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Profile: John Stossel

John Stossel was a participant or observer in the following events:

John Stossel.John Stossel. [Source: Nashville Scene]The lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is heavily involved in so-called “Astroturf” protests against health care reform (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 12, 2009), announces it will hold three town-hall style meetings in Wisconsin on August 26 and 27. The meetings will take place in the districts of three House members, David Obey (D-WI), Ron Kind (D-WI), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), all of whom AFP feels might be open to pressure. ABC reporter John Stossel will moderate the sessions for AFP. (Umhoefer 8/14/2009) Progressive news watchdog Web site Media Matters questions the propriety of Stossel, a supposedly nonpartisan member of the media, moderating the sessions for AFP, an avowedly partisan organization. (Media Matters 8/17/2009)

White House communications director Anita Dunn says that the White House believes Fox News is not a traditional, non-partisan news provider, but a media outlet for the Republican opposition. Fox News is “a wing of the Republican Party,” Dunn says. “They take their talking points, put them on the air; take their opposition research, put them on the air. And that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.” Dunn continues: “[W]e’re not going to legitimize them as a news organization.… We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.” (Scherer 10/8/2009; Stelter 10/11/2009; Fox News 10/12/2009) In late September, Dunn told a reporter: “It’s opinion journalism masquerading as news. They are boosting their audience. But that doesn’t mean we are going to sit back.” (Scherer 9/30/2009) Fox News retorts that its news reporting segments, which its vice president Michael Clemente defines as being broadcast between “9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays,” are non-partisan, and criticism of the White House and Congressional Democrats is limited to commentary by on-air personalities such as Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck (see October 13, 2009). “The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page,” Clemente says, and adds that the White House is intentionally conflating Fox’s news programs with its opinion shows: “It’s astounding the White House cannot distinguish between news and opinion programming. It seems self-serving on their part.… Instead of governing, the White House continues to be in campaign mode, and Fox News is the target of their attack mentality. Perhaps the energy would be better spent on the critical issues that voters are worried about.” Another Fox News vice president, Bill Shine, welcomes the criticism, saying, “Every time they do it, our ratings go up.” Fox News has recently hired more outspoken conservative media figures, including former ABC News reporter John Stossel for its spin-off channel, Fox Business, and is reputedly negotiating to hire commentator Lou Dobbs away from CNN. Dunn and others say that it will not ostracize Fox News, and its White House correspondent, Major Garrett, will continue to be welcome at White House press conferences. Clemente has instructed Garrett, news anchor Shepard Smith, and other Fox reporters not to appear on some of its commentary programs. However, the White House has limited appearances by its members on Fox News shows; in mid-September, when President Obama made the rounds of Sunday morning talk shows, he skipped Fox, and the White House called Fox an “ideological outlet” instead of a legitimate news provider (see September 18-19, 2009). White House advisers note that in the past, Fox News hosts have falsely accused Obama of attending an Islamic “madrassa” to receive indoctrination in radical Islam (see January 22-24, 2008), promoted “tea party” rallies against the government (see March 23-24, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, and August 28, 2009), called Obama “unpatriotic” for attempting to land the 2016 Olympics for the US (see October 2, 2009), and led a push to force low-level White House adviser Van Jones out of his job (including accusations from Beck that Jones was a “communist-anarchist radical”). The White House notes that Beck and other Fox commentators regularly lie about the day’s events, and cites a recent example where Beck complained that Garrett was “never called on” at White House press briefings, when Garrett had asked a question of the president that same day. Beck has repeatedly called Obama a “racist,” leading to a boycott of advertisers for Beck’s show (see July 28-29, 2009). (Scherer 10/8/2009; Stelter 10/11/2009; Ariens 10/11/2009) Fox News encourages and promotes the dispute with the White House, and its ratings improve. Later, a Fox News executive tells Clemente that the White House’s attacks were like “a hanging curveball” for the network. (Sherman 5/22/2011)

Fox Business Channel host and commentator John Stossel says a key portion of the Civil Rights Act should be eliminated, because, he says, “[p]rivate businesses ought to get to discriminate.” (Media Matters 5/20/2010; Media Matters 9/7/2010) The 1964 Civil Rights Act (see July 2, 1964), signed into law by then-President Lyndon Johnson, prohibits discrimination in public places, provides for the integration of public schools and other public facilities, and makes employment discrimination illegal. (Media Matters 9/7/2010; National Archives 2011) Stossel, a guest on Fox News’s America Live, tells host Megyn Kelly that he agrees with libertarian Rand Paul, a Republican candidate for the US Senate, in recommending that the portion of the Civil Rights Act mandating no discrimination in public places should be repealed. (Both Paul and Stossel argue that the Americans with Disabilities Act should also be repealed—see May 17, 2010 and September 1, 2010). Paul has said: “[Y]ou should let businesses decide for themselves whether they are going to be racist or not racist. Because once the government gets involved, it’s a slippery slope.” When Kelly quotes this comment from Paul, Stossel says he is “in total agreement” with Paul, stating: “[I]f a private business wants to say, ‘We don’t want any blond anchorwomen or mustached guys,’ it ought to be their right. Are we going to say to the black students’ association they have to take white people, or the gay softball association they have to take straight people? We should have freedom of association in America.” (Kelly is a blond anchorwoman, and Stossel wears a mustache.) Kelly says: “When you put it like that it sounds fine, right? So who cares if a blond anchorwoman and mustached anchorman can’t go into the lunchroom. But as you know, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came around because it was needed. Blacks weren’t allowed to sit at the lunch counter with whites. They couldn’t, as they traveled from state to state in this country, they couldn’t go in and use a restroom. They couldn’t get severed meals and so on, and therefore, unfortunately in this country a law was necessary to get them equal rights.” Stossel notes that those “Jim Crow” doctrines “were government rules. Government was saying we have white and black drinking fountains. That’s very different from saying private people can’t discriminate.” Stossel says that business owners should be free to discriminate, and if the “free market” punishes them by costing them customers, then that is a fair way to handle it. Kelly says the time of the Civil Rights Act “was a different time. Racism and discrimination was rampant. I’m not saying it’s been eliminated. But it was rampant. It was before my time, before I was born, but obviously I’ve read history, and I know that there is something wrong when a person of color can’t get from state to state without stopping at a public restroom or a public lunchroom to have a sandwich.” Stossel says: “But the public restroom was run by the government, and maybe at the time that was necessary.… And I would go further than he was willing to go, as he just issued the statement, and say it’s time now to repeal that part of the law.… Because private businesses ought to get to discriminate. And I won’t won’t ever go to a place that’s racist and I will tell everybody else not to and I’ll speak against them. But it should be their right to be racist.” (Media Matters 5/20/2010; Media Matters 9/7/2010) Stossel’s position provokes considerable criticism, and the civil rights organization Color of Change calls for a boycott of Fox Business until it fires Stossel. The organization writes: “Stossel’s position is an affront to black America and everyone in this country who believes in racial progress. It’s one thing to be a candidate with backwards views [referring to Paul]. It’s another to be employed by a supposed news network and to use that platform to push hateful ideas that our nation repudiated decades ago. It’s time that Fox drop Stossel.” (Salem News 5/22/2010) US Representative Bob Filner (D-CA), a veteran of civil rights protests, responds: “A ‘private’ business generally operates on a public thoroughfare, is protected by public police and fire departments, is served by public transportation, is staffed by people educated in public schools, is protected against fraud by the public justice system, may serve food or sell products protected by public inspection agencies, etc., etc., etc. Surely the public has a right to insist on non-racist policies! As a Freedom Rider in 1961, I rode on an interstate, publicly franchised Greyhound bus, and, as a member of an integrated group, was denied access to restrooms, lunch counters, and waiting rooms. The Supreme Court rightly ruled this was unconstitutional. Do Rand Paul and John Stossel want to take us back to a racist past from which so many people gave their lives to liberate us?” (Media Matters 5/21/2010) Andrew Grant-Thomas, deputy director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, says that Stossel has fundamentally misrepresented history, stating, “Market forces hadn’t exactly made anti-black discrimination disappear during the several centuries before the Civil Rights Act.” Even with the progress made since the legislation took effect, Grant-Thomas says, racial discrimination is still a major problem. “If you look at any market for which we’ve done extensive studies, significant discrimination remains,” he says. “It’s clearly better than it was. But there’s still discrimination.” There is a strong market for businesses that “currently, and legally, discriminate on the basis of race, or other grounds, in their membership. That hasn’t caused them to go under. Indeed… in some key arenas, like housing and schools, some people pay more for segregated settings.” He concludes: “The Civil Rights Act wasn’t passed on economic grounds, but on moral and ethical grounds. Suggesting that market logic would have sufficed to weed out discriminators is pretty much besides the point in that respect.” (McLaughlin 5/20/2010) A clearly aggrieved Stossel will respond to the criticism (see July 2, 2010).

Fox Business Channel host and commentator John Stossel goes on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor to defend his recent call to repeal a key element of the Civil Rights Act (see May 20-22, 2010). (Media Matters 5/25/2010) The 1964 Civil Rights Act, signed into law by then-President Lyndon Johnson, prohibits discrimination in public places, provides for the integration of public schools and other public facilities, and makes employment discrimination illegal (see July 2, 1964). (Media Matters 9/7/2010; National Archives 2011) Host Bill O’Reilly is less than sympathetic to Stossel’s call for repeal, noting that one function of government is to protect its citizens, and this includes protecting them from discrimination, even at the hands of private businesses, which Stossel says should not be covered under the law. It is up to the government, O’Reilly says, to ensure every citizen’s “quality of life.” Stossel says he is a libertarian, and like most libertarians, he wants government to protect him from those who would physically hurt him, steal from him, and so forth. “But we want government out of our private lives,” he says, and to expect government to step in to “make life fair” is “an awful idea.” O’Reilly counters that the Declaration of Independence guarantees “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and discrimination denies targeted minorities that “pursuit of happiness.” Stossel, as he did earlier, insists that private businesses rarely if ever practice discrimination in this day and age, and those that do are quickly punished by “market forces”—customers refusing to patronize those businesses, for example. O’Reilly is adamant, saying, “I feel very strongly, if it’s open to the public, then the public has to be” allowed access. (Media Matters 5/25/2010)

Fox Business Channel host and commentator John Stossel complains that his recent advocacy for the repeal of a key element of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (see May 20-22, 2010) is not racist or “hateful,” as at least one organization, Color of Change, has said. Stossel proclaims his incredulity at the reaction, and says that he actually condemns racism, not supports it. However, he says, he sees no need for government to prohibit racism—that the free market, left to its own devices, will weed out racist businesses and business owners because people will not patronize them. “Racial discrimination is bad. But we have ways besides government to end it. The free market often punishes racists. Today, a business that doesn’t hire blacks loses customers and good employees. It will atrophy, while its more inclusive competitors thrive.” He calls the organizations and individuals who criticized his call “the chattering class,” and asks if his freedom of speech is being threatened. America has changed since the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, Stossel says, and the need for government to prohibit discrimination on the part of private businesses has evaporated. Indeed, he says, government perpetuated racism, and private businesses and individuals ended it. He concludes: “Government is a blunt instrument of violence that one day might do something you like but the next day will do something you abhor. Better to leave things to us—people—acting together privately.” (Stossel 6/2/2010)

Fox Business Channel host and commentator John Stossel writes a column for NewsMax attacking the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA—see July 26, 1990), claiming that the legislation places an undue burden of compliance on businesses. (Stossel 9/1/2010) The ADA was sponsored by Congressional Democrats and signed into law by then-President George H. W. Bush. The ADA “prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities.” Recently, it has been attacked by conservative pundits and candidates, largely because businesses have to spend money to comply with the act’s mandates. (Media Matters 9/7/2010; US Department of Labor 2011) Stossel makes some dubious claims, such as describing a restaurant having to allow a customer to bring in a “large snake” as a “service animal,” and saying huge lawsuits are being filed because mirrors are placed one inch too low or too high. Stossel calls the ADA “well-intentioned” and “popular with Republicans and Democrats,” but cites a study purporting to show that employment of the disabled actually decreased after the ADA went into effect, and explains that this occurred because “the law turns ‘protected’ people into potential lawsuits. Most ADA litigation occurs when an employee is fired, so the safest way to avoid those costs is not to hire the disabled in the first place.” Stossel cites Walter Olson of the conservative/libertarian Cato Institute as calling the ADA “unnecessary,” and, using Olson’s rationale, writes: “Under the ADA… fairness does not mean treating disabled people the same as non-disabled people. Rather it means accommodating them. In other words, the law requires that people be treated unequally.” Stossel also claims the ADA “unleashed a landslide of lawsuits by ‘professional litigants’ who file a hundred suits at a time. Disabled people visit businesses to look for violations, but instead of simply asking that a violation be corrected, they partner with lawyers who (legally) extort settlement money from the businesses.” Instead of helping disabled people, Stossel says, the law merely provides “[m]ore money for the parasites.” (Stossel 9/1/2010) Republican candidate Rand Paul has made similar claims (see May 17, 2010), as has conservative columnist Ross Douthat (see July 29, 2010).


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