Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media

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Overview

When he hit the airwaves thirty years ago, Stossel helped create a whole new category of news, dedicated to protecting and informing consumers. As a crusading reporter, he chased snake-oil peddlers, rip-off artists, and corporate thieves, winning the applause of his peers.

But along the way, he noticed that there was something far more troublesome going on: While the networks screamed about the dangers of exploding BIC lighters and coffeepots, worse risks were ignored. And while...

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Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media

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Overview

When he hit the airwaves thirty years ago, Stossel helped create a whole new category of news, dedicated to protecting and informing consumers. As a crusading reporter, he chased snake-oil peddlers, rip-off artists, and corporate thieves, winning the applause of his peers.

But along the way, he noticed that there was something far more troublesome going on: While the networks screamed about the dangers of exploding BIC lighters and coffeepots, worse risks were ignored. And while reporters were teaming up with lawyers and legislators to stick it to big business, they seldom reported the ways the free market made life better.

In Give Me a Break, Stossel explains how ambitious bureaucrats, intellectually lazy reporters, and greedy lawyers make your life worse even as they claim to protect your interests. Taking on such sacred cows as the FDA, the War on Drugs, and scaremongering environmental activists -- and backing up his trademark irreverence with careful reasoning and research -- he shows how the problems that government tries and fails to fix can be solved better by the extraordinary power of the free market.

He traces his journey from cub reporter to 20/20 co-anchor, revealing his battles to get his ideas to the public, his struggle to overcome stuttering, and his eventual realization that, for years, much of his reporting missed the point. Stossel concludes the book with a provocative blueprint for change: a simple plan in the spirit of the Founding Fathers to ensure that America remains a place "where free minds -- and free markets -- make good things happen."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stossel doesn't offer much detail about how he became "the first of the in-your-face TV consumer reporters," rushing through his career's start and then shifting to anecdotes from his experiences to illustrate how he reached the ideological conclusions that have given him a reputation as a rogue, a tag he both embraces and tries to shake here. Free markets are great, the 20/20 correspondent repeatedly tells readers, while government regulation stifles innovation and keeps consumers from gaining access to the best, safest products possible. Stossel calls out the federal government in particular, citing its "incompetence" and comparing the FDA to a "malignant tumor" (he also claims September 11 happened because "the FAA never asked for tighter security"). While Stossel describes himself as a libertarian, his comments on the liberal media establishment are reminiscent of those of outspoken conservative Bernard Goldberg. Many readers who nod in agreement when Stossel complains about the "totalitarian left," however, may find it harder to share his enthusiasm for extending personal liberty to include assisted suicide, legalized prostitution and dwarf-tossing. Stossel may be effective in small doses on 20/20, but his rhetorical strength diminishes when the print format requires him to go on at length. 16-page b&w photo insert not seen by PW. (Feb. 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This is an account by 20/20 coanchor Stossel of his migration from consumer advocate to cash-generating libertarian who campaigns against government regulation (including disability laws) in favor of freedom of the marketplace. His political shift is noticeable in both his programs and his writing, and his credibility and tactics are called into question by his detractors-particularly those on the Left. Yet Stossel points out things we forget, such as the relatively low risk posed by much of what alarms us, e.g., dying of dioxin poisoning. He convincingly posits that the federal government is too slow to respond to serious problems and suggests that corporations would do a better job of managing some tasks than the government does. Stossel's audience acceptance ratings continue to soar, and the network allows him considerable freedom because he generates income. His breezy, sarcastic television style is maintained in his writing. Recommended for public libraries and academic journalism or communication collections where there is interest.-Necia Parker-Gibson, Univ. of Arkansas Libs., Fayetteville Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060585648
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/20/2004
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged
  • Product dimensions: 4.40 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

John Stossel
John Stossel is co-anchor of ABC's 20/20. He also hosts ABC's John Stossel Specials reports for ABC radio, and ABCNews.com. A graduate of Princeton University, Stossel lives in New York City with his wife and two children. He devotes his time to beach volleyball, youth soccer, and his family.
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Table of Contents

1. What Happened to Stossel? 1
2. Confrontations 13
3. Confusion 27
4. Epiphany 49
5. Scaring Ourselves to Death 73
6. Junk Science and Junk Reporting 97
7. Government 117
8. Welfare for the Rich 135
9. The Trouble with Lawyers 155
10. The Left Takes Notice 179
11. It's Not My Fault! 201
12. But What About the Poor? 217
13. Greed or Ambition? 239
14. Owning Your Body 255
15. Free Speech 273
Acknowledgments 287
Index 289
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First Chapter

Give Me a Break
How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media...

Chapter One

What Happened to Stossel?

Journalism without a moral position is impossible.
-- Marguerite Duras

I was once a heroic consumer reporter; now I'm a threat to journalism.

As a consumer reporter, I exposed con men and thieves, confronting them with hidden camera footage that unmasked their lies, put some out of business, and helped send the worst of them to jail. The Dallas Morning News called me the "bravest and best of television's consumer reporters." Marvin Kitman of Newsday said I was "the man who makes 'em squirm," whose "investigations of the unjust and wicked ... are models." Jonathan Mandell of the New York Daily News quoted a WCBS official who "proudly" said, "No one's offended more people than John Stossel."

Ah, "proudly." Those were the days. My colleagues liked it when I offended people. They called my reporting "hard-hitting," "a public service." I won 18 Emmys, and lots of other journalism awards. One year I got so many Emmys, another winner thanked me in his acceptance speech "for not having an entry in this category."

Then I did a terrible thing. Instead of just applying my skepticism to business, I applied it to government and "public interest" groups. This apparently violated a religious tenet of journalism. Suddenly I was no longer "objective."

Ralph Nader said I "used to be on the cutting edge," but had become "lazy and dishonest." According to Brill's Content, "Nader was a fan during Stossel's consumer advocate days," but "now talks about him as if he'd been afflicted with a mysterious disease."

These days, I rarely get awards from my peers. Some of my ABC colleagues look away when they see me in the halls. Web sites call my reporting "hurtful, biased, absurd." "What happened to Stossel?" they ask. CNN invited me to be a guest on a journalism show; when I arrived at the studio, I discovered they'd titled it "Objectivity and Journalism -- Does John Stossel Practice Either?" People now e-mail me, calling me "a corporate whore" and a "sellout."

How did I get from there to here? This book is the story of my professional and intellectual journey.

The Making of a Contrarian

I never planned to be a reporter. In college, when I tried to write a story for the school newspaper, the editors sneered and said, "Leave the writing to us." I was never much of a public speaker. I'm kind of shy, and I stutter. It all happened because I wanted to postpone graduate school.

I'd been accepted by the University of Chicago's School of Hospital Management, but I was sick of school. I was an indifferent student. I daydreamed through half my classes at Princeton, and applied to grad school only because I was ambitious, and grad school seemed like the right path for a 21-year-old who wanted to get ahead. Hospital management sounded like a useful and interesting career. But before I headed for the University of Chicago, I took a job. I thought the stress of a real job would make me appreciate school, and then I would embrace graduate studies with renewed vigor.

Every time a company sent a recruiter to Princeton, I volunteered for an interview. I got a dozen job offers and took the one that offered me a free flight that would take me the farthest: Seattle Magazine. They said they'd teach me how to sell advertising or do bookkeeping. But by the time I graduated, Seattle Magazine had gone out of business. I was lucky, though: Ancil Payne, the boss of the parent company, King Broadcasting, called me to say, "We have a job available at KGW, our Portland, Oregon, TV station. Want to try that?"

I said yes, although I had never thought about a career in TV news. I'd never even watched much of it. I had no journalism training.

In Portland I started as a newsroom gofer and worked my way up. I researched stories for others. Then, after studying how the anchormen spoke, I started writing stories for them. A few years later the news director told me to go on the air and read what I wrote. I reluctantly tried, but I was horrible at it -- nervous, awkward, scared. When I watched a tape of my performance, I was embarrassed.

But I persisted because I had to succeed. When I was growing up, my mother had repeatedly warned me that if I didn't study hard, get into a good college, and succeed in a profession, I would "freeze in the dark." I believed it.

I was also determined to keep pace with my brother Tom, who was the superstar of the family. While I partied and played poker, he studied hard, got top grades, and went to Harvard Medical School. Since I knew there was no way I could compete with Tom in his field, I tried to become a success in the profession I'd stumbled into.

In retrospect, I see that it probably helped me that I had taken no journalism courses. Television news was still inventing itself then, and I was open to new ideas. I learned through fear. My fear of failure made me desperate to do the job well, to try to figure out what people really needed to know and how I could say it in a way that would work well on TV. I stayed late at night to experiment with different ways of editing film. I watched NBC's David Brinkley and Jack Perkins and shamelessly copied them.

But I couldn't talk as well as they could. Since childhood, my stuttering had come and gone. Sometimes I was sure the problem had disappeared forever. Then it would return with such a vengeance, I'd fear saying anything at all. I'd sit silent in class, and miss out on dates because I was afraid to talk to girls ...

Give Me a Break
How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media...
. Copyright © by John Stossel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 38 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2004

    Easy Read but Full of Info

    I'm curious what 'verifiable facts' Stossel is ignoring. Regardless of your view point, the book certainly raises some interesting issues. Should Donald Trump be able to evict a widowed lady so he can expand his casino? Should rich folks get their beach front properties subsidized by government? Why is it that even raising such questions could be so controversial? This is a must read, and it's easy, quick and entertaining to get through as well.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2004

    Finally an unbiased viewpoint

    Unlike the other bestsellers, this one is based on truths and real experience. His conclusions may be not potlitically correct and eye opening at times. But the author never fails to tell you how he reached them. He doesn't use bumper slogans and spin to make you think the way he wants you to. I am getting tired of those books that try to persuade me with conjecture and half truths. A must read for all, Thanks John.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    John is right

    John is right. It is too bad the politicians in Washington have not learned how to read. If they read this book, maybe, just maybe, they would realize how stupid they have been over the past fifty years. They have mad a mess out our country and John exposes them. Great job John!

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  • Posted December 6, 2010

    Reommended

    John Stossel is an advocate who will open your eyes to government fraud waste and abuse. This book is a must read.

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  • Posted November 17, 2010

    Great book for the libertarian minded

    I loved how Stossel presented problems and solutions in this book. He has lots of really good points and will challenge both the left and right leaning readers. If you have any kind of an open mind read this book.

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Common Sense

    "Give Me a Break" is fantastic! Mr. Stossel is a quality reporter who exercises integrity, consistency, and common sense to respond to difficult social and economic issues. All of these qualities are reflected in this book. I appreciated the honest tone and supporting evidence to each section and the connection to Mr. Stossel's past ABC specials. By visiting YouTube, you can watch his specials as they relate to the content of the book, which provides a fantastic visual guide. I highly recommend this book to lovers of economic liberty and personal freedom!!!

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  • Posted June 25, 2009

    Great Book with Great Facts & Research

    Very engaging and intellectually stimulating book with great research to back up why so many things taken as conventional wisdom are incorrect. Everyone should read this book once before interpreting information broadcast by the mainstream media as fact. It's also a telling personal tale of the inner working of journalism with personal anecdotes scattered among the intellectual and factual points.

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  • Posted November 10, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    For a different perspective

    As a long time viewer of Mr. Stossel"s, I wanted to read his book. I like his expose style. However he is does not fully inform readers, e.g. the hot coffee at McDonalds case. Looking into the case reveals that McDonald's refused to go to court forced mediation, have settled 700 times for the same hot coffee, reexamine their standards for their coffee (served at 195-205 degrees F.) or inspect the machine in question. I disagree that the economy and market take care of themselves at all times. And that government agencies are unnecessary. They are usually ineffective, but there was a time that labor was exploited (e.g. wages, child labor, long hours, harassment...). A time when "chicken soup" didn't have to be chicken. It could be rat, dog, cat or anything! There was no regulation or enforcement. I like his views on government staying out of peoples lives. Jabs at Ralph Nader are enlightening. Unique in his journalism, Stossel tackles the ridiculous yet legitimacy our country has to offer - the Americans with Disabilities Act, asbestos scares, the war on drugs, assisted suicide and many more. It seems Bill O' Reilly endorses this book. I never thought I would read such a book. Worth checking out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2006

    All time Great

    It was an amazing book and John Stossel told the media how the cow ate the cabbage and his politcal philosphy is mine

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2006

    Give me a break from reading this garbage!

    Stossel is a big liberertarian. Keep that in mind when you read this crap!!! He is a master spin doctor & master of sophistry a la Rush 'pig boy' Limbaugh. He takes an ounce of truth & warps it into a down right lie. There are too many lies to list but for example, he does not believe in road rage, despite studies showing it is in fact, on the rise. Like scumbag Tom DeLay & fellow neocons, wacko Stossel thinks 3rd world sweatshops are FINE! I would like to see him work in one: THAT WOULD BE GREAT! He also thinks gas is dirt cheap right now(Maybe for him! He's rich!) Bottom line: If you want the truth, take this bozo with a grain of salt & don't waste your time reading his dumb book! Just like that other wack job Bill O'Riley, Stossel acts like he's looking out for you when in REALITY he is only looking out for his GREEDY, ARROGANT SELF!!!!!! It is also apparant, he sides with the BIG CORPORATIONS & doesn't give a rat's rear about the little guy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2006

    Stossel talking about Stossel

    I found this book highly dissapointing...at first when I started hearing his various confrontations, I was intrigued, but as the book went on, nothing changed, and it got old quick. John Stossel just attempted to further his career by making himself look to dang good in this book. He left alot of things unanswered, and had some very biased opinions. I dont see how anyone but John Stossel could enjoy reading this book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2005

    Not a very good book

    This book is about a reporter from ABC that exposes scam artists on television and explains how he does it and how he finds his information. When I first started reading this book I really got into it and didn't want to put it down. I thought it was interesting how many people get scammed every day, and what things they get scammed out of. About halfway through the book, however, I stopped liking it because he seemed to be complaining about the scam artists and other government actions that scam the people in the U.S. instead of telling about his stories of exposing them. I got sick of the whining and was barely able to finish the book. This book is recommended for people interested in learning about journalism and people who are interested about things not very known that happen in our country every day.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2005

    Give this Book a Chance

    Everyone should read this book. I don't completely agree with Stossel on social issues, but I'm with him %100 when it comes to economics, and while some his arguments should be painfully obvious, I had never thought about many of the points he makes. He also writes with a simplicity and a sense of humor that really keep you interested. Once again, everyone should read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2005

    Very Good Book

    I had reservations about Stossel before I read this book. After reading this book, I found that his arguments make common sense. This book is for everybody regardless of whether you are conservative or liberal. His book is simple to read and very enjoyable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2004

    Give Me A Break! How I Went from Exposing Hucksters to Becoming One

    Stossel is controversial for a reason. He says inflamatory things that don't neccessarily make sense. His book displays a very poor understanding of the actual operations and functions of the markets which he believes can solve every problem. His assertation that the FAA caused 9/11 is a prime example. Airline security was performed by markets prior to September 11th, which, if Stossel's blind faith in markets (which he has a very rudimentary and non-nuanced understanding of), would never have happened, because market efficiency would have led the market to impregnable airport security. If you want to really understand how markets work, where they are appropriate and what they will never work for, read something by Dr. Porter of Harvard.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2004

    A well written book

    I really liked this book. It was fair, provided many examples, and it opened my eyes to things I wasn't aware of. A good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2004

    Must read for college freshman

    This book really underscored how well intentioned policies can go wrong.He articulated just how deep and corrupt the field of law has become.He has taken a factual approach to emotional issues.Life expectancy has steadily gone up this past century.Certain people are still convinced in the face of this fact that we are worse off than before. As a businessman for over 20 years I could relate to the insane rules and regulations that have come about the last 6-7 years.I wish someone in govt will push for the adoption of 'loser pays' in litagation cases.Our court system would finally hear cases with merit, instead of all the frivoulous garbage it is burdened with at present.I agree with him, most lawyers are voracious parasites.60 years ago the insides of many warships were covered in asbestos to prevent ships from burning when hit with missles or torpedoes.How many lives to you think were saved from asbestos.He makes many great insights about our present societal trends.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2004

    Stossel has great points but needs help with writing

    Mr. Stossel stresses several good points throughout his book but it is hard to keep track of all of his points with back and forth writing. I was not pleased with this style but everything else was very good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2004

    Required Reading for Citizens of 'Free' Societies

    The book starts kind of slow while Stossel lays the background of his career. As the book progresses you find yourself looking at the issues that affect our culture from both sides... as Stossel's own views have changed based upon the research and interviews that he delivers in every short, readable section. You will love how Stossel's confrontational journalism is presented to you... the most interesting and telling parts of each of his television specials. Best of all, his careful analyses of 'unintended consequences', which appear throughout the book will make you glad you bought the book. You will wonder what society would be like if everyone would at least consider the ideas that Stossel carefully presents. Btw... there are no sacred cows or protected institutions in this book... right and left are likely to both be offended... that is, if diverse and carefully thought out, alternate viewpoints are offensive to them. Hooray for Stossel. Thanks for writing this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2004

    Give Me a Break - from John Stossel!

    John Stossel is known for his aversion to the truth whenever it suits him. Over and over again he tries to pass off his rants as valid commentary on American society, yet shows a distinct aversion to basic, verifiable facts. He takes himself much too seriously, but does not extend this serious attitude to the outrages he 'exposes'. What he exposes is his own cavalier overreliance on sweeping generalizations and bogus statistics. For one who likes to play the part of the champion who can sniff out even the slightest fraud, he curiously commits enough of it himself...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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