Remember when it used to be a sacrilege to get a news story wrong? At ABC, it's more like a venial sin these days. The man who is most important in breaking down that standard --- in fact at destroying the whole concept of a Standards and Practices doctrine, forget an office --- is John Stossel.
Stossel is supposed to be ABC's consumer reporter. But to really understand who he is and how far ABC has fallen, one has to understand that, in the traditional sense, Stossel is not actually a consumer advocate at all. That is if one imagines that term to mean a serious reporter who is interested in protecting the public from corporate abuses in production and sale of goods and services. Quite the contrary. Stossel is a cheerleader for corporations in their pursuit of mass markets. That is, he tries to convince the public that, really, those ideas about corporate abuses and the need for protection for the public against them is all wrong. Its scaremongering actually. At one time he actually tried to argue that dioxins were harmful to animals but not necessarily to people. At the same time, producers of dioxins were in court trying to convince a judge of the same thing (Natural Food Merchandiser, 11/2000).
Stossel is actually an evangelist for 80's style greed. In fact in a program called just that, Greed, Stossel spent a full hour trying to reverse the verdict of the great muckrakers of the past like Ida Tarbell. He tried to say that the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age were actually doing us all a favor in their pursuit of monopolies and their thefts from the public and government. Stossel removed the horns from figures like John Rockefeller and Jay Gould and tried to plant haloes on their heads. Like Ivan Boesky's famous commencement speech (mimicked by Oliver Stone in his film Wall Street), Stossel concluded that "Greed is good."
In his own words, "I started out by viewing the marketplace as a cruel place, where you need intervention by government and lawyers to protect people. But after watching the regulators work, I have come to believe that markets are magical and the best protectors of the consumer. It is my job to explain the beauties of the free market." (Stossel in The Oregonian, 10/26/94). As one commentator has stated, he could start by explaining that doctrine to the shareholders in Enron, or better yet the employees who had 401K's in the company. But, of course, he ignores and deflects such criticism by characterizing it as aleftist plot to destroy him (David Podvin, Podvin on the Media, 1/22/02).
But actually the "plot" is really inside ABC. And it was exposed by a rather mainstream periodical, The Los Angeles Times. But first, let us explain how the LA Times expose by Liz Jensen was possible.
After Stossel was caught in a blatant deception on the show 20/20 in the year 2000, his profile went up in a negative way. There, in a segment entitled "The Food you Eat", Stossel tried to argue that organic foods were not really better than conventional ones, since pesticide levels were not higher on conventional produce than they were on organic produce. But there was a big problem: the experiments Stossel relied on were non-existent. (New York Times, 7/31/2000) This fits a pattern because prior to this, in 1994, two producers hired by ABC to work on another Stossel report, "Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death", resigned when their research was dismissed because it did not conform to the slant that Stossel desired. (Extra! Update 6/94)
So by 2001, Stossel was being recognized as a bad egg by people who really cared about things like consumer protection, healthy foods, and the environment. In 2001, ABC was preparing a report for Earth Day. They went to Santa Monica's Canyon Charter School and they sought permission to use some of the kids in a televised spot questioning them on their ideas about the environment. Brad Neal was one of the parents who gave ABC permission to question his child for the spot. Neal realized something was up when Stossel turned out to be the anchor of the show. This is something that ABC did not reveal to him. And when the questioning began, the questions were not open-ended but they clearly were aimed at manipulating the students into reciting the mantra that public schools were drumming into them an anti-corporate, leftist, environmental message. Neal said that at one point Stossel tried to lead the children in a chant to the effect that "All scientists agree that there is a greenhouse effect." Neal said that what bothered him the most about the show's agenda was ABC's effort to hide Stossel's participation since he would have not granted the permission if he would have known about it.
But there is more about Stossel, who once tried to equate the rise in CEO pay in the 90's with labor's, that ABC is not forthcoming with. Stossel's message is clearly in tune with those corporations and advocacy groups whose virtues he extols. In a quite unusual move, ABC allows him to speak for fees before ideologically in tune organizations like the Young America's Foundation, a famous conservative group. In a report in Brill's Content (March of 2000), it was revealed that Stossel had made 27 such speeches in two years which generated income for him well into the six digits. Most TV and newsprint journalists are not allowed such engagements because making as much money outside one's reporting position as in it could compromise one's viewpoint. But there is more to this lucrative side business. ABC itself also benefits because Stossel's rightwing hucksterism sells videos of his reports to educators through a conservative foundation called the Palmer R. Chitester Fund. This earns ABC a licensing fee.
After a thorough and coruscating analysis, David Podvin has concluded, "John Stossel is the gauge of integrity at ABC News. His presence on the network, after he has been caught lying repeatedly, is a devastating indictment of the entire organization's credibility. As long as a man who treats facts as though they have leprosy is allowed to appear in the guise of a journalist, Disney's news operation will continue to be nothing more than the disinformation arm of a major conglomerate that has replaced journalism with corporate propaganda."
As one can logically deduce, after years of Stossel, David Westin and Peter Jennings would feel comfortable with "researchers" like Gus Russo and Dale Myers. Especially since they could be relied on to deliver the spin the producers clearly planned on in advance.