As the novel coronavirus spreads across the United States and around the world, there are plenty of places to find sober, informative updates on the pandemic. One source to completely ignore, however, is the braying sports pundit Clay Travis, who on February 24 bravely declared that COVID-19 wouldn’t be a big deal and has been just as wrong ever since.
"I believe the coronavirus is overrated and we are overreacting to it because it is a new and novel fear. The flu happens every year and affects far more people than the coronavirus does." -- @ClayTravispic.twitter.com/T8fpehP91A— Outkick the Coverage (@Outkick) February 25, 2020
Travis is not an epidemiologist or a medical professional of any kind. He’s a Nashville-based radio host and the mush of a little-watched gambling show on Fox Sports 1, the type of pundit who thinks politics and sports should be segregated unless it provides him an opportunity to rail against the “wokeness” of verified media members on Twitter, even though his account also bears a blue checkmark. Travis, who started the sports blog Outkick The Coverage in 2011 before he licensed it to Fox Sports in 2015, was never effective at retaining an audience’s attention until he decided to take on the grift of being The Last Reasonable Man, someone who uses arrogance to uphold the illusion that everything he’s arguing is unequivocally true. Here’s an example of what he presents as rational thinking:
Imagine if the media covered car accident deaths like the coronavirus deaths. No one would ever drive a car. https://t.co/kNnZhgnhCH— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) March 2, 2020
This must have sounded more convincing in his head. We don’t have to imagine Clay’s hypothetical, since local news outlets cover car-crash fatalities all the time. Car crashes aren’t contagious, so it makes no sense to compare them to a disease. Also, plenty of government resources are devoted to telling the public to buckle up, be careful in bad weather, and not text while driving. But pseudo-facts over feelings really click with Travis’s audience, some of the most credulous libertarians and “social conservatives” out there.
Travis isn’t the only Reasonable Man who’s proved to be particularly useless in the moment. Cosplay libertarian Ben Shapiro — whose voice achieves an unprecedented frequency if someone posits that Confederate statues are useless — last week asked where all the available COVID-19 tests were, temporarily dropping the whole “government bad!” act. Embarrassingly thin-skinned New York Times pundit Bret Stephens, who’s brought this amorality to the most respected newspaper in the country, is writing about Woody Allen.
That Travis’s following is so dim is precisely why it’s harmful for him to not treat the coronavirus seriously and parse data in bad faith. Last week, he continued to say the pandemic wasn’t a big deal, because things in South Korea, where there were 8,412 confirmed cases as of Thursday afternoon, are just swell.
I know Twitter is an emotional medium, but we’re going to be fine. South Korea has provided an excellent template for how to essentially erase a far more virulent coronavirus outbreak than we presently have.— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) March 12, 2020
Once again, Travis presents bullshit posturing as common sense. South Korea is improving because they’ve taken an aggressive approach to testing, making them free to most citizens. The U.S. has not, and the country’s broken healthcare system has once again been exposed as a sham easily overloaded by those who are sick. Americans would feel a lot less worried if they had easy and free access to tests from day one, as opposed to relying on a private sector that has taken weeks to put together a plan after the Trump administration was caught with its pants down.
It’s difficult for someone who doesn’t specialize in epidemiology to make assessments on rapidly changing data, and even tougher if you’re a yokel who once melted down because an airline wouldn’t allow his kid with lice to board. The resulting deluge of unanalyzed information can be overwhelming to the average person, possibly sparking a rush to stock up on distilled water even though there’s no indication that the coronavirus will harm our water supply, but that’s understandable. Getting anxious about this is a human response. However, it’s actively harmful to diminish a virus that is on every continent but Antarctica and say there’s “nothing to fear” for anyone under 70, as Travis has. (Again: Wrong.)
While even the Trump administration is advising the public to take this seriously, Travis is intentionally misinterpreting it as panic so that he can appear to be wise and rational. (I asked a Fox Sports flack about Travis’s rotten advice and will update if I hear back.) He might have achieved better results when he’s pretending that Colin Kaepernick can only make Nike’s stock go down and never up, but in this situation, he just looks more foolish with every passing day.
At this point in the pandemic, the only certainty is that washing your hands frequently and staying inside as much as you can will reduce risk for you and everyone around you. Until testing is ramped up, it’ll be difficult to have a full grasp on how many people have COVID-19: On Wednesday, expanded testing revealed that the number of cases in New York City have doubled; the number of cases in New York state have increased by more than 1,000. Meanwhile, in Italy, which has been hit especially hard by the disease, 475 people died in one day, the largest increase for the country so far. Travis called that a plateau.
After multiple days of small declines they had a small jump. Likely a statistical anomaly. Still a plateau.— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) March 18, 2020
What’s particularly aggravating is that if the drastic measures do work, and the outbreak subsides quicker than expected, the logic fetishists will pivot and say everyone was overreacting all along, that they should’ve never canceled March Madness or postponed the NBA season. That’s a small price to pay for not plunging even deeper into a global pandemic and financial crisis, but it’ll allow the grift to keep going, preying on the most gullible people out there.