Working as a correspondent for 20/20 and Good Morning America, John Stossel confronted dozens of scam artists: from hacks who worked out of their basements to some of America's most powerful executives and leading politicians. His efforts shut down countless crooks -- both famous and obscure. Then he realized what the real problem was.
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January 25, 2005
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Excerpt from Give Me a Break by John Stossel
What Happened to Stossel
Journalism without a moral position is impossible.
-- Marguerite Duras
I was once a heroic consumer reporter; now I'm a threat to journalism.
As a consumer reporter, I exposed con men and thieves, confronting them with hidden camera footage that unmasked their lies, put some out of business, and helped send the worst of them to jail. The Dallas Morning News called me the "bravest and best of television's consumer reporters." Marvin Kitman of Newsday said I was "the man who makes 'em squirm," whose "investigations of the unjust and wicked ... are models." Jonathan Mandell of the New York Daily News quoted a WCBS official who "proudly" said, "No one's offended more people than John Stossel."
Ah, "proudly." Those were the days. My colleagues liked it when I offended people. They called my reporting "hard-hitting," "a public service." I won 18 Emmys, and lots of other journalism awards. One year I got so many Emmys, another winner thanked me in his acceptance speech "for not having an entry in this category."
Then I did a terrible thing. Instead of just applying my skepticism to business, I applied it to government and "public interest" groups. This apparently violated a religious tenet of journalism. Suddenly I was no longer "objective."
Ralph Nader said I "used to be on the cutting edge," but had become "lazy and dishonest." According to Brill's Content, "Nader was a fan during Stossel's consumer advocate days," but "now talks about him as if he'd been afflicted with a mysterious disease."
These days, I rarely get awards from my peers. Some of my ABC colleagues look away when they see me in the halls. Web sites call my reporting "hurtful, biased, absurd." "What happened to Stossel " they ask. CNN invited me to be a guest on a journalism show; when I arrived at the studio, I discovered they'd titled it "Objectivity and Journalism -- Does John Stossel Practice Either " People now e-mail me, calling me "a corporate whore" and a "sellout."
How did I get from there to here This book is the story of my professional and intellectual journey.
The Making of a Contrarian
I never planned to be a reporter. In college, when I tried to write a story for the school newspaper, the editors sneered and said, "Leave the writing to us." I was never much of a public speaker. I'm kind of shy, and I stutter. It all happened because I wanted to postpone graduate school.