Few journalists challenge the conventional wisdom with more power than John Stossel, the co-anchor of ABC's 20/20, the auteur behind widely watched specials such as Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?, and the author of this month's cover story, "Confessions of a Welfare Queen: How Rich Bastards Like Me Rip Off Taxpayers for Millions of Dollars" (page 22). Whether debunking claims that TV's Power Rangers were turning America's kids into hyperactive droogs or revealing how the Americans with Disabilities Act has made it tougher for the handicapped to find jobs, Stossel always forces his viewers to think long and hard about what they assume is the truth.
Stossel's article -- drawn from his engaging new memoir, Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media (HarperCollins) -- forces us to redefine what it means to be on the dole. Ronald Reagan famously complained about "welfare queens," writes Stossel, "but he never told us that the biggest welfare queens are the already wealthy." Thus begins a tale of how such struggling down-and-outers as former Archer Daniels Midland CEO Dwayne Andreas, financier David Rockefeller, and a well-heeled broadcaster named John Stossel have benefited handsomely from government largess. In Stossel's case, you and I helped him rebuild an expensive beach house via heavily subsidized federal flood insurance.
It's an enraging piece. To the extent that it makes you rethink the definition of welfare queen -- not to mention rich bastard -- it's Stossel at his best. reason, too. In Give Me a Break, Stossel identifies reason as the magazine that radically changed his thinking about the benefits of laissez faire in economics and personal lifestyles. After growing disillusioned with liberal and conservative media outlets, he turned to reason. "It was a revelation," he writes. "Here were writers who analyzed the benefits of free markets that I witnessed as a reporter. They called themselves libertarians, and their slogan was 'Free Minds and Free Markets.' I wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but what they wrote sure made sense."
This issue is filled with other revelatory stories. In "Faith, Shame, and Insurgency" (page 30) and "Babylonian Hostility" (page 34), Steven Vincent and Nir Rosen file reports from a Baghdad different from the one you've encountered on the evening news. Whether you were for or against the war, these pieces will challenge what you think you know about Iraq.
In "Waiting for Antar" (page 16), Charles Paul Freund turns to Arab history to explain Saddam Hussein's bizarre refusal to use the toilet after being captured. In "Blood Money" (page 56), Damon W. Root shows that America's most sacralized battlefield, Gettysburg, has always been its most commercialized; he also explains why that's a good thing. And in "Swingers of the World, Unite!" (page 52), Peter Bagge gives us the skinny on a recent "alternative lifestyles" conference. Whether what he finds there is a revelation is something readers will have to decide for themselves.