John Stossel
Reporter Sharyl Attkisson's story sounds familiar to me: A major network got tired of her reports criticizing government. She no longer works there.

The CBS correspondent reported on Fast and Furious, the shifting explanation for the Benghazi, Libya, attacks and the bungled rollout of the Obamacare website.

"But as time went on, it was harder to get stories on," she says.

"There are people who simply would rather just avoid the headache of going after powers that be because of the pushback that comes with it, which has become very organized and well-financed," she says on my TV show this week.

I left ABC for similar reasons. When I began consumer reporting, I assumed advertisers would censor me, since sponsors who paid my bosses wouldn't want criticism. But never in 30 years was a story killed because of advertiser pressure. Not once.

I hear that's changed since, and big advertisers, such as car dealers, do persuade news directors to kill stories.

"I do a lot of reporting on corporate interests and so on, so there's pressure from that end," says Attkisson, but "there's a competing pressure on the ideological end." Right. Ideology affects more stories than "corporate interests." My ABC bosses leaned left. They liked stories about weird external threats from which government can swoop in to rescue you.

They are much less fond of complex stories in which problems are solved subtly by the dynamism of the free market. The invisible hand, after all, is invisible. It works its magic in a million places and makes adjustments every minute. That's hard for reporters to see -- especially when they're not looking for it.

Often, when it comes to news that happens slowly, the media get it utterly wrong. I suspect we get it wrong now about things like global warming, genetically modified foods, almost any story related to science or statistics, or, heck, basic math. Math threatens many reporters.

Combine all that with the news proverb "If it bleeds, it leads," and you get some very misleading, scary reporting.

That's why it's good that there's a new media organization called Retro Report that reveals media hype of the past.

It archives stories like the purported "crack babies" epidemic, Tawana Brawley's being "attacked by six white men," the rise of "super-predator" teenagers, and other disasters that didn't happen -- but did have big effects on public policy, as politicians rushed to fight the imaginary menaces.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate


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