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John Stossel: The Reason.tv Interview

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Double Update: Set your Tivos to stun! John Stossel's 20/20 special, Bullshit in America, will air on Friday, March 6 March 13 (date is tentative; consult your local listings). Based on six segments from Reason.tv and featuring Drew Carey, Stossel will take a long (and libertarian) look at immigration reform, medical marijuana, eminent domain abuse, and much more.

John Stossel is the best-known libertarian in the news media. As the co-anchor of the long-running and immensely popular ABC News program 20/20, auteur of a continuing series of specials on topics ranging from corporate welfare to educational waste to laws criminalizing consensual adult behavior, and author of best-selling books such as Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity, Stossel brings a consistent message of liberty to millions of viewers on a weekly basis.

It wasn't always this way. Born in 1947, Stossel started out as a standard-issue consumer reporter, working in Oregon and New York before joining the staff of Good Morning America and, later, 20/20. He did scare stories about everything from pharmaceutical rip-offs to exploding coffee pots. Then, in the 1980s, he encountered reason, which radically changed his thinking about the benefits of laissez faire in economics and personal lifestyles.

"It was a revelation," he writes in his 2004 memoir, Give Me a Break. "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."

Reason.tv caught up with Stossel in January in Los Angeles, where the newsman was filming a special episode of 20/20 based on six Reason.tv documentaries featuring Drew Carey. Among the topics: the desirability of open borders, the need to reform the nation's drug laws, and the case against universal preschool. Ted Balaker, a Reason.tv producer, talked with Stossel about bailout mania, his hopes for the Obama years, and his attempt to educate a generation of school kids with a video series called Stossel in the Classroom.

For an edited transcript of this interview, go here.

For an audio podcast, go here and to embed this video, click here.

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  1. Wow, John Stossel is a pretty cool guy isn’t he?

    RT
    http://www.real-privacy.us.tc

  2. Stossel’s “explain it to me like I was a six year old, cause I was never any good with fractions” shtick has worn thin on me. It’s disarming, maybe it appeals to some who wouldn’t listen otherwise. *sigh* Alas, he’s pretty much all we got in the MSM. Ah well, the right wingnuts started with just Rush.

  3. On the question of why the left doesn’t like Libertarians more… the issues we talk about are legalizing prostitution, legalizing drugs, and gay rights.

    The leftist people I know don’t agree with Libertarians on any of these. They want to legalize marijuana, but it almost always stops there, and their big argument for MJ legalization is always “Think of the tax dollars!!”.

    They’re also often against the legalization of prostitution, or, at least, they assume that it’ll stay illegal no matter what so why get riled up about it.

    They’re in favor of gay rights to be sure, but the Libertarians’ version of rights means “people should be free to discriminate or not so long as the government stays out of it”. Leftists’ version is more like “the government should ban any and all discrimination against gays”.

    My version of libertarianism cares more about the “socially liberal” side than the “fiscally conservative” side of it, but I don’t find a heck of a lot of common ground with the left when we dig a little into the issues.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with you on this one, Dave T. I think the thing is that a lot of the things the libertarian movement proposes in terms of social liberty are a bit out of the mainstream of even the social left. I mean, there are activists for legalizing all drugs and legalizing (or at least decriminalizing) prostitution within many social liberal movements, but they don’t have the ears of the progressive zeitgeist, and many of them are willing to take a slice of bread as opposed to no bread at all. Fair or not, it is what it is.

  5. Stossel is a very nice man. However, I feel that in the current state of the world the only hope for liberty in our lifetime is a complete crash of civilization. The government is expanding more rapidly than ever before and 90% of the public and media thinks that the government HAS to print/borrow or steal trillions of dollars and spend it on more boondoggles. The car is out of control, we have no brakes, we are careenig down a hill and heading towards a big cliff…when we hit the bottom maybe people will realize that more governemn isn’t the solution.

  6. On the question of why the left doesn’t like Libertarians more… the issues we talk about are legalizing prostitution, legalizing drugs, and gay rights.

    We overlap with the liberal agenda on social issues, but our devotion to lower taxes and smaller government is anathema to them.

    It would be nice if they could break out of their “with us or against us” tribal thinking (ditto the conservatives, who we overlap with on other issues, but are anathema on social issues) and do some nice, pragmatic coalitions on issues of common interest, but I see no signs of that happening.

  7. As a right-leaning Libertarian from a conservative background but in public education, I know from experience that Stossel is beloved among conservatives and hated among liberals.
    I have generally found that I am more welcomed by conservatives (though they think I have “quirky” ideas) and generally abhorred by liberals as a “conservative”. The only place I have really ever disagreed with JS and the LP is abortion (I am pro-life). But I am anti-war, think drugs and prostitution should be legal, am on board with gay rights, etc… and yet one issue brands me as untlra-conservative. I think this is the difference…there is more diversity of thought among Republicans on social issues than in the Democrat party…?

  8. We overlap with the liberal agenda on social issues

    Except that we really don’t. Most of my friends are very liberal and we’re miles apart on social issues. Even on things as mild as marijuana, they’ll express support for medical use or decriminalization for personal use (when they bother to even consider the issue), but stop well short of thinking it should be sold at the corner store.

  9. I just read the transcript and yet again I am very impressed with Mr. Stossel. If only more people would really hear his messages.

    I am even more impressed with the subjects presented in the Stossel In The Classroom series. I really hope that teachers take advantage of this opportunity.

    However, John if you are reading this, before you put out another teachers guide get a better photo shopper. Your outline on the first page is horrible. If you need it, I’ll do the work free of charge!

    Dave

  10. Warren,

    Stossel’s “explain it to me like I was a six year old, cause I was never any good with fractions” shtick has worn thin on me.

    I think that isn’t so much a shtick as a reflection of Stossel’s own level of understanding.

    Deep thinker would not be a way to describe John Stossel.

  11. @ Warren and Neu Mejican:

    Not of all us can understand or have the desire to get wade through Rothbard, Von Mises, Hayek, and Friedman – as important as their contributions are. Reading Ayn Rand before going off to college didn’t sell me on libertarianism, but P.J. O’Rourke, Peter Bagge, John Stossel, Penn Jillette, and to a lesser degree, comedians like Denis Leary and Dennis Miller did.

  12. The 20/20 special is actually called “Bullshit in America”? Um…normally they can’t say bullshit on TV because it will cause kids to become serial killers or something.

  13. Mark,

    Yes, the simplified message is important for the reasons you cite, but you must realize that there are traps involved in presenting a cartoonish version of your philosophy: the cartoon version falls apart upon closer inspection and may, in the end, discredit a more valid, nuanced philosophy.

    I am not, btw, saying that Stossel chooses to present the cartoonish version of libertarianism. I am saying that I think he buys into the cartoonish version. I think he really believes he is presenting a convincing argument that would hold up to more careful scrutiny. I don’t think he is even aware of the obvious flaws/bias in the “evidence” he presents to bolster his points.

  14. Yes, the simplified message is important for the reasons you cite, but you must realize that there are traps involved in presenting a cartoonish version of your philosophy: the cartoon version falls apart upon closer inspection and may, in the end, discredit a more valid, nuanced philosophy.

    While absolutely true, what Mark brings up is a good point. One must crawl before one walks and for people who haven’t really thought hard about their political and philosophical convictions (the majority I dare say), leading them into the shallow end of the pool is preferable to beating them with a hammer.

    How’s them mixed metaphors Welch?!?!

  15. Okay, to restate that in a different way, I think that Stossel’s cartoonish style is the perfect introduction to an ideology that most liberals think of as “Neo-cons who smoke pot” and conservatives associate with “libertine”. Sure it’s not going to hold up to close inspection but hopefully people will be hooked enough to start digging into the core a bit and discover Mises, Hayek, Locke, etc. Hell, even if Dougherty’s book is mentioned that is at least a decent bibliography of our roots.

    Therein lies another problem with our philosophy. It is, mostly, based on reasoned thought and requires investigation and thinking to grasp. How many “progressives” have read the texts their movement holds as gospel? How many texts are there? What about regular “liberals” or “conservatives”? Do neo-cons even have a brain with which to read? All important questions if you are trying to convince people of your position rather than showcase how much better you are.

  16. Great interview Ted! Your fan club is proud today.

    Very insightful question about why liberals hate Stossel and conservatives like him. What a strange contradiction. And an amazing answer by him. Even with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gitmo, plastic bags, global warming, etc., left liberals really only get upset enough by money to do anything. But it doesn’t mean that conservatives are good at economics either.

    What Stossel needs to do is find some way to out-liberal the liberals on some issue. Maybe it’s drugs or gay marriage. He does a great job calling bullshit on the left from the prototypical right, but if he sneaks up on them from their left, he’d lump them into the same bullshit category as Republicans have found themselves in of late.

  17. “Deep thinker would not be a way to describe John Stossel.”

    And which network news reporters would you describe as “deep thinkers,” Neu?

  18. Citizen Nothing,

    And which network news reporters would you describe as “deep thinkers,” Neu?

    I intended my comment to be inclusive of the more specific phrase: “Deep thinker would not be a way to describe John Stossel – even when compared to his network news reporting peers.”

  19. Therein lies another problem with our philosophy. It is, mostly, based on reasoned thought and requires investigation and thinking to grasp.

    I don’t think this is in any way unique to libertarianism among political philosophies. Most people do, I think, consider their beliefs to be based on sound reasoning and think that those that disagree must, therefore, not be using sound reasoning.

    But, of course, reasonable people can disagree.

  20. Okay, so I’m an anti-capitalist individualist, a post left anarchist (yeah, yeah, keep your snarky comments to yourself) and as a result I roll my eyes at some of the things Stossel has been known for (and some of the stuff that comes out over this site). That being said, the fight against universal preschool is one I can get behind in a BIG way.

    We are already putting kids in school for WAAAAAY too long. From 5 to 18, 36 weeks out of the year, 8 hours a day–for almost our entire development as individuals we are compelled to submit to a pernicious and typically ineffective branch of the state. At this point it is a non-controversial (in the sense that nobody debates its truth) fact that children are no longer socialized by their families, but rather by their schools–that is to say, the state. When the state is the primary social unit as opposed to the family or–heavens me–the individual, we are already more or less lost.

    But this is no concern to liberals, nor even to conservatives terrified of sounding like they hate the mighty (in their self-congratulation at least) teachers. They see the problem as being that kids aren’t in school for long enough, and the solution is to require them to spend more years, more hours, more weeks in school. That the problem might be kids are so ground under by this stale, compulsory institution that by the time they reach their teenage years they HATE the process of learning and want nothing to do with education of any sort never occurs to them. But if you read this terrific site regularly nothing these people think shocks you anymore.

    The socialization factor of public schools is–I believe–a major factor in why homeschooled kids are considered “weird.” They are different because rather than being taught how to be a person and interact with other people by the government they are taught these things by their families. The popular distrust of homeschooling and ridicule of its “weird” products is nothing less than the prejudice of those crushed by the state towards those free from its pernicious control. That being said, many homeschoolers are crushed instead by systems of authority no less threatening than the state (the church) or less threatening but still dangerous (the family).

    So there you have it. I have managed to condemn public education, religion, the family, liberals and conservatives. If you dig this, you might like the stuff we’re doing over at The Deliverators.

  21. After reading all of this, and the way the State is taking over, we need vouchers for schools. Where can we find another America, as it used to be? jb

  22. Just a quick note on “socialization” in schools and homeschool producing “weird” kids…

    All the really weird kids I ever knew growing up, I met in public school. Whatever weirds they had from wherever they got them weren’t cured by attending public schools.

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