John Stossel, the ADA, and the Art of Selective Outrage

On September 3 John Stossel’s Fox Business show took an unsparing look at the seldom-criticized Americans with Disabilities Act on its 20th anniversary (I was a guest commentator during part of the show, including this segment.) Now the American Association of Persons with Disabilities has reacted with outrage and urged its constituents to fire off protest letters to Stossel, to Fox, and also to me since my criticisms of the law were featured on the show.

But it didn’t play fair. In a related syndicated column, after recounting some of the abuses and excesses associated with ADA litigation – including settlement mills that file assembly-line suits against Main Street businesses and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission demands that alcoholics in rehab be put back on safety-sensitive jobs – Stossel says prolonged litigation over such matters means “more money for the parasites”. Harsh words, perhaps, but in context he’s clearly referring to those who profit from ADA litigation, and in particular opportunistic lawyers.

Now observe how the AAPD edits his words. By cutting most of what precedes “more money for the parasites,” it encourages readers to assume that Stossel is somehow referring to disabled persons themselves as parasites. And in case readers don’t pick up on that implication, AAPD makes it explicit: Stossel, it charges, “sees people with disabilities as manipulative parasites.” For the past day, disabled persons have been dashing off furious emails to Stossel (and cc’ing them to me) on variations of the theme, “How dare you call me a parasite!?”

But that’s not what he said. And AAPD owes both its readers and Stossel an apology for pretending otherwise. There’s nothing wrong with having a public debate over the ADA, but wouldn’t it be more constructive to respond to what Stossel actually did argue?