Earth Shakers: The Counter-Enviro Power List

John Stossel: Co-Anchor of ABC's 20/20

May 1, 2005
Outside Magazine

Stossel, 58, was once a crusading consumer advocate, but he found real fame after doing an about-face in the 1990s and becoming a foe of government regulations that affect business, both big and small. Today he's the de facto king of regulatory debunking, commanding some of the highest ratings of any ABC correspondent while regularly using his Give Me a Break segments and prime-time specials to ask questions like "Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?"

Usually his answer is yes, even as he profiles dioxin and asbestos (the dangers of which are overblown, he says). Though Stossel goes after a broad range of targets—in one show he exposed American "freeloaders," including wealthy business owners who enjoy government subsidies—he reserves much of his vitriol for safety laws, fear-mongering greens, and institutions like the EPA.

Critics charge that Stossel oversimplifies reality and makes sizable reporting gaffes, pointing to a 2000 exposeé on organic food in which he suggested that "buying organic could kill you" and cited a test that "proved" that conventional produce is as pesticide-residue-free as organic. (No such test existed, and he later apologized on the air.) But his fans keep the faith. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, sponsors a "Support John Stossel" online petition to counter what it says are "ongoing environmentalist" attacks against him.

SOUND BITE: "Stossel starts with a conclusion he wants to arrive at and looks for the facts to support it," says Peter Hart, a media analyst at the New York City-based group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. "You end up with a very compelling and very incomplete version of reality—not journalism."

NEXT UP: ABC is busy marketing Stossel's videos and DVDs (his 2005 TV special Myths, Lies, and Nasty Behavior went on sale in January). He'll also be speaking for organizations like Young America's Foundation, an outreach group for conservatives.

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