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Fox anchor identifies with ‘The King’s Speech’

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Like millions of others, John Stossel will be closely watching the Academy Awards this Sunday, but the veteran TV journalist will be paying especially close attention to how well “The King’s Speech” does in the Oscar race.

It won’t just be because the Fox Business Network anchor liked the movie — which he says he did — but because he can relate to the key issue that the film addresses: overcoming a long battle against stuttering.

That may surprise the many Americans who have watched Stossel on television — including his many years at ABC News, where his “give me a break” tweaks of various idiocies eventually became the title of one of Stossel’s best-selling books.

A Chicago Heights native, Stossel grew up on the North Shore and graduated from New Trier High School. “My own stuttering was never as severe as what the king had to deal with,” he said. “However, it was bad at times. It came and went.” His parents even sought help for him in a speech therapy program at Northwestern University.

Stossel’s problem didn’t hinder him academically; after New Trier, he went on to Princeton University. “But I never, ever intended to go into broadcasting,” said the longtime reporter and anchor.

Stossel got into television while working as a researcher at KGW-TV in Portland, Ore. Eventually, he found a niche as a consumer advocate and science reporter where he could mask his stuttering problem “by hiding behind taped pieces — stories where I didn’t have to report all that much live on the air.”

Yet as Stossel’s career moved into high gear, and he gained more prominent positions — at WCBS-TV in New York, then ABC News, which eventually led him to co-anchoring “20/20” — he realized he had to deal with his stuttering.

That led Stossel to the Hollins Communications Research Institute in Roanoke, Va., which uses behavioral and computer technology to retrain the muscles that cause stuttering.

“I spent a lot of time working with a little computer that registered the sounds coming out of my mouth,” he said. “A green light would go on when I hit a syllable too hard.”

As for “The King’s Speech,” Stossel recognizes that the moviemakers “obviously had to simplify and condense” the training that King George VI underwent with his speech therapist. “Otherwise, it could have been really boring and not the entertainment vehicle it obviously has to be.”

One aspect he found somewhat disingenuous was how “the therapist wins over the king to his methods by tricking him with music to distract him.

“That method is accurate and works, but that delayed auditory feedback approach could have been employed whenever the king had to give a speech — given it was over the radio. But that wouldn’t have given us much of a dramatic movie, would it?” said Stossel with a laugh.

Stossel did find one aspect of “The King’s Speech” particularly amusing.

“As a libertarian, I was glad to see that the therapist [Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush] actually was unlicensed,” he said. “Logue was simply doing what he did best — without having to prove his theories to some board of supposed experts, who most likely would not have approved him.”

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