John Stossel has a storied journalism career. The onetime ABC News reporter—he was consumer editor at Good Morning America and later a co-anchor at 20/20—has a total of 19 Emmy Awards to his name. But Stossel hasn’t won an Emmy in decades. “Emmys are garbage given by lefty media to lefty big-government-loving reporters,” he told an interviewer in 2012. “I only got Emmys when I bashed business. Now that I criticize government, I don’t win Emmys, so I’ve realized that it’s just sycophantic leftist awards.”
In case you hadn’t figured it out, Stossel is a full-bore libertarian. And as such, he’s interested in (and has bought quite a bit of) bitcoin. He first learned about crypto as host of the Fox Business show Stossel, which ran from 2009 to 20016. Today, the 72-year-old espouses his free-market views on his YouTube channel Stossel TV and as an occasional contributor to Fox News.
We recently spoke to Stossel about cryptocurrency, media bias, and whom he’ll vote for in 2020.
How did you got into cryptocurrency?
Maxim Lott, a producer who works for me, booked a guest who talked about it when I was doing my Fox Business show. Frankly, I can’t remember who the guest was. And it just made sense to me. We can’t trust the politicians. All the debt is going in the wrong direction, and I assume they’re going to just print money, and we will have massive inflation. Of course, I’ve assumed that for years and been wrong because I also bought some gold and silver. But after thinking about it, I gradually bought bitcoin. And I’m glad I did.
At which point in the market did you buy bitcoin?
So you’re doing okay.
Yup. I gave most of it to the Doe Fund, some of it to the American Institute for Stuttering, and some of it to the Central Park Conservancy.
Do you have any bitcoin left?
I have about a little under a million dollars left.
"I don't trust the government to protect fiat money, pieces of paper with dead presidents printed on them. It seems foolish to put all your eggs in that basket."
That’s quite a substantial amount. What to you is the promise of bitcoin? How does it mesh with your libertarian worldview?
Going back to what I said before: that I don’t trust the government to protect fiat money, pieces of paper with dead presidents printed on them. It seems foolish to put all your eggs in that basket. So it’s important to have some in alternative currencies.
You used to be a liberal. What led you to shift to libertarianism?
Real life. Most people look at these regulations and these social programs, and they assume they’re working, but I was out there covering it every day as a consumer reporter. And I soon saw that [wasn’t the case].
One example is we would send a car around to a bunch of different repair shops with a part loose and most of the places would just say, “Oh, loose part. Loose spark plug. We’ll fix it, no charge.” In a few places, they’d say, “Eh, we’ve got to keep it over the weekend.” And they’d charge us several hundred dollars. And I’d go back say, “Would you ever cheat us this way?” “Oh no, we would never do this.” “Oh, yeah? Watch this.” And we’d play the hidden video. Which today might be illegal, because lawyers are suing over that. But at the time, it was allowed by the TV station where I worked in Portland, Ore., and the NBC affiliate. And it was good TV. Politicians would call up and say, “That was great. It’s so great you’re doing that.” And I won 19 Emmy Awards doing this kind of stuff. And they’d say, “We’re going to fix it. We’re going to create the Department of Consumer Affairs”—and they did in Oregon.
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I stayed on the consumer affairs beat and I would do these stories again, and I would notice that there was no difference in the result. Most people were honest, a few people cheated. And I wondered, “What’s the Department of Consumer Affairs doing to solve all these problems?” And there was a big office where four people were filling out forms, and everybody had to pay a few pennies more to cover the cost of the forms and the applications.
And they were licensing people. Intuitively, licensing makes sense; we license drivers, we license dogs. You think it makes us safer, but it’s by no means clear that it does in most cases. And anybody who couldn’t understand the rules, which is most people, had to hire a lawyer, and that raised costs, it enriched lawyers. Maybe immigrants who were afraid just went deeper into the black market, which is unhealthy for the state. And all this law, all this regulation I was so proud of didn’t do shit, didn’t do shit that was useful. So I started reading more and discovered Reason magazine and became a libertarian.
How have you been viewed by your compatriots in the media since you became a libertarian?
Not well. I won those 19 Emmy Awards. I haven’t won one since. There was an anchor at ABC who would turn away when he saw me in the hall. I had become an embarrassment. I was someone in the building with a point of view while everybody else was “objective.”
Isn’t there something to be said for that in journalism? Keeping your views out of things?
But they weren’t objective. They were all on the left. We all try to be objective, but we all have points of view. And it’s just that because everyone around them agreed with theirs that they viewed themselves as neutral: “Everybody agrees that there needs to be more regulation, more gun laws, that all abortion should be legal.” And some of those things I agree with, but they were totally isolated from other points of view, living in the Northeast. It’s better now in that the success of Fox has made them realize, “Oh, there are a lot of other people out there with a different point of view.”
You’re a Fox News contributor. Did you read the recent New Yorker piece on how Fox News is in league with the Trump administration?
I did, yes. I think there are grains of truth in there. But it’s [the article’s author] Jane Mayer, right? And from what I’ve read of her, it’s all hysterical, leftist, exaggerated spin, just as her smear of Charles Koch was.
So you don’t see Fox News and the Trump administration working hand in hand?
A few people at Fox do, I assume. But what does that even mean, “working hand in hand”? Do some people at Fox want Trump to succeed? Yes. Are they feeding him questions? I don’t think so. Are some sucking up to him to get him on their show? Probably. But I have no firsthand knowledge of that.
You have someone like Hannity, who’s an informal adviser to the President.
Well, that’s what I read, but I know no more than I read.
"I’m relieved that we're not being suffocated by a spiderweb of little rules that would have been imposed by Hillary's people. Or Bernie's people."
I was reading an interview with you before the 2016 election, and even though you didn’t like either of them, you expressed a preference for Trump over Hillary. Do you feel any differently now?
No. I’m relieved that we’re not being suffocated by a spiderweb of little rules that would have been imposed by Hillary’s people. Or Bernie’s people.
Looking at the the field of candidates for 2020 so far, is there anyone that you see who you like?
No. I’m waiting for the Libertarian nominee. But I think a lot of them have a couple of good ideas. Some of them want to legalize drugs, some of them want to pull some of our troops out of the 70 countries that they’re in, some want to have free trade.
Basically, you vote for whomever the Libertarians nominate?
I waste my vote on the Libertarian, yes.
John McAfee, who’s big in the crypto world, is most likely going to be running for the Libertarian nomination. Have you ever crossed paths with him?
Yeah, we had a drink together, or dinner or something, after he was on my show, and he’s really weird. I wouldn’t feel super-comfortable with him as president, but if he’s the Libertarian candidate—and if I’m convinced he didn’t murder anybody—I would vote for him.
A lot of your focus is on debunking popular beliefs. What have you gotten the most pushback on?
Funny, at ABC drug legalization was not hard to get on. It was really hard to get on a piece on how rent control destroys the housing stock. And that’s something that every economist agrees about. But there were all these revisions required by lawyers. One lawyer said, “It can’t be true that rent control hurts the poor. I live in a rent-controlled building; it keeps the rent down.” Minimum wage, I certainly get pushback on arguing that there should be none at all.
So you’re saying you’re not in favor of a $15 minimum wage.
Right. I’m not in favor of the $1 minimum wage. Leave it up to the employer and the employee to make whatever contract they want, and that will create the most opportunity, the most jobs, and the highest pay.
The other side would argue that it would make it rife for exploitation of workers.
They do argue that. I don’t see how giving workers more choices ends up exploiting them. I think the current rules exploit workers at the expense of organized labor.
"I'm a zealot about explaining free markets to people."
You cover a lot of these issues on Stossel TV, which is online. What can you do there that you can’t couldn’t do on a network?
Once I realized that my liberal consumer-reporting attitudes—calling for more regulation and lawsuits against business—were foolish, I became a zealot for free markets. I’ve seen how prosperity happens when you leave people alone. Look at Hong Kong, Singapore, early America. It’s wonderful. That’s the best thing for poor people.
So I’m a zealot about explaining free markets to people. And I just couldn’t do that full-time at Fox, and I wanted to work with think tanks that were sympathetic to me around America, like Reason and Cato and AEI and others. I wanted to use my skill, which is very narrow—I’m good at making little videos, making complicated things simpler—and make a video a week about markets. And my 28-year-old son said, “Dad, it’s a good thing to do now because you don’t need a network anymore. You’ve got a million Twitter followers. Social media can get this stuff out. And young people in New York certainly don’t believe what you say if it’s on Fox. So you want to, do it on your own.”
And I believed him, and I raised some money, and I’m doing that. And we release a new video every Tuesday.
Was your son right? Do you think you have more credibility in the eyes of your audience now that you’re doing it on YouTube as opposed to Fox?
Among leftists, probably. Among Fox fans, no. They wish I were on Fox more.
You mentioned earlier how your your your liberal colleagues turned away from you. What about conservatives at Fox? How do they look at your libertarian views?
Some raise their eyebrows, but they were much more friendly and sympathetic than the people at ABC or CBS or NBC, who were just hostile. When Bernie Goldberg came out with his  book Bias, it was a number one bestseller. And it wasn’t just a number one bestseller. It was like a huge bestseller, way ahead of everything else. And I would say to people at ABC, “So what do you think about what he says?” And they said, “Oh, I didn’t read that.” They wouldn’t even read it.
So you think that do you think one side is more close-minded than the other?
Yes, definitely. I mean, conservative groups that disagree with me about legalizing drugs or about choice have invited me to speak, paid me money. Leftist groups will not do that. And I don’t like using the word “liberal” in the sense that I think I’m a liberal. With John Locke, liberal meant “leave people alone.” And the leftists stole the word. But I guess we have to live with the jargon we have.
I saw your report on climate change, and you didn’t seem to think that it’s a real threat?
It may very well be a real threat. It could be devastating. But there’s nothing we’re doing now that’s going to make any difference. And there’s nothing we can do now that will make everyday difference. What we’re doing now is just making poor peoples’ lives harder.
In what way?
Well, it’s raising the price of fuel.
The left-leaning side of the Democratic Party is urging a Green New Deal, and they say we can’t afford not to pour as many resources into this as possible. Do you support the Green New Deal?
No, of course not. And it’s not the left-end of the Democratic Party—pretty much most of the Democratic Party likes these solar subsidies and wind subsidies. And many Republicans do. Republicans back the destructive ethanol subsidies, all of which do more harm than good.
"What's the typical John Stossel fan like? Disproportionately young, nerdy males."
We should be trying something. Do you have any solutions? Or are we just potentially screwed?
Over the course of my career, I’ve reported on scares. There have been a thousand: Pesticide residues were causing a cancer epidemic that never happened; cell phones are causing brain tumors; dyes in food. A thousand scares have turned out not to be true. The year 2000 was going to cause all the planes to crash. Flesh-eating bacteria was going to kill everyone. SARS, West Nile virus. So I’m skeptical of this one.
But this one is more serious, because a lot of genuinely smart people are worried. And assuming it is going to be a big problem, the best thing to do is not do stupid, destructive things now that prevent us from getting richer, so that maybe 10 years from now, when there is some carbon-sucking machine that someone’s invented or something that might make a difference, we’ll have the resources to harness it. But the science isn’t there yet. And these gestures now are destructive and pointless.
What’s the typical John Stossel fan like?
Disproportionately young, nerdy males.
So basically a lot of libertarian types.
Libertarians, right. Kind of like the crypto market.
Do you wish that you reached a broader swath of the population?
How do you think you can do that?
If I knew, I would do it. If I could get younger and better-looking, that might help.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Photo courtesy of John Stossel.