Stossel, John 1947-

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STOSSEL, John 1947-


Born 1947. Education: Princeton University, B.A., 1969.


Office—20/20, 147 Columbus Ave., 10th Fl., New York, NY 10023-5900. E-mail—[email protected].


Television journalist. KGW-TV, Portland, OR, reporter and producer; WCBS-TV, New York, NY, investigative reporter and consumer editor;American Broadcasting Companies (ABC), consumer edito for Good Morning America, 1981-89; 20/20 correspondent and consumer reporter, 1981—, coanchor, 2003; host and reporter for ABC specials, including Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?, 1994; The Blame Game: Are We a Country of Victims?, 1994; Boys and Girls Are Different: Men, Women, and the Sex Difference, 1995; Common Sense with John Stossel, 1995; The Mystery of Happiness: Who Has It and How to Get It, 1996; The Trouble with Lawyers, 1996; Freeloaders, 1997; Junk Science: What You Know That May Not Be So, 1997; Sex, Drugs, and Freedom of Choice (also known as Sex, Drugs, and Consenting Adults), 1998; Greed, 1998; Is American Number One?, 1999; Tampering with Nature, 2001; John Stossel Goes to Washington, 2001; You Can't Say That; Family Fix: Help! I've Got Kids; and Hype.


Nineteen Emmy awards; George Polk Award for outstanding local reporting; George Foster Peabody Award; recognized five times by National Press Club for consumer reporting.


Shopping Smart: The Only Consumer Guide You'll Ever Need, Putnam (New York, NY), 1980.

Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.


John Stossel has been a consumer advocate for nearly all of his journalistic career, most visibly on American Broacasting Company's 20/20, for which he was named coanchor in 2003. Early on, Stossel covered minor scams and schemes, but after a time, he began to feel that government, which is in a position to help the taxpayer, does not. He concluded that in many cases, government is the problem, with its mystifying regulations, inaction, waste, and overlapping authority. Stossel felt that the consumer is being ripped off by excessive taxation, politicians who make decisions based on their own interests, and bureaucracies that have grown out of control. In many cases, he believes, the private sector can more efficiently handle the business of many government agencies.

Stossel has addressed these problems week after week, and in addition has produced many specials. He is a man whose fans and critics alike are extreme in their praise and condemnation. The title of his Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media says it all. While his Libertarian leanings appeal to one segment of viewers, the liberal left finds fault with Stossel's reporting, which is sometimes captioned with the word "commentary."

Eric Alterman wrote in Nation that Stossel "has his own set of rules at ABC, including his own production unit." Despite this network support Stossel has consistently been accused of misrepresenting science and quoting sources out of context. A much-publicized example is his February 4, 2000 report titled "The Food You Eat." Stossel reported that tests commissioned by ABC found increased levels of E. coli bacteria in organic sprouts and lettuce. He also said that neither the organic nor the nonorganic foods tested positive for pesticides. Rachel Coen noted on the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) Web site that "as the Organic Trade Association points out in a letter sent to ABC before the report aired …, Stossel's E. coli tests were non-specific, meaning that they did not distinguish between dangerous and benign strains for the bacteria. The distinction is crucial to a story about food safety, but the 20/20 report omitted it, leaving the impression that the presence of any E. coli whatsoever could prove fatal." "What's more," reported Coen, "the pesticide tests Stossel cited were never done." FAIR disputes many of Stossel's reports, including on the subjects of "dwarf tossing," environmental education, America's economic place in the world, the evils of government regulation, Title IX, gender equality, AIDS statistics, greed, poverty, labor laws, global warming, endangered species, and energy deregulation.

Ethan Wallison reviewed Stossel's Give Me a Break for National Review Online, calling it "a capitalist's manifesto, a paean to the power of self-interest to regulate human affairs. Stossel makes no apologies for his faith in free markets as the surest source of wealth, justice, innovation, and efficiency." Stossel's anecdotes include his investigation of the $330,000 outhouse built by the Park Service and how Atlantic City, New Jersey officials attempted to condemn a widow's home so that Donald Trump could build a parking lot for a casino. He also describes himself as a "welfare queen" for collecting the reimbursement the federal government allows homeowners whose beachfront houses are destroyed by the ocean.

Stossel writes in Give Me a Break that the National Flood Insurance Program "is currently the biggest property insurance writer in the United States, putting taxpayers on the hook for more than $640 billion in property. Subsidized insurance goes to movie stars in Malibu, to rich people in Kennebunkport (where the Bush family has its vacation compound), to rich people in Hyannis (where the Kennedy family has its), and to all sorts of people like me who ought to be paying our own way." Stossel continues, "Why not let us sink or swim on our own? If my house erodes away, it should be my tough luck." And, as Stossel points out, a homeowner is not limited to one claim. He can build again in the same spot and still be covered. Stossel writes, "It was an upsetting loss for me, but financially I made out just fine. You paid for the house—and its contents. I'm not proud that I took your money, but if the government is foolish enough to offer me a special deal, I'd be foolish not to take it."

Stossel cites large plaintiff settlements and other costs to society and asks how we let things get this way. "That's really the nub of the issue here," commented Wallison. "Because if individuals wanted to control their own lives, it stands to reason that they would vote for politicians who would try to erode government's influence. They mostly don't. Stossel suggests that the costs of bureaucratic creep are too much of an abstraction for ordinary taxpayers to notice—they don't see the prices climbing or the businesses closing as a result of new laws and regulations."

Because of regulations, Stossel notes that entrepreneurs are sometimes put out of business. One case he documents is a hair-braiding business that was shut down because the owners didn't have beautician licenses, even though they neither washed nor colored the hair they were braiding. Two elderly women were told they couldn't knit at home the mittens and sweaters they made for sale. Stossel questions the power of regulations that interfere with people's lives to the extent that they are unable to earn a living.

Glenn Garvin wrote in the Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger that Give Me a Break "is full of often hilarious and always horrifying examples of such handiwork, along with a scathing chapter on corporate welfare. But the most perceptive part of the book may be its examination of victimology, the growing sense of Americans that nothing is ever their own fault." Booklist's David Pitt called the book "powerful, well-argued, and immensely thought-provoking."



Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 41, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.


America's Intelligence Wire, February 2, 2004, "Give Me a Break: John Stossel Harpoons Regulators, Scammers in New Book" (interview).

Booklist, January 1, 2004, David Pitt, review of Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media, p. 788.

Library Journal, March 1, 2004, Necia Parker-Gibson, review of Give Me a Break, p. 89.

Nation, October 2, 2000, Eric Alterman, "The Right Whines," p. 12; January 7, 2002, Mark Dowie, "A Teflon Correspondent: John Stossel Has High Q-Ratings, So He Doesn't Have to Worry about the Rules," p. 35, "Food Fight," p. 38.

Publishers Weekly, February 2, 2004, review of Give Me a Break, p. 58.

Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), February 22, 2004, Glenn Garvin, review of Give Me a Break, p. 5.


Chicago Sun-Times Online, (February 15, 2004, Terry Savage, "Terry Savage Talks Money with John Stossel."

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting Web site, (March-April, 2003), Peter Hart, "Give Us A Break: The world according to John Stossel," Rachel Coen, "The Stossel Treatment: Selective Editing and Other Unethical Tactics."

National Review Online, (January 22, 2004), Ethan Wallison, review of Give Me a Break.

Reason Online, (March, 2004).*