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John Stossel and the Media’s “Statist Syndrome”

A Commentary By Howard Rich

When he first began his career as a crusading consumer journalist in the 1970s, John Stossel believed fervently that higher taxes and greater government involvement in the marketplace were integral checks against corporate greed and malfeasance. With an irreverent, intelligent and skeptical tone that riled corporations – but resonated with viewers – Stossel’s career flourished, leading him to the pinnacle of his profession at ABC News.

But then Stossel experienced a metamorphosis in his thinking. After observing the chronic, costly failure of so many of the numerous big government solutions that he and his media colleagues repeatedly prescribed for society’s ills, Stossel reexamined his fundamental beliefs.

“I started out by viewing the marketplace as a cruel place, where you need intervention by government and lawyers to protect people,” Stossel explained shortly after undergoing his transformation. “But after watching the regulators work, I have come to believe that markets are magical and the best protectors of the consumer.”

In fact, Stossel realized that in most cases regulators and bureaucrats only made matters worse, spending billions of tax dollars on so-called “solutions” that invariably wound up creating larger problems. Needless to say, Stossel’s conversion to free market, libertarian principles – which he trumpeted every bit as loudly as he had previously trumpeted government interventionism – was not warmly received by his colleagues.

"Once I started applying the same skepticism to government, I stopped winning awards," the 19-time Emmy Award-winner said.

Today, Stossel is at the center of another media debate – only this time he’s not just telling the story, he’s a big part of the story.

In October of 2009 Stossel – who has also published two best-selling books – announced that he was leaving ABC News after 28 years to take a position with Fox News, which is widely regarded as the most “pro-free market” of America’s major TV news networks. Ordinarily a reporter moving from one network to another isn’t considered big news, but in Stossel’s case it’s significant.

While both Stossel and ABC describe their break-up in the most amicable of terms, the fact remains that ABC has been among the most vocal cheerleaders of the Obama administration and, in particular, his recently-passed socialized medicine plan. Stossel, meanwhile, watched as his reports on the perils of “Obamacare” struggled to find airtime. And while /20/20/ (to its credit) permitted Stossel’s voice to be heard, his perspective was increasingly drowned out by a steady barrage of pro-Obama news coverage as well as a glorified “Prescription for America” infomercial from the White House.

In fact, during the first six months of 2009, an analysis by the Business and Media Institute found that ABC’s health care stories featured Obama or supporters of his policies 55 times compared to just 18 times for critics of the administration’s plan – a 3-to-1 advantage.

Speaking of 3-to-1 margins, though, the public clearly isn’t overlooking this ongoing media bias.

In fact, in each year from 2001 through 2009, Gallup polling revealed that three times as many Americans viewed the media as being too liberal compared to those who believed it had a pro-conservative bias.

And more of those Americans than ever before now vote with their television remotes, as network ratings from the first quarter of 2010 were a bloodbath for CNN and MSNBC, arguably the nation’s top two “pro-government” networks. Larry King’s show – CNN’s top-rated program – saw its numbers among the coveted 25-54 year-old demographic decline by 43 percent from last year, while Anderson Cooper’s show experienced a 42 percent decline. At MSNBC, the network’s top two primetime programs, “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” and “The Rachel Maddow Show,” saw their ratings plunge by 43 percent and 38 percent.

Meanwhile, viewers continued flocking to Stossel’s new home at Fox, which saw its top three shows expand their audiences by anywhere from 25-50 percent over the previous year – giving Fox more viewers than CNN, MSNBC and CNBC combined and extending its streak as the nation’s number one network to 100 months. Also, Stossel’s new TV show thrives on Fox Business Network.

Clearly, the free market is still alive and well in America – if only in our marketplace of ideas.

Howard Rich is Chairman of Americans for Limited Government.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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