Dump the Audience?

Figuring out what's next for my Fox Business show


After my first two new Fox Business shows, I'm taking a break for Christmas and the New Year's holiday. We resume Thursday, Jan. 7.

Again, I ask your help. Last time, most of you said: Go with global warming for the first show—Atlas Shrugged can wait—and so I did. Atlas will be the first show after the holidays.

Today, I need your help in deciding what to do with the studio audience. I wanted an audience because I enjoy speaking on college campuses and I love the spontaneous give-and-take.

Students passionately pose questions like, "How can you defend business when free markets brought us to the crisis we suffer now?!"

I like explaining that what I defend isn't business but economic freedom and markets. Businessmen—with some honorable exceptions—are usually happy to collude with government to stifle competition and harm consumers and workers. I hate that.

And anyway, it was not free markets, but meddling politicians, bureaucrats, and central bankers, along with their corporate cronies, who created today's problems.

I even think I convince some of the students. It's lots of fun.

But I haven't done so well with my studio audience. Viewers have noticed.

Rob: "Ditch the audience! I had to stop watching the show last night on health care "reform" as I couldn't take any more of the stupid comments from the audience. "Lower audience interruption (applause and booing) to allow more discussion. Your 2007 health care special 'Sick in America, Whose Body Is It Anyway?" was more informative than the interruptive health care show tonight.

Brad Jones: "Love the show, hate the audience. Where do you find these people? I think you're better to do the show without an audience!"

Kevin: "John, PLEASE get rid of the live studio audience and get back to reporting. The audience makes your show rather cheesy."

OK, I hear you. I admit I am "clunky with the audience," as one viewer put it. On the other hand, maybe I'll get better. I'm new at it. And as several emailers said, allowing the opposition to speak is a better way to convince people:

Mark: "Love the show! Like the format. It gives the opportunity to directly address and confront opposing ideas.

Tim: "I like to hear what real people have to say about topics."

So do I. So did Ben Franklin, who wrote in his autobiography: "By the collision of different sentiments, sparks of truth strike out, and political light is obtained" (The Completed Autobiography, p. 335).

I agree. It's intellectually lazy to do shows where everyone is in agreement. There are plenty of those on other networks. We libertarians thrive on debate with the statists. Bring it on!

So I'll try the audience a few more times. I'll search out statists who make their case more clearly, and I'll experiment with the role of the audience.

One of the many advantages of working for Fox is that they're willing to try things. They're eager to experiment. If it doesn't work, we'll drop the audience.

Economist Mark Skousen made some other good points about last week's health care show:

"Imagine if LBJ had pushed through Congress a program called 'Food Care' along with Medicare? Food prices would be going through the roof, and food would be a major political football.

"Why isn't food a major debate issue? Because LBJ only gave us the Food Stamp program, which has a means test to it, so that it applies only to the poor (family of four making $25,000 or less).

"… I also like the idea of converting Medicare (and Medicaid) into HSAs (health savings accounts), as Steve Forbes recommends in his new book, 'How Capitalism Will Save Us' (excellent book)."

I don't favor "Medicine Stamps." I'd rather work to remove the dozens of ways government makes medical care and insurance artificially expensive. In the meantime, charitable institutions will help the poor.

But Skousen makes good points. I should have mentioned them. Every time I finish one of these live TV programs, I think of eight things I should have said.

I'll keep working at it. Maybe I'll get better.

John Stossel is host of Stossel on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of Give Me a Break and of Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity. To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at www.johnstossel.com.