Tea-Vee Time

Photo: Patrick McMullan

Professional contrarian John Stossel is now among his people. After 28 years at ABC, Stossel joined Fox last fall and has a new show—Stossel—on Fox Business Network. He also has an office next door to another ABC refugee, Geraldo Rivera, whom he’s often mistaken for because of their eerily similar bushy mustaches. “It’s nice to work at a place where people actually like you,” Stossel says.

Back at ABC, Stossel claims, Peter Jennings disliked his advocacy journalism so much that he refused eye contact with him for a decade. “Now people come up to me in the elevator and say, ‘We’re glad you’re here,’ ” he says, carefully choosing a jacket from a rack of clothes in his office. He’s about to talk about one of his favorite subjects—governmental bullying—on Fox Business with Stuart Varney, but he’s nervous. “I grew up with a stutter and still don’t feel completely comfortable in live settings,” he says. “I’ve made my living editing, reediting, and figuring where to put the perfect punch line; here at Fox you have people who have been on radio talking for 8,000 years.”

In the mid-seventies Stossel, 63, was a crusading consumer reporter at WCBS. Eventually, “I realized government makes things worse,” he says, and he became a libertarian. He’s editing an upcoming special called What’s Great About America, in which he celebrates, among other things, racial tolerance and the entrepreneurial spirit.

His attacks on the welfare state have earned him many critics. “A guy came up to me recently and said, ‘I hope you die soon,’ ” Stossel says. “A lawyer from Legal Aid. He viewed my reporting as an attack on the poor because I said government doesn’t help. I find that interesting. People forget that before we had a welfare system there were these mutual-aid societies that were ethnically exclusionary: Koreans helping Koreans, blacks helping blacks. They knew better who needed help and who needed a kick in the ass.”

Stossel grew up outside Chicago, the son of German immigrants. “My mother made it clear to me that no one was going to take care of me but myself,” he says with a sad smile. “She told me, ‘Work hard, or you’re going to freeze in the dark.’ I don’t recommend that kind of parenting. It made me work hard, but I’m an anxious, insecure person.”

Stossel is ushered onto the set and watches a clip where he’s dressed up as a cop, complete with billy club and reflective sunglasses. “I’ll tell you where your kids can go to school,” he intones onscreen. “I’m the airline police, the baseball police. Even the intern police.” It goes well, and Stossel exhales as he walks off the set. “I’m glad that’s over.”

He’s introduced to a shy new intern named Jackie. “Now the government says you can’t have unpaid interns, that it’s exploitation. Can you believe that? I built my career on unpaid interns! My staff is almost all former interns. What ever happened to two adults entering an agreement together?”

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Tea-Vee Time