John Stossel Goes to Washington

By John Stossel
ABC News, 2001
SL8437, Video, 50 min

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John Stossel Goes to Washington

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A Consumer Report on Government

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ABCNEWS' John Stossel conducts a "consumer report" on government and exposes programs that swindle and rules that make no sense.

In John Stossel Goes to Washington, Stossel looks at a typical St. Louis family and their tax burden--about $1 out of every $3 they earn--and talks to tax expert Amity Shlaes. "We Americans pay more in taxes than we do in food, clothing and shelter combined," Shlaes says. Stossel says government can't even keep track of much of the money.

Much of what government does do, Stossel argues, it does poorly. The Interior Department spent billions to help American Indians, yet they are still the poorest people in America. Billions more have been spent on public housing, but instead of living in safe homes, low-income families often end up in dilapidated, unsafe buildings.

Charities complain that government rules make it tougher to help people. Today, "if Jesus Christ wanted to start Christianity, he wouldn't be able to do it," says Mimi Silbert, who runs a mutual aid network in San Francisco, "because there are too many regulations."

You've got to see this hard-core libertarian indictment of government!

Here's what MediaNomics has to say:

Few in the media show as much disdain for big government as they do big corporations such as Microsoft or the tobacco companies. "My colleagues are quite comfortable with big government," ABCís John Stossel explained to a questioner in an online chat on January 29. "But to be fair," he added, "they DO often report on government waste."

Network correspondents sometimes do report on government waste, but not like Stossel. The maverick ABC reporterís January 27 prime-time special, Mr. Stossel Goes to Washington, offered viewers a comprehensive look at the factual case against big government: workers who labor at tough jobs only to have the government take a third of their income in high taxes; gigantic agencies such as the Pentagon that canít account for trillions of dollars; anecdotes of how private charities are thwarted by senseless government rule-making; and stories about how mismanagement by the Interior Department office thatís supposed to help Native Americans has wasted money and actually hurt tribes such as the Sioux in South Dakota.

The Lakota Sioux tribe has been under the control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for more than 100 years, Stossel reported. "The result? This is now the poorest county in America. Unemploymentís about 80%. People live on government checks," he stated. "With nothing to do, many just drink." Under the governmentís care, the average life expectancy for the Lakota Sioux has declined to below that of poor 3rd World nations such as Guatemala, Bolivia and Brazil, according to a Native American activist. But when Stossel arranged to interview then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt about the Bureauís poor performance, including the misallocation of more than $2 billion, the Secretary stalked out of the room rather than defend his department.

"Iím gonna fire whoever scheduled this interview," Babbitt told Stossel.

Taken together, the message of the Stossel special was plain: big government takes too much of your money, wastes an awful lot of it, and usually isnít held accountable for mistakes or mismanagement. Although it was produced months ago, the show also contained an important message to consider as Congress begins contemplating a new federal entitlement for senior citizensí prescription drugs: the private sector almost always produces better results ó and private programs cost less.

For one example, Stossel went to Jersey City, New Jersey, where decaying water pipes were fouling the cityís water supply at the same time costs were rising. So Mayor Bret Schundler ended the city governmentís monopolistic control of the water system, turning the system over to a private company. "For the first time in years," Stossel reported, "the cityís water meets the highest standard and for less money. The private company saved taxpayers $35 million." In another segment, Stossel showed how a decaying public housing project, once infested with drug dealers, was transformed into a neat, decent place to live when control was placed in the hands of a private developer.

Stosselís is a lonely voice. On his ABC online chat, he admitted that heís "been hassled and sneered at by some" of his colleagues, but he reminded fans that "it is the ABC network and its executives that allow me to put this program on the air. Many of them donít agree with my point of view, but they believe itís an argument that deserves to be heard."

A fair and balanced media would, in its day-to-day reporting, disseminate the facts which undermine the cause of big government alongside the opinions of those who wish to expand it further. Kudos to ABCís John Stossel for revealing the other side of the story.


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