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Is John Stossel More Dangerous Than Glenn Beck?

Fox host Stossel disguises his hate speech behind his polished TV persona and libertarian pose, offering his audience a path to hatred without joining Glenn Beck's circus.
 
 
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In May this year, a prominent commentator on Fox News called for the repeal of the section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that bans discrimination in places of public accommodation. "Private businesses ought to discriminate... it should be their right to be racist," he said.

Fox News has a longstanding policy of giving race-baiters a soapbox, but the fascinating thing about this particular bit of vile nonsense is that even other figureheads at the channel like Bill O'Reilly, Charles Krauthammer and Steve Brown -- each known for their own ignorant worldviews -- voiced disgust at the suggestion that racial discrimination ought to be a right granted to businesses.

And perhaps most interesting is the fact that this affront to the hard-fought civil rights movement was uttered not by hysterical, completely bonkers Glenn Beck -- from whom we have all come to expect such outrageous statements. Instead, it came from none other than John Stossel, the mustachioed reporter familiar to most TV-viewing Americans, and who recently joined Rupert Murdoch's right-wing propaganda network after leaving ABC News late last year.

Stossel has come a long way from his local consumer reporter days in 1970s New York City. Considered a solid consumer advocate back then, he worked his way to a job at ABC News. But somehow, along the way, during long stints at stalwarts like "Good Morning America" and "20/20", he became much too ideological for a mainstream network like ABC.

His last decade at ABC News even included a relatively rare on-air apology for a story he reported on organic produce. Stossel had cited pesticide tests that were never done to debunk the benefits to eating organic foods. "I am deeply sorry I misled you," Stossel said to his viewers, before undermining the apology by stating that his general thesis was still correct.

Stossel now hosts an eponymous show on Fox Business dedicated to spouting his staunchly libertarian ideology, and appears regularly on Fox News' shows as a commentator. He is something of an anomaly for the conservative channel, because while he can make racist statements as well as the rest of them, he couches his particular brand of hate in his passion for libertarianism. So his calls for the "right to be racist" come alongside his support for ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and legalizing all drugs, prostitution, abortion and assisted suicide.

Has Fox News identified a new form of fury to monetize? It would appear so; and they picked the right man.

Stossel has become something of a Tea Party hero (he has an effigy of Barney Frank hanging above his sofa), has long been one of the most popular speakers on the conservative lecture circuit, and his syndicated column is increasingly popular. According to Rick Newcomb, the CEO of Creators Syndicate, which publishes Michelle Malkin and Chuck Norris, Stossel's column was the most requested to appear in local newspapers by users on Creators' Web site over a period of three months this year.

Among the requests Creators received is this note from a woman in Pensacola, Fla.: "[John Stossel] stands up for the average person, the one who is just trying to live a decent life without being frustrated at every turn by endless, overbearing government interference."

"I think he hits a nerve," says Newcomb, who self-identifies as a libertarian and suggested the column idea to Stossel.

Indeed, like Creators, Fox has cleverly honed in on an audience cohort that doesn't completely identify with the weepy, conspiratorial entertainment offered by Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. Fox's two latest hires -- Stossel and fellow-libertarian blowhard Andrew Napolitano, who hosts "Freedom Watch" on Fox Business -- show that the network recognizes the difference between its conservative and libertarian audiences. With the rise of the Tea Party, whose loose framework of ideas is centered around anger at an out-of-control government and its runaway spending, libertarianism stands to rake in money and ratings for Fox.

In Stossel, Fox News and Fox Business have a commentator they can bill as an "award-winning journalist" -- courtesy of his 19 Emmys -- even though his record as a reporter leaves much to be desired.

The media watchdog group FAIR has a page tracking Stossel's reporting inaccuracies back to 1994. Joe Strupp, senior editor at Media Matters for America, has been following him more recently. Among Stossel's egregious conflicts of interest is an interview he conducted for ABC last year, where he reported on and moderated three townhall-style meetings on health care reform organized by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which opposed reform. And just this April, Stossel -- who has spoken on global warming from a very skeptical (read: unsupported by broad consensus of scientific researchers) standpoint -- was set to keynote a fundraiser for the Institute for Energy Research, a front group for the energy industry.

His dismal track record notwithstanding, Stossel "came out of a very credible news background as he has slowly morphed into this slanted, inaccurate, opinionated person. I think he has the potential to be really dangerous because he has enough experience in the news business to give him the appearance of credibility -- and I stress appearance," says Strupp. "But he is following the same line as Glenn Beck -- this growth of outrage."

It turns out that Stossel's outrage is often greater than that of other Fox News mouthpieces. This June, after President Obama ordered BP to set aside $20 billion in reparations for its epic Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, Stossel appeared on Bill O'Reilly's show, calling the $20 billion fund a "shakedown" and "thuggish behavior" on Obama's part. O'Reilly ended the debate by telling Stossel he was "wrong again." John Stossel, called "wrong again" by one of the biggest cheerleaders of the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Stossel's call for the repeal of the public accommodations portion of the seminal Civil Rights Act was of course another opinion met with disdain by some of his Fox News colleagues. ColorofChange.org, a Web-based grassroots civil rights group, which has an ongoing campaign to pull Glenn Beck off the air, seized on those comments by launching a campaign to pull John Stossel off the air, too. According to James Rucker, executive director of ColorofChange.org, the group has collected nearly 100,000 signatures.

Rucker believes Stossel may be more dangerous than the likes of Glenn Beck merely because he appears to be less insane.

"With Stossel, when he says businesses should be able to discriminate, that would normally be crazy fringe talk, but it's not because Beck is defining crazy fringe," Rucker says. "In Stossel you appeal to people who aren't happy with a black guy in the White House who is trying to figure out how government can support everyday Americans. But these people don't want to be labeled racist. Folks like Stossel make them feel comfortable where they are without having to join the Glenn Beck circus."

There you have it. Racism and closed-mindedness, in the respected figure of a Princeton graduate and decorated journalist, whose soft-spoken yet hate-filled speech is made palatable by his disclaimer that although he believes businesses should have a right to be racist, he personally would boycott such establishments.

This new generation of ignorant hate wants to make us believe that market forces will solve America's racial problems. This is, of course, wrong -- and very dangerous.