John Stossel, a co-anchorman of ABC’s “20/20” program, was at UALR the other day, fulminating against the government and for corporations, as he does habitually. His speech was ostensibly about “Myths in Education.” The title reminded us of another myth — that of the “liberal media.” Stossel is living refutation of that one.
As the media watchdog group FAIR has pointed out, Stossel enjoys a special position in broadcast network news. Though not usually identified as a commentator, he is allowed to use one-hour primetime specials and features on “20/20” to promote his own conservative ideology. There is no broadcast journalist of liberal views who has a platform even remotely comparable to Stossel’s.
He is known not only for his bias, but for egregious misstatements in support of this bias. For example:
• Stossel once reported that 98 percent of Catholic school students graduate vs. 49 percent of public school students. According to the U.S. Department of Education, no state reports a public school graduation rate as low as Stossel claimed. At the time of his report, the lowest recorded rate was 53.2 percent in the District of Columbia; the highest was 89.9 percent in Vermont.
• In a special on “Greed” (he’s for it), Stossel reported that while management compensation had indeed increased dramatically in recent years, “that doesn’t mean the workers were hurt. Factory wages were up too — up 70 percent.” But he didn’t adjust for inflation. Taking inflation into account, which is the only way to determine whether workers were “hurt” or not, factory workers’ real wages fell by more than 6 percent in the period Stossel cited. Ouch.
• In a 1999 report, Stossel complained that too much money was being spent on AIDS research, “25 times more than on Parkinson’s, which kills more people.” In fact, AIDS killed more than 16,000 people in the United States in 1999, down from 43,000 in 1995. Parkinson’s, which is not generally fatal in itself but contributes to other illnesses, has an estimated death toll in the U.S. of around 4,000 a year.
• In a 1999 report praising Hong Kong for its lack of regulation, Stossel said that Hong Kong is “the only government in the world that runs a surplus, a big surplus.” Hong Kong actually had a $4.4 billion deficit in 1998 while 11 other countries, including the U.S., ran surpluses that year.
Stossel’s “journalism” is more opinion than news. During last year’s election campaign, he did a hatchet job on Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards. Edwards’ principal sin? He’s a lawyer. Critics have repeatedly asked ABC to balance Stossel’s outbursts with commentary from the other side. So far, there’s been no response. It can’t hurt to keep trying. Nor to remind people that the notion of a “liberal media” is bunk.