Give Me a Break

October 20, 2008

About once a year “20/20” reporter John Stossel produces a piece about the evils of farm policy. None of the material is groundbreaking—he uses the same talking points that have been regurgitated by farm opponents for years. And like most professional farm critics, Stossel’s story is full of holes and keeps changing.

In his 2007 farm-bashing story, Stossel said U.S. farm policies hurt farmers in poor, developing countries. He was talking about the notion that U.S. farm policies depress crop prices—a common soundbite used by people opposing the farm bill.

But when commodity prices rose in 2008, Stossel, like the other extremists, did an about face.

“And yet, because some big crops get subsidies, like rice and corn, food costs more,” he crowed during this year’s hit piece, which aired on Oct. 17.

Huh?

If you’re having trouble following Stossel’s logic about how farm programs have led to higher grocery bills, you’re not alone. Renowned economists have pointed out in recent weeks that food bills have remained high despite falling commodity and fuel prices. That’s because food manufacturers are pocketing the profit.

The next target of Stossel’s rage: rich people who collect subsidies. This is a mainstay in Stossel’s pieces, which go after easy targets like Scottie Pippen and other household names. It’s not surprising that he ignores the fact that these “subsidies” to rich folks are usually environmental payments, not farming payments—a fact that Farm Policy Facts uncovered last year.

Not to mention, Congress closed this loophole in the 2008 bill to make it harder for wealthy people like Stossel’s co-worker, Sam Donaldson, to collect unwarranted federal payments.

Stossel’s hissy fit doesn’t stop there. “The growers of most crops don’t get subsidies. Apples, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots…,get no subsidies,” he claimed.

Yes they do, John. Check out all the money included for specialty crops in the 2008 farm bill.

We could go on tearing apart Stossel’s claims in his most recent segment, but we’ll likely have that opportunity when he re-airs a similar story next year.

In the meantime, we leave you with a little known fact about Stossel and subsidies.

Stossel acknowledged in his 2004 article “Confessions of a Welfare Queen” that he collected a taxpayer-backed flood insurance subsidy in 1995 after losing a beach property, which “was [located on] an absurd place to build, right on the edge of the ocean.”

Stossel complains about flood insurance subsidies almost as vigorously as the farm bill, but he—a rich man—still took the government’s money.

This hypocritical view of using taxpayer funds might help explain why nearly every lawmaker in Congress turned down interview requests for his Oct. 17 hatchet job.

Either that or they said no because they were aware of Stossel’s far-from-stellar track record in the past.

Remember, this was a guy who berated legislators and journalists in April of this year for overreacting to the financial crisis.

In his column “The Sky’s Not Falling,” Stossel asked, “Where is this ‘credit crisis’?” He followed that question with one he went ahead and answered for his audience. “[A]re we really experiencing a mortgage-default ‘crisis?’ No.”

Wrong again, John. See you next year.