John Stossel's Change of Heart

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 4, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: ABC's John Stossel (search) has been going after crooks and scam artists on television for 30 long years — and he looks so young.

He's been aiming at some pretty big targets lately: big business, big media, big government. John's here to talk about his latest book, now out in paperback. It's called "Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media."

How did you become the scourge of the liberal media? (search)

JIM STOSSEL, AUTHOR, "GIVE ME A BREAK": That was the publisher putting that on and I cringed and said, "OK. It'll sell books." I wrote "Give Me a Break" because I realized so much of what I thought was true was wrong. And I was bashing business as a consumer reporter night after night, seeing capitalism as the problem, selfish, greedy people hurting the poor consumer.

And then I watched government solve it and government always made it worse. And I started reading up and watching regulation. I had an unusual ringside seat in the regulatory state and I opened my eyes, and I started reporting on government failure.

And when I did that, I stopped winning Emmy awards (search); CNN had me on their "Reliable Sources" show, and when I got there I found it was titled "Objectivity and Journalism: Does John Stossel Practice Either."

And if I hadn't been so surprised, I would have said, "But, look, I have a point of view. This shows, your title shows you have a point of view. What's the big deal?"

GIBSON: Well, what line did you cross that you crossed what we would call the liberal media establishment?

STOSSEL: I started doing specials with a point of view that said, "Look, some of this regulation is wrong. Some of this environmental regulation has gone too far." So I was no longer objective.

But I'd always done that. I was a consumer reporter. I never went to journalism school. I kind of invented television consumer reporting, and I had a point of view then, too. I said, "Alka-Seltzer's not good to take for an upset stomach." I was doing the same thing I always had done, but they liked it when I bashed business because reporters hate capitalism.

GIBSON: You talk about that at some length in your book. And I can't say I'm unfamiliar with the concept, but why do you think it is that reporters have this animus towards really, what runs this country?

STOSSEL: I think a lot of people do. It's this feeling of greed, some people are getting too much. And the people who go into journalism and law are not the kind of people who like economics or study it.

And in law school they teach that you can manage life with paper and procedure, which is the opposite of a spontaneous order you get from capitalism, where the competition does the managing. And the hatred is funny, in that people hate their employers, but their employers pay them. People love the government and the government takes a third of our money and squanders it. It's a mystery.

GIBSON: So, now how would you describe yourself after this change? Do you call yourself a conservative?

STOSSEL: Well, no conservative could survive in New York City in the major networks. I'm a libertarian. They call me a conservative, even though I hold beliefs some of your viewers may. I think drugs and prostitution should be legalized. I think regulation fails. I think homosexuality is perfectly natural.

I'm a libertarian. But they call me a conservative because they don't know better because I believe in free markets and limited government.

GIBSON: So I'm really curious. You work for one of the main alphabet networks and it has long been described by media critics as a liberal bastion. And you went through this change of life, or change of heart, or change of brain. So how were you treated?

STOSSEL: Well, I have some friends there. I also have people who when they see me in the hall, they go.

I feel like Alan Colmes feels here, I think.

GIBSON: No, no. Alan is much loved. Alan gets in trouble from fellow Democrats. We love him.

So you don't have any out-and-out worries about ABC going after you because you now hold these new views?

STOSSEL: Well, David Weston, who's in charge, believes I deserve a place at the table. My views are not secret and so far, it's been accepted. I have some battles. I have some strong disagreements with the editors who review all my copy and approve everything that goes on the air.

GIBSON: Do you generally prevail? Or do they put their foot down and insist?

STOSSEL: It's a collaboration.

GIBSON: So what do you think: is there a chance that a guy like you who comes along saying these things, and not only publishes a book about it — and now in paperback, and it's a big hit, and then the paperback's out after the hardback — do you change anybody's mind and their preconceived notions?

STOSSEL: I think I've changed some people's minds at ABC, in terms of the way we do these scare stories: scaring people about every tiny risk. And we're doing less of that.

I thought people would read...

GIBSON: Say what that means, though.

STOSSEL: Bic lighters are exploding in people's pockets! We've got to do a story on that! And this would come from the trial lawyers, who hustle the reporters. And on page 77 here, I have this list I compiled of what does kill you, so I could then say to people, "Well, I'll do Bic lighters if you do plastic bags, first, because they kill 25 times as many people."

And my colleagues started thinking about putting risk in perspective. So that changed. But I thought when they would read "Give Me a Break" they would say, "Oh, I see the light." And, no.

GIBSON: The Summer of the shark...

STOSSEL: That's another one.

GIBSON: ... I remember quite clearly. And I remember we all got sucked into that in a way. But it was because there were pictures of sharks everywhere, and they were biting legs off people.

STOSSEL: But they always occasionally bite legs off people. And there were no more bites that year than the year of the O.J. Simpson trial, but it was a slower year than the O.J. year.

GIBSON: It was a Gary Condit year, as I recall.

John Stossel. The book is "Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media." And of course, he is still gainfully employed at ABC, where you can see him virtually every week.

John, it's good to see you.

STOSSEL: Tonight, in fact.

GIBSON: Thanks very much.

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