Stossel leads double life as political target, parenting guru

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

NEW YORK -- John Stossel leads an odd double life. He's used to being glared at in public because of his politics, but is also approached by strangers grateful that he's helped get their babies to sleep through the night.

The veteran ABC correspondent has cultivated, and maintained, a specialty in parenting issues at the same time his libertarianism has made him an island in network news.

He's been active on both fronts lately.

Stossel is in the midst of a special two-month "20/20" series on parenting and has signed a book deal with Harper Collins, hoping to follow the best-selling successes of fellow television iconoclasts Bill O'Reilly and Bernard Goldberg.

The publisher, Stossel said, seems interested in his shift from a conventional New York liberal "into believing more of what Thomas Jefferson believed."

Stossel came to ABC in 1981 as a consumer reporter, but said he found it hard to find instances of fraud worthy of a national audience. He gradually began feeling that government regulators did more harm than the people they tried to regulate.

Stossel's transformation came with his 1994 news special, "Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?" which tried to debunk fears about crime and pollution.

More than anyone else in network news, Stossel inserts a strong political point of view in his stories. Critics say Stossel "reports" only to confirm his opinions -- a charge he denies.

"I do have a belief that colors my reporting, a belief that free markets and capitalism are not the evil things that many activists believe they are," he said. "They're good things."

News organizations are often criticized for not having enough diversity of viewpoints, so Stossel's presence makes ABC stronger, said ABC News president David Westin. "I'm very happy John Stossel is here," he said.

Given the contentiousness that greets much of his work, the parenting stories are a refuge for Stossel.

The specialty predates his political change of life, and even his two children. ABC assigned him to look into a best-selling book on babies in the early 1980s, and he liked delving into the underreported area.

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