But the reporter in question has a network television show that influences millions of Americans on the issue he cares about deeply -- protecting and preserving corporate power in America. And he has a book on the New York Times bestseller list defending his thesis.
And he questions whether he said what we said he said.
So, hear us out.
On February 27, 2004, the LA Weekly published a letter from ABC News correspondent John Stossel questioning the accuracy of a 1996 story we ran about a speech Stossel gave to the Federalist Society in Washington, D.C.
At the time, we reported that Stossel, who started his television career as a consumer reporter and now spends his time attacking government and trial lawyers as co-host of ABC's 20/20, was asked during the question-and-answer period after his 1996 speech:
"If you believe that consumer reporting works, and is a better regulator than regulation or lawsuits, why did you stop doing it?"
"I got sick of it," Stossel responded. "I also now make so much money I just lost interest in saving a buck on a can of peas. Twenty years was enough. But mainly, I came to realize that the government was doing far more harm to people than business and I ought to be reporting on that. Nobody else was."
The LA Weekly ran a story earlier this year about a book party in Los Angeles for Stossel and his new best-selling book, Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media (HarperCollins, 2004). LA Weekly's Greg Goldin, relying on our story, reported that "Years ago, when he quit exposing consumer rip-offs, he (Stossel) told a Federalist Society audience, 'I got sick of it. I also now make so much money, I just lost interest in saving a buck on a can of peas.'"
Stossel wrote a letter to the LA Weekly arguing that Goldin "used a quote that has been attributed to me over the years that I don't recall ever uttering."
Stossel wrote: "The alleged source of that quote was a 1996 speech I gave to the Federalist Society in which I supposedly said that I stopped consumer reporting because 'I got sick of it. . I also now make so much money, I just lost interest in saving a buck on a can of peas.' That doesn't sound like anything I've said and certainly doesn't reflect the reasons I shifted my focus from consumer reporting to government programs and lawyers (I shifted because I concluded they do more harm to consumers than business). The transcript of this speech that the Federalist Society supplied does not include the quote. "
We attended Stossel's speech to the Federalist Society in September 1996. We taped his speech and made a transcript.
We reported the speech.
After reading Stossel's letter to the LA Weekly, we started digging around the office.
And lo and behold, we found the transcript of the speech.
And then, unbelievably, in a stroke of sheer luck, we found a copy of the seven-year-old tape of the speech.
So, John, if you would like us to refresh your recollection, give us a call and we'll play the "can of peas" segment for you.
We've always wondered why you moved from being an aggressive consumer reporter to attacking those who seek to crack down on corporate crime. You now say it had nothing to do with money.
Back in 1996, the truth slipped out.
We have it on tape.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, http://www.multinationalmonitor.org. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press; www.corporatepredators.org).
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