13, 2009