John Stossel Once Again on Thin Ice

ABC‘s John Stossel is known for his far-fetched logic, but in his special last night he may have outdone himself. In John Stossel’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics (10/17/08), he shouted instructions to ice skaters through a bullhorn to demonstrate–well, it’s not clear what.

Here’s how he previewed his experiment in an email to his viewers:

Imagine that you had never seen a skating rink, and I told you: “I’m going to have people strap blades to their feet and go out on ice — experts and beginners — fast movers and slow — all skating where they choose to go.” Your initial response would be, “That would create bedlam! We must have rules: signs, traffic cops (aka: a president), or skaters will smash into each other.” But, of course, the existence of rinks demonstrates that there is another way to organize life: something called spontaneous order.

“Of course.” Of course, in real life, skating rinks have plenty of rules, complete with signs and enforcers–see here, here and here for some examples that make it clear that rinks are far from the models of libertarian anarchy that Stossel depicts: “Directions of the skateguard on duty must be obeyed at all times.” “Skate in the direction directed by the Skate Guards.” “ALL SESSIONS ARE PROGRAMMED. EVERYONE MUST CONFORM TO THE PROGRAM AS ANNOUNCED.”

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed (10/17/08) discussing his special, Stossel backs away from the claim that skating rinks are rule-free zones: “There are predictable and understandable rules, but within them, people are free.” Right–just as in a democracy, there are laws and regulations that people have to follow, and otherwise they can do as they like. If Stossel with his bullhorn is trying to demonstrate that arbitrary authority controlling our every move is a bad idea–well, it’s not exactly clear who needed to be convinced of that.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.