Stossel Luncheon report

This afternoon, I went to a Cato luncheon featuring John Stossel as the guest speaker.

I came late, so I didn't get a chance to hear the welcoming remarks delivered by Ed Crane, the president of the Cato Institute. The people at my table were an interesting bunch - most of them were old enough to be my parents (some were old enough to be my grandparents). During the meal, we spoke about school choice, as one of the people sitting next to me was semi-retired and thinking about starting a school-choice organization. The makeup of the crowd was fairly similar to my table - older professionals from Atlanta and the nearby regions.

After the meal was over, John Stossel began his speech. For those unfamiliar with Stossel, he is a co-anchor of ABC?s 20/20 and his focus in recent years has been on topics familiar to libertarians - private charity, countering environmental scare tactics, the detrimental effects of government regulation, and so on. Since he is on a book tour, his speech concentrated on some of the topics discussed in his book Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.

He apologized for the cheesy title and blamed it on his publishers, who demanded a title that would attract angry conservatives. He then explained how he is definitely not a conservative, with his laissez-faire views on homosexuality, drug prohibition, and prostitution. However, he said that he is often labeled a conservative by the mainstream media because of his strong support for free markets.

He spoke a bit on media bias and how he became extremely unpopular among his colleagues after he changed from being an apolitical consumer advocate to a critic of government regulation. Intertwined in his commentary were a few good one liners - you don't get to be in his position without a natural speaking ability and a quick wit. For example, when he was criticizing trial lawyers for frivolous law suits (a bold move, as I suspect more than a few people in the room were practicing lawyers), he mentioned how, far from making products safer, lawsuits and regulations can often harm us. To demonstrate, he talked about warning labels on products. Because of lawsuits, companies flood us with too much information in order to protect themselves from liability. These extraneous warnings prevent us from bothering to read the labels at all. He then pulled out of his pocket a folded pamphlet that came with birth-control pills, warning of all of the possible side effects. He unfolded, and unfolded, and unfolded the pamphlet, almost like a magician's trick with a never-ending rope. Just when the audience thought he was finished unfolding it, he unfolded it once more. By the time he was finished, what was at first the size of a deck of cards was now the size of a large wall map. Both sides of the pamphlet were filled with tiny print. Stossel said, "Even the doctors don't read this thing. By the time you finished reading it, you wouldn't need birth control anymore."

After the speech, he opened the floor to questions from the audience. A few people asked why he has not done a show on Social Security privatization or home schooling. He said that although he is interested in and supports these policies, he is restricted in what he can do on television. Advertisers want short, easy to understand topics because the average viewer has a fairly short attention span. I raised my hand and asked, "Michael Moore is very popular with people my age. Since you seem to be a bit more photogenic than Moore (the crowd laughed), have you ever considered doing a documentary or film along the same lines as Bowling for Columbine?" He answered that he too has a short attention span, and that his talent is in television and not film. Still, I think a libertarian version of Michael Moore would be a great way to spread the message of liberty.

All in all, the event was quite fun, although the $50 registration fee was painful.

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Man, you should've given me

Man, you should've given me a call -- I could've gotten you a free press pass...

The crowd tends to be older at those events because Cato uses them as fundraisers, too (and us youngsters are mostly broke).

Glad you got to come see what we do around here!

Thanks, Andrew. I was

Thanks, Andrew. I was planning on asking Cato for a student discount, but I forgot about the event entirely until the night before, so I didn't get a chance to make the request.

Micha - Since Mr. Stossel's

Micha -

Since Mr. Stossel's attention span is so short, perhaps what he needs is a collaborator. Because he is such a visible libertarian figure, I think your idea of making him a sort of libertarian version of Michael Moore is a great idea. And because he's limited in what he can do on television when it comes to subjects like home schooling (very big one for me), the film medium would be perfect for him. If he doesn't have the time or talent enough (his admission) to make a film by himself, but is interested in the subjects that might be exposed by a film, having some libertarians get together and create a film idea for him might not be such a bad idea.

It strikes me that what's missing most from the libertarian movement is a visible figure on the national scene. Most people in America probably don't have a very clear idea of what a libertarian is. When you present people with the essentials of libertarianism, though, they often tend to identify with it. Having a visible presence in film might go a long way toward making our ideals more "mainstream."