All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday and I hope you reading this back at work instead of continuing to cower in your homes, scared to come outside.

First, we had Florida governor Ron DeSantis on the radio show this morning and he was fantastic. You need to go listen to him. There is a ton of news in there, but the most staggering was how bad the fear porn “expert” predictions were in his state. He said there was a forecast that Florida would peak at a need of 464,000 hospital beds for the coronavirus. They actually ended up peaking at 2100 hospital beds for the coronavirus.

He also told us the state of Florida had more coronavirus deaths in people aged 90+ than in people aged 65 and below and they’d had zero fatalities in the state in people eighteen and younger.

Seriously, just go listen to the interview. Here it is.

And while you’re there listening to the interview, drop me a five star review. I’m going to read some of the smartest and funniest on the radio Monday and if we read your review, email me and I’ll send you an autographed copy of my book.

Second, I want you to look at this graphic, which pretty much proves our decision to lockdown probably didn’t make sense, but 100% proves our decision to stay locked down is absolutely nonsensical.

Look at this:

I sometimes feel like I’m struggling to push a rock loaded with actual facts up a hill while everyone else on social media is pushing boulders, loaded with fear porn, down the hill around me, but finally some people in the “mainstream” media are starting to look at the data and realize the entire country should be opened back up right now.

We got a ton of doctor emails about the coronavirus and I’m going to publish those this weekend, but first, here we go with the Friday mailbag. (FYI, for the Friday mailbag I have mostly been using my Twitter solicitation of questions as a one-stop shop because it’s more efficient to keep track of them there.)

Corey writes:

“What’s your opinion on the way mainstream news media reports on current events or ignores certain events over others?”

The biggest power the media has is in choosing what events to cover and I believe the biggest flaw in the media by far is we now have journalism by anecdote. When you combine this largest power with this largest flaw, what you get is non-representative stories that reinforce your existing biases — you get mass media by anecdote.

Let me unpack this thesis: look, our country is massive and features an absolute ton of people, whatever you believe is likely true if you just look hard enough to find evidence of it happening. Significantly, that doesn’t mean it’s true on a statistical or probabilistic basis, but it can certainly be true on an anecdotal, individual level.

When most in the media choose which stories to cover they are often “picking sides” and then when they find a story that justifies their world view, they can cover it exhaustively to further fan the emotional response in viewership, which drives ratings.

Again, no matter what you believe there is probably at least one story, which can be turned into a viral sensation, that can confirm your belief system. And instead of using anecdotes which are representative of a larger societal issue, media can pick and choose anecdotes that are outliers and use them as evidence of a larger system being true even if it’s unsupported by larger data.

Let me give you a couple of analogies that aren’t politically charged. Every lottery has a winner, right? And those lottery winners become fabulously wealthy. If the media covered lottery winners as if they were representative of what happens when you play the lottery, we’d all think we were going to get fabulously wealthy if we played the lottery.

But most of us, fortunately, know this: your probability of winning the lottery is minuscule. The lottery winner is an outlier, someone who is not representative of what most people experience when they play the lottery.

But for someone who isn’t very smart — or is predisposed to believe playing the lottery is a smart choice — you could sell them the idea that playing the lottery makes you rich.

That’s spectacularly wrong, but there are some people that believe playing the lottery is a smart investment of their money.

Another example would be shark attacks. Every single time you enter the ocean you probably think, as I do, about shark attacks. (That’s why I’d argue that “Jaws” is the single most influential movie ever made. It truly changed our thoughts about the ocean forever). And I’m not alone. Every time someone is attacked by a shark it’s a lead story in the news. But the tens of millions of people who have zero issues with sharks never make the news.

This analogy is different because it plays on fear. Whereas my lottery analogy was about a positive outcome — winning the lottery — this one is about fear — dying of a shark attack.

Positive stories about winning the lottery don’t really have much of a negative impact. (Unless you believe people shouldn’t be able to gamble and are upset by the lottery selling hope.) But negative stories based on fear often have very negative societal results.

Fear is one of the primal emotions. When they share shark attack deaths the media is exploiting our fear by playing on our inability to understand probabilities. When anecdotal fear porn — that is, fear that is not representative of real danger — it becomes the focal point of news coverage it confirms the pre-existing biases that many viewers have. That’s why every time you see a news organization share data about the number of positive cases rising — even though the media almost always leaves out that testing has increased as well — the top comment beneath that news story is a coronabro snarkily responding, “Who could have foreseen this?”

People seek out media that confirms what they already believed.

Sadly, most people don’t look at data and adjust their opinions based on new data arriving.

That’s why I’ve labeled the media’s obsession with anecdotal, dire outcomes that are not supported by real data as fear porn.

The coronavirus coverage is almost all fear porn. But it’s not just the coronavirus either. Right now the coverage of the police death in Minnesota is fear porn too. The chances of dying from the coronavirus or from police violence — are nearly zero. But they aren’t zero, they do happen. And when they do happen those anecdotes are magnified as if they reflect larger societal reality, even though they generally don’t.

Here’s a data point that is true: if you are unarmed in this country, regardless of your race, you are more likely to be killed by bees, wasps or hornets than you are the police.

Right now do you think most of the protesters and looters in Minneapolis believe this? Of course not.

Again, that doesn’t mean that tragedies don’t occur — a tiny number of times each year an innocent, unarmed person is killed by police — it just means these instances aren’t representative of real life. Media by anecdote has failed to provide most in the public with a real understanding of the dangers they face from police. Worse than that, it’s led to a completely untrue belief which likely leads to more danger for both police and citizens.

Here’s another data point: If you are under 24 years old you are more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to die of the coronavirus.

Most of us don’t worry about being struck by lightning, but the general public is terrified of dying of the coronavirus.

Yet if you’re a college kid right now you are more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to die of the coronavirus.

Media fear porn isn’t just bad because it divides us and confirms our pre-existing opinions based on unrepresentative anecdotes, it’s bad because it isn’t representative of real life dangers and concerns.

And I think it’s a truly fundamental threat to our country.

Mike writes:

“With Texas opening outdoor sporting events at 25% beginning in June is it safe to assume college football should see at minimum 50% occupancy across the country come kickoff in the late summer?”

I don’t think it’s safe to predict anything right now based on how 2020 is going.

I mean, the government essentially confirmed UFO’s were real last month and most people didn’t even notice. At this point I kind of expect aliens to arrive on July 4th.

But based on the data available to us at the end of May, it’s indisputably true that the coronavirus is declining substantially in our country. I want to see where we are on July 1st and August 1st to be certain things are continuing to improve, but if the trend lines continue in the direction we are headed right now, I think it’s likely we will have stadiums with substantial numbers of fans in many parts of the country.

Again, I think it will be state by state in many respects — that is some states, primarily those in the South — will be more likely to have fans and some states — like New York and California — will be less likely, but I have season tickets for the Tennessee Titans that I’ve already paid for and I expect to be using them this fall.

Stinson:

“Excluding war, how far back in history do you have to go to find a policy as counterproductive and destructive as The Lockdown?”

I think “The Lockdown” joins the war in Iraq as the two worst decisions made in our country in the 21st century. And they both have something in common — which is probably worthy of a deep dive by me on Outkick — they were both rooted in emotion. The war in Iraq was an emotional response to 9/11 and the lockdown was an emotional response to the coronavirus.

In both situations we made decisions based on emotion as opposed to based in facts.

And both are going to cost us trillions of dollars.

Having said that, I think you have to break the lockdown into two parts.

Back in March when we were still in a fog of disinformation about the coronavirus and its likely impact, you can at least argue that being dramatically over responsive to the threat might well have been justified. (This is the “better safe than sorry” cliche. I’m not saying it was the right decision, I think it clearly wasn’t, but there was at least some justification for a substantial national response to the virus back in March).

But two months later, as we sit here at the end of May, there is zero evidence to support a lockdown anywhere in the country.

Zero.

And the fact that we still have millions of you locked down — many of you who are reading this right now from locked down states — is completely nonsensical.

I suspect we will be studying this lockdown and its impact until long after I’m dead — and like most things in history there will be multiple interpretations of what the correct decision was, which is why the entire idea of the “right side of history” is so dumb, much of the time we don’t know what the “right” side of history was — but I continue to believe the loss of forty million jobs is going to be far more impactful than the virus itself. Remember, in the space of a couple of months we went from the greatest economy in the history of the world to the most unemployed people in American history. And I believe that will lead to far more deaths than the virus ever would have.

I mean, we’ve never seen a whiplash like this before, from the greatest to the worst in the space of a couple of months.

And it was VOLUNTARY AND BIPARTISAN. (Most truly awful decisions we make in the country aren’t contentious, they’re bipartisan. This is why I think the idea of bipartisanship is often overrated. You know what’s bipartisan? Totalitarianism. Everyone agrees on everything, at least publicly, in a dictatorship. Conflict is good, it makes sure we are considering multiple angles to complex problems, and makes it more difficult to enact bad policies).

I continue to believe our whipsawing is heavily influenced by social media. We make rapid vacillations between artificial binaries far too frequently, rarely pausing in the middle to make reasonable and rational decisions based on data. That’s because on social media the extremists trend and influence public policy.

Would politicians be better at their jobs without any social media? I think the answer may well be yes because it makes them less reactionary and more contemplative. The same may well be true for media itself. I’d love to see a study on it, but my bet is that people who spend more time on social media are more fearful, not less, and more reactionary not less.

Ultimately I will be very surprised if the data shows that there are many more people who die in 2020 than died on average from 2015 to 2019. (The numbers need to be adjusted to per capita as well since our population grows every year).

Yet it will take years, if ever, until we return to 3.5% unemployment in this country.

That makes the lockdown decision — which has now stretched on for months — absolutely devastating.

People ask sometimes what I’m afraid of and the answer is– the inability of our country to agree on basic facts. Disagreeing on opinions is fine and normal, but we need a common set of facts upon which to base our opinions otherwise we end up with policies that are completely devoid of reason.

The analogy I like to use to explain what I mean is this: if I tell you, “I don’t think Tom Brady is going to win the Super Bowl this year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” you can agree or disagree with that opinion. But, and this is key, it’s clearly an opinion. Other than Tom Brady playing football and being on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the fact that there’s a Super Bowl every year, there are no facts that my opinion is based upon in the above sentence.

If I support my opinion by saying, “I don’t think Tom Brady will win the Super Bowl this year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because he’s never won or played in a Super Bowl before,” you can still agree with my conclusion, but you should trust my opinion less because it’s not based on a factual reality. Tom Brady, as most of you reading this know, has actually won six Super Bowls and played in nine of them. That means my conclusion is actually unsupported by the data I cited. Worse than that, the data I cited in addition to being wrong, actually offers more credence for the opposite opinion, that Brady might well win another Super Bowl.

What I see happening across the country is we have people so desperate to agree with an opinion that supports what they already believe that they don’t care at all about what the factual basis for that opinion is.

But opinions absolutely, positively should be rooted in facts.

That’s their very foundation.

My opinions and predictions for the future may well be wrong — I am an imperfect human being like all of you — but I work hard to make sure my facts upon which I base those opinions are accurate. And if I ever get a fact wrong, I correct it because I hate to share disinformation.

Facts don’t seem to matter at all, all that matters is fear.

And that scares me right now far more than any virus does.

Bob writes:

“Will this be the most vicious summer in recent history in regards to civil unrest or manufactured crisis leading up to the 2020 election?”

I believe the next six months, the time from now until the election, will be the most challenging of my lifetime.

Think about it, you’ll have a divisive election taking place amid a pandemic with the highest rate of unemployment in our nation’s history.

I mean, the entire nation is a powder keg. There are going to be explosions going off everywhere.

The one thing we haven’t had, thankfully, is an assassination of a major political figure, but I’m increasingly afraid of something like that happening. Or, god forbid, a major terrorist attack that just throws us back into complete and utter turmoil.

Facts matter now more than ever and I think the media has never done a worse job of covering facts.

Nathan writes:

“How is every European Soccer league back but US sports is at a stalemate?”

The EPL and Serie A are soccer leagues in England and Italy, respectively. Both of those countries have per capita death rates that are nearly double the rate we have in the United States.

Yet both leagues are going to beat our team sport leagues, MLB, the NBA, NHL, and MLS, back to play by months.

The leadership of American pro sports leagues by players, team executives, owners and commissioners has been pretty pathetic. They have refused to look at the data and to take action based on that data.

Every league should be playing in June.

Think about it, you are going to be able to go to amusement parks in this country before you’re able to watch team pro sports without fans on television.

Hell, many of you, like me, are going to be attending your kids sporting events before the pro leagues are playing again.

It’s just nonsensical.

Players are more likely to die of the seasonal flu than they are the coronavirus. Yet we remain shut down for the leagues. It’s ridiculous.

Hot writes:

“Clay, great work on all the coronavirus information/data. I am amazed by your time management. Between your radio show, podcast, tweets, reading/analyzing data, and other writings, how do you still spend time with your family. Can you walk us through a typical day?”

I’m working more than I ever have in my life right now.

Here’s my typical day: wake up at 4:30 AM, do the radio show from 5-8 AM central, finish the show and begin to read/study the latest data. During the day I’ll manage and monitor our staff at Outkick — we now have over ten employees and are planning major expansions through the summer and into the fall — write, do the daily Periscope & Facebook, and as you mentioned, be on social media all day as well. (I am on my phone for an average of nine hours a day per the Apple app and that’s not counting the time I’m also working doing other things.)

I continue doing all of this until I fall asleep around 11 PM. (About half the days of the week I take a thirty minute nap and I try and sleep seven or eight hours on the weekends because I don’t have radio then).

Rinse, repeat every day for months.

So I’m working, conservatively, 16 hour days every day for the past several months.

This really hits home for me when, like now, it’s approaching 12:30, which is when I generally stop to take a break for lunch, and I realize I’ve already worked eight full hours. (While most people have been putting on weight like crazy, I’ve dropped ten pounds during the lockdown and I think it’s just from working so much because I really haven’t changed my diet much if at all.)

Why do I work this hard? Because I care about getting my facts right. And I also think my opinions are better the more information I can consume.

And, frankly, because I’m not sure anyone in all of the sports media in the entire country who would be sharing the facts and data I’m sharing if I weren’t doing it.

As for being a dad, I think anyone who works as much as I do struggles to make time for their kids. But this is where I at least have the advantage of working from home, I try and get a couple of hours with them every day — watching a movie or playing sports — and as a result I often give up sleep to do so.

But even with all this work, I think my stress level is much lower than the average American for two reasons: first, because unlike forty million Americans I’m fortunate enough not to have lost my job and second, because I don’t have a very high stress or fear level in general. I only worry about the things I can control because that’s all I can control.

Larry writes:

“Does looting rioting and burning businesses, police stations, and pharmacies in America make life better or worse for people (many of which are black) in America? Is BLM making the lives of black people better or worse?”

It indisputably makes things worse because many people who might otherwise be supportive of your cause recoil at the manner in which the cause is advanced.

Look, real change requires consensus building and allies. It rarely succeeds by demonizing others.

That’s why Colin Kaepernick’s “protest” failed. Because he only focused on black and brown deaths at the hands of police. His protest was based on 27% of all police deaths and completely overlooked the other 73%. Imagine the reaction if he’d said it’s time to have a national conversation on all police deaths — white, black, Hispanic, and Asian. It still wouldn’t have been smart to do it in uniform at work during the national anthem because that alienated a huge percentage of the population, but a broader focus might have been constructive.

Because it wouldn’t have automatically demonized a huge percentage of the population.

But instead he only focused on a small percentage of police deaths. (It generally stuns protesters when you let them know that 73% of police deaths every year are white, Asian or Hispanic individuals. They then talk about per capita rates, but that’s a losing argument as well because black people commit far more violent crimes than other races, meaning they interact with police far more than their per capita numbers would suggest. Black people, for instance, make up 12% of the United States population and commit over half of all murders. And 93% of all their victims are other black people. The only time black people protest is when white people kill black people, which is a tiny scintilla of overall black murders. Which raises the interesting question: are you protesting because of who died or because of who killed him?)

This comes back again to the media covering anecdotes as if they are representative of larger issues.

Look at these stories about unarmed white people being killed by police.

Have you heard of any of them before?

Of course not.

Heck that Dallas story is arguably much worse than the Minnesota story and the police didn’t even lose their jobs there.

Again, you have to be careful not to allow the media to convince you that things that aren’t true, are true. Just because a bad event happens doesn’t mean that bad event is happening all the time. In fact, it generally means it isn’t happening very often at all, which is why the media attaches itself so aggressively to that story.

Media anecdotes should be representative of real events in this country, but all too often, as I noted above, they aren’t at all.

Chic writes:

“What are your thoughts concerning China’s recent threatened legislation to remove Hong Kong’s “system” of separation?”

I think this is the biggest story in the world right now.

We’re in a new cold war with China. Whose view of the world will win, ours or China?

I discuss that in detail here.

We need to stand up to China in a massive way.

It’s the single most important issue in the world today.

Thanks for reading Outkick and I hope you all have fantastic weekends.

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.