John Stossel Talks Media Bias, Donald Trump and His Return to TV After Cancer Treatment

John Stossel - Publicity - H 2016
Alex Kroke/Fox Business Network

John Stossel - Publicity - H 2016

The newsman's show 'Stossel' is back on Fox Business Network on Friday.

John Stossel, who spent two decades with ABC on 20/20 before jumping to Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network in 2009, revealed in a column April 20 that he had lung cancer. Naturally, the famously libertarian Stossel used that column — “I have lung cancer. My medical care is excellent but the customer service stinks” — to promote free-market capitalism. After several weeks off for surgery, Stossel returned to Fox this week, and he’ll dedicate Friday’s show, Stossel on FBN, to what’s wrong, and what’s right, with health care. He spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about his experience with cancer and, of course, about politics.

What’s the prognosis? 
Pretty good. Twenty percent chance that something will come back, so odds are in my favor.

What was the feedback?
Lots of people wished me well, and lots of people said, ‘Yes, the customer service at hospitals is horrible.’ And a fair amount said, ‘Give me a break — they saved his life and he’s complaining? What a jerk. Does he think he’s at Burger King and can have it his way?’ Also they said, ‘If it were a free market health-care system they wouldn’t pay for his smoking.’ But I don’t smoke.

Anything really nasty, like you deserve it because of your politics?
Not quite that direct. The smoking ones, though, implied I deserved to die. One in particular implied I need to die for being such a horrible libertarian.

You have 19 Emmys. When was your last one?
Boy. Not since I woke up to the fact that government does more harm than business. That must be 20 years ago, and I haven’t won a single one since.

Are you saying Emmy voters are politically biased?

In what way? They’re just diehard liberals who won’t vote for a libertarian or conservative?
Yes. But I don’t know about "diehard," because I consider myself a classical liberal — leave people alone. So I would use the word 'leftist' to describe them. The fact that my winning lots of awards stopped when I started criticizing government regulation is confirmation that most of us in the media lean left, and certainly the Emmy voters do. They’re not comfortable with free markets. They view them as cruel and unfair.

The entertainment and media industries are part of the free market, are they cruel and unfair?
There’s a multiple personality there. They’re all looking to make money, but everyone around them leans left. It’s the water in which they swim. People who support less regulation and a smaller welfare state are selfish and evil. Everybody knows that. It’s just obvious. It’s not my bias.

Is that a problem so many in media lean left?
Yes. They dominate the information flow. The Facebook accusation is a good example. I get half my news from my Facebook news feed and young people get all of it that way. It’s confirmation bias. You’re fed back what you already believe. It’s why Bernie Sanders fans are convinced that Hillary rigged the system, because everybody they know loves Bernie, so how could he have not won the primary? Reading that Gizmodo story, it just rang true, that there were editors from east coast private colleges that would say, "This Ted Cruz guy, we’re not going to say he’s trending. Glenn Beck, he’s disgusting. We’ll protect people from these bad things."

How did you go from stuttering to being a popular TV news personality?
When I started, I didn’t think I’d go on TV, but they pushed me there. I did this formal kind of speech and it helped prevent the stuttering. As I got more conversational, it came back. I was about to quit, because I was waking up terrified everyday that I’d humiliate myself — which I only did a couple times — then I found a clinic that helped me.

Why did you switch from liberal to libertarian?
I saw that my leftist solutions weren’t working. Regulations made life worse. I started reading more, and I discovered Reason magazine, which opened my eyes.

You were a Princeton graduate, an ABC News reporter, and you hadn’t yet been exposed to conservative or libertarian thought?
Conservative thought, yes, because I would read the National Review, but it seemed they wanted to go to war with too many people and police the bedroom, so I dismissed them. And, amazingly enough, I did not know about libertarian thought, so you caught me on that one.

Why did you leave ABC?
They were no longer interested in airing my libertarian stories. I did a show called Stupid in America about the government school system, how bad it was, and I had done a piece on Michael Moore’s Sicko. They rated pretty well. A few years later there was a school-choice movement and Obamacare and I wanted to update those segments. My boss said, "Ah, you’re just predictably libertarian. No one is interested in that. Why don’t you do stories on breast enlargement or sex-murders." It was frustrating.

Were coworkers mad at you over your politics?
Not overtly. Many were nice. Peter Jennings would turn away from me when he saw me in the halls. He was the worst.

What else did Peter Jennings do that made you think he didn’t like your politics?
He once tried to get a show of mine killed. It was titled, Is America No. 1?, and I went around the world showing what made societies prosper. I confronted socialists in India. They said India was poor because of immigrants from Bangladesh. And I said, "No, it’s because of your dumb socialist ideas." We had a confrontation. Peter didn’t like that.

If you had to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who would you vote for?
Shoot me. Probably Trump. I know Hillary will be bad. She wants to micro-manage life so we’ll have stagnation and poverty. Trump may do the same thing with a trade war, but maybe he’ll change his mind.

What’s your opinion of President Obama?
He also wants to micro-manage life. Like many politicians, he has lawyer’s disease: they think they can make life better with regulation, but I’ve learned, that usually makes things worse.

What do you think of 20/20 nowadays?
I don’t watch because it seems to be all celebrity and crime. I’m not interested in one more strange murder in Iowa.

After decades of trying to debunk popular beliefs, what’s your favorite debunking?
That there’s a cancer epidemic because of pesticides. A) There’s no cancer epidemic and B) we should thank agribusiness for all the things they are vilified for doing. We’re not starving anymore.

You say that as a cancer survivor. So then what caused your cancer?
I don’t know. As we get older, our cells do some weird things. Plenty of people who never smoked get lung cancer. Who knows, but we’re living longer than ever.

What segment got you the most pushback from your audience or coworkers?
My first special, saying media was scaring us about the wrong stuff, including pesticides, exploding coffee pots, plane crashes and constant crime stories, though at the time crime was going down. That really ticked off some of my colleagues, but I got an outpouring from scientists and engineers saying, ‘Finally, someone is saying this.’ About 13 million people watched.

How did your colleagues react?
Certain individuals I won’t name didn’t like having their work criticized. But I criticized myself. 20/20 was running stories about Bic lighters exploding in pockets, Teflon frying pans giving people horrible diseases, cell phones causing brain cancer. Where’s the follow-up stories saying these epidemics haven’t happened?

Which of Hollywood’s pet causes are a waste of time?
Global warming and organic foods.

Both require spending colossal sums of money on things that will make no difference.