Wednesday, May 5, 2004

The press has called him a conservative, contrarian, prime-time propagandist, debunker and right-wing apparatchik — among other things.

But John Stossel, co-host of ABC’s “20/20” who was in Washington yesterday to tape a segment of the show, described himself as a pessimist and libertarian.

However, Mr. Stossel’s new book suggests more. “Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media” takes on haughty reporters, environmental alarmists and “liberal red tape.”

Scourge-hood is not easy, however.

“It’s not fun being a scourge,” Mr. Stossel said. “But I knew I was a scourge when two of my producers quit rather than work on my first special. And I knew it when I went on CNN’s ‘Reliable Sources’ and they titled it ‘Objectivity in Journalism: Does John Stossel Practice Either?’”

He has been sued six times, attacked on camera by a professional wrestler and hollered at by irate college women for his reports on consumer fraud, activist scare tactics and other cultural and political irregularities over the years.

Vexed by his exposes of organic foods and pesticides, some advocacy groups have campaigned to get Mr. Stossel fired from ABC — prompting the D.C.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute to form an organization called Support John Stossel to “counter ongoing environmentalist efforts to silence him,” says its Web site (

Like comedian turned commentator Dennis Miller, Mr. Stossel has sidled into the conservative corner. Salon called him “a right-leaning bomb-thrower of prime-time news,” and he has been praised by the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity of the Fox News Channel, the Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell and John Fund of the Wall Street Journal.

“I was once a heroic consumer reporter; now I’m a threat to journalism,” he writes in his book. “Instead of applying my skepticism to business, I applied it to government and ‘public interest’ groups. This apparently violated a religious tenet in journalism. Suddenly, I was no longer ‘objective.’”

However, Mr. Stossel remains philosophical about his role as conservative-friendly firebrand in the broadcast realm.

“It’s not fun getting all the cold looks,” he said. “It’s much more fun working with people who like what you do. But I can’t complain. I’m also co-anchor of a major network news program.”

His book exposes “greedy abortionists.” He also labels President Johnson’s war on poverty a “miserable failure” and plumbs the murky depths of journalistic credibility.

“The liberal media views the conservative media as ‘biased.’ It holds it in disdain, holds organizations like The Washington Times in disdain,” Mr. Stossel said. “The conservative media are furious at this treatment, as they should be. But the success of talk radio is a demonstration of the balance being corrected by the free market.”

He added, “I want people to learn that freedom works, that limited government works. We know what has lifted more people out of short and brutal lives: It’s economic freedom. Let’s celebrate it rather than sneering at it the way intellectual elites of America do.”

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