John Stossel’s Transformation from Skeptical Libertarian to Polluter Apologist
by Connor Gibson
November 11, 2020
John Stossel has purposefully and wrongfully denied much of the scientific data that we currently hold to be true regarding our planet’s changing climate and its potential consequences
Authored by Samuel Chernow. Edited by Connor Gibson.
Over the years, something has become pretty clear: No amount of evidence will convince John Stossel that we are experiencing a global climate crisis.
Throughout his career as a television host for companies like ABC and Fox Business Network, and now through YouTube, Stossel has purposefully and wrongfully denied much of the scientific data that we currently hold to be true regarding our planet’s changing climate and its potential consequences.
John Stossel departed from ABC’s 20/20 in 2009 because, as he details in a 2016 interview, “They were no longer interested in airing my libertarian stories…” He quickly found a new platform at Fox Business through Stossel, where he worked to mask racial and environmental injustices under the cloak of “Libertarian” ideology.
At Fox, Stossel encouraged skepticism among his viewers with regard to climate change science and often interviewed a handful of discredited scientists tied to industry-funded organizations. Stossel ran a series of TV segments called “Green Tyranny,” where he made claims intended to undermine trust in political efforts to mitigate climate change.
One particular “Green Tyranny” interview in 2015, archived by DeSmog, involved career climate contrarians Patrick Michaels, Judith Curry, and Alex Epstein. Stossel claimed that an increase in our atmospheric temperature might actually benefit our planet because “cold waves kill many more people than heat waves.” This comment is, of course, both wrong and dangerous, as scientists agree that just a few degrees of global warming has a huge impact on ice sheets, sea levels, and many other aspects key to maintaining a stable climate.
Also notable, and unsurprising, is the lack of opposition to discredited positions featured in Stossel’s videos for Fox. Respected and accomplished climate scientist generally decline to participate in Stossel’s theatrical “debates,” de-legitimizing the climate change deniers that Stossel is known to feature. Stossel often frames the absence of respected scientists in his videos as the “other side” being unwilling to have a discussion, and allows the panelists to leave viewers with one-sided misinformation.
Stossel left Fox in 2016 to focus on “new media,” which consisted of a new program called “Stossel TV” on YouTube. While much of the content is centered around his Libertarian views, there are multiple independent and monetized videos focused on the environment. YouTube is profiting from Stossel’s dishonest videos.
The Center for Independent Thought (CIT) is Stossel’s nonprofit fundraising hub. The CIT hosts “Stossel TV,” where Stossel has continued creating anti-environmental segments similar to his work at the Fox Business Network.
One such video, uploaded in 2019, involves the notorious climate science manipulator Patrick Michaels in another unopposed “debate” sponsored by The Heartland Institute. Heartland is an organization largely funded by anonymous donors with an agenda that includes intentionally misinforming the public about climate change. Michaels argued that another half-degree temperature increase will inflict little-to-no damage on our planet.
Scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) might have a few words to say to that, given its lengthy 2018 report detailing how a half-degree increase would lead to hundreds of millions of humans at risk of climate-related disasters, including flooding, food scarcity, super-storms, deadly heat, and widespread disease.
Need I continue?
For years, including during Stossel’s time on Fox Business Network, the Center for Independent Thought has administered “Stossel in the Classroom,” a program meant to inform and educate students on various topics.
One notable Stossel in the Classroom episode from 2009 features a segment in which Stossel tells viewers that there is still debate, “…about whether or not human activity is the cause” of climate change, flying in the face of scientific understanding at the time. Stossel made the unfounded claim that global warming is caused by the sun, which scientists have proven to be a baseless argument. Stossel in the Classroom has featured John Christy, Tim Ball, and Roy Spencer, all well-known climate deniers with ties to groups supported by the fossil fuel industry, including The Heartland Institute.
Stossel has been involved in other anti-environmental organizations, beyond Heartland. The Reason Foundation hosts the libertarian-oriented “Stossel on Reason” column, and Stossel has authored numerous articles for Reason Magazine.
As it turns out, both the Reason Foundation and the Center for Independent Thought (CIT) are funded, in some form, through entities with connections to the fossil fuel industry. Billionaire Charles Koch, for example, donated $170,000 to the CIT between 2014 and 2018, comprising 6.7% of the CIT’s total grant revenue during the time period. Other notable CIT donors include the Cato Institute, the Atlas Network, and the Reason Foundation itself (all with significant Koch ties). The CIT takes additional funds from the dark money black hole DonorsTrust, which is used by Koch and other corporate benefactors to hide controversial financial trails.
Denial Beyond Science
Stossel’s work isn’t confined to simply spewing false rhetoric about our environment, though. He often has much to say during controversial times. The current Black Lives Matter movement, and police reform as a whole, is a perfect example of this.
In a 2016 article about the Black Lives Matter movement, Stossel opens his first few paragraphs quoting author Heather MacDonald’s claim that “violent crimes are disproportionately committed by blacks.” Stossel claims that activist policing is what people in crime-ridden neighborhoods need and want because fearful cops would be too afraid to question anyone or anything that looks suspicious. Rather than opening his article by directly critiquing our current policing system and widespread systemic and institutional racism, he carefully weaves together a narrative that places the burden (once again) at the feet of Black Americans.
Ultimately, Stossel is again using his many privileges to try and downplay our nation’s deep-seated racial tensions. He is telling us over and over again to trust him – to not worry about problems that absolutely deserve to be at the forefront of our thoughts and actions. And it’s incredibly dangerous.
Throughout his years at ABC, Fox, and new-age media, Stossel has led his audience to overlook urgent problems, from perpetually burying basic scientific knowledge about our planet’s anthropogenic heating, to “the right to be racist,” in America, to dismissing the combined threat of environmental racism.
Stossel carefully crafts narratives that directly oppose nearly everything we know to be true about the impacts of unrestricted pollution and unrestrained capitalism. Combine these views with his many other problematic beliefs, and such an obscured fiscal backing, and you might think twice about blindly believing the figureheads on your screen.
Samuel Chernow is a Duke University student who participated in a remote internship with Greenpeace USA during the summer of 2020.