Wednesday, May 31, 2006

John Stossel Is A Pathological Liar
David Sirota
John Stossel Is A Pathological Liar

Webster's Medical Dictionary defines a "pathological liar" as "an individual who habitually tells lies so exaggerated or bizarre that they are suggestive of mental disorder." Next to this definition should be this picture - a photo of a self-important, smarmy looking, all-too-coiffed ABC News "reporter" named John Stossel.

You may have noticed that Stossel is out hawking a book called "Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity : Get Out the Shovel--Why Everything You Know is Wrong" purporting to debunk those things. Instead, what we see is that Stossel is spewing them - and using his media platform as a megaphone of dishonesty. Stossel, in many ways, is exactly why I wrote my new book Hostile Takeover : How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government--and How We Take It Back - to strip bare the opportunists, shills and half-wits who dominate our political debate and show them for what they really are: pathological liars.

Here's what I mean. According to the right-wing, Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Stossel appeared on ABC's "The View" to talk about his book's assertion that the minimum wage supposedly hurts low-income workers. The host was surprised that someone could make such a ludicrous claim. "Why does raising the minimum wage -- this one I don't get -- actually hurt poor people?," she asked Stossel. "I don't understand that one at all."

Stossel replied with a straight face: "The truth is that people on the margins lose jobs when minimum wages go up. We used to have people washing windshields at gas stations. We don't anymore because of the minimum wage. There's no opportunity for kids, for entry-level workers."

Mind you, Stossel is making this claim at the very same time President Bush is claiming we need a guest worker program because there are actually too many entry-level, low-wage jobs that aren't being filled. But beyond that, the actual data exposes Stossel's pathological lying. As I note in my new book's section on this very lie about minimum wages supposedly hurting the job market:

"In a comprehensive 2004 study, the nonpartisan Fiscal Policy Institute reported that since 1997, states that had boosted their minimum wage above the federal minimum actually created jobs faster than those that did not. In higher minimum wage states, employment grew by 50 percent more than it did in states still at the pathetic federal level. Even in tough economic times, the minimum wage doesn't hurt jobs: Princeton University economist David Card found that even the minimum wage increases during the 1990-91 recession 'were not associated with any measurable employment losses.' As Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (PA) once noted, "history clearly demonstrates that raising the minimum wage has no adverse impact on jobs."...In Oregon, for instance, the state raised its minimum wage in 1998, and the average earnings of newly-employed welfare recipients climbed by 9 percent, while the percentage of welfare recipients who found a job actually rose."

Stossel's latest pathological lie followed one from a few weeks ago when he used ABC's Good Morning America to claim that it is a "myth" that "women earn less" than men for "doing the same work." Yet, as Media Matters noted, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) 2004 wage data shows definitively that women earned on average 80.4 percent of men's weekly median earnings in virtually every occupation listed regardless of job title. Again, Stossel used ABC's airwaves to peddle a pathological lie.

This all may seem surprising. After all, how could one of the major networks employ a person with such disdain for the truth and then call him a "journalist?" It's a good question - but Stossel has made a nice career behaving this way. For instance, Stossel has tried to deny the scientific consensus surrounding global warming, despite 928 peer-reviewed scientific papers on global warming published between 1993 and 2003 all concluding that global warming is real, and human-caused.

It was Stossel who penned a column during the Hurricane Katrina energy crisis entitled "In Praise of Price Gouging." Instead of being a "consumer watchdog" as he is regularly billed, Stossel was using his platform to publicize all sorts of reasons why we were supposed to believe that oil companies' use of a natural disaster to profiteer was somehow patriotic and heroic.

Similarly, as I note in my book, Stossel has self-righteously used the airwaves to rail against people who file lawsuits. "We all have pain and suffering in our lives," Stossel has said. "And if each time we hang onto it until we get some kind of compensation, society can't work." Yet, it was Stossel who filed a high-profile case himself in which he sued a wrestler for $200,000 for slapping him during an interview. "I asked for as much as I could get," Stossel told newspapers, apparently too downright stupid to see just how much of a hypocrite he was showing himself to be.

For his patholgical lying, Stossel is now regularly honored by fringe-right-wing groups like the Heritage Foundation - you remember, the group repeatedly nailed (here and here) for publicly trumpeting deliberately inaccurate data as fact. And yet, despite these accolades from hyper-partisan lie machines, Stossel retains the veneer of journalistic credibility/objectivity thanks to ABC's continued willingness to let him pollute the airwaves with his "myths, lies and downright stupidity" - without giving so much as a smidgeon of airtime to experts who would actually challenge this pathological liar with the facts.

Because of his unfettered access to the airwaves and the refusal of his media sponsors to actually question his factually inaccurate assertions, Stossel's book has risen up the bestseller list, with consumers led to believe it is a beacon of truth-telling that will show us the world as it actually is. The right-wing apparatus that fetes Stossel is undoubtedly promoting his book as a supposedly virtuous, sincere look at the facts, thus fueling even more sales, furthering other media buzz about him and furthering Stossel's reach. Meanwhile, Stossel's campaign to turn his pathological lies into assumed fact goes on, increasingly debasing our political debate, intensifying the disconnect of the media discourse from actual facts. It is a sick cycle, indeed - and it highlights why American politics seems more and more divorced from reality: because the media debate that frames American politics presents pathological liars like Stossel as credible voices.

Stossel urges us on the cover of his book to "get out the shovel" - he's right, you'll need one to dig out from the steaming piles of dishonest B.S. this ABC News "reporter" is leaving in his wake.