Washington Post reporter Ben Strauss believed the sports blog Outkick to be “Trump propaganda,” so he set out to prove it. Instead of giving what could have been an interesting and straight report on the blog’s relationship with sports fans, conservatives, and the White House, the Post published a hit piece on Outkick founder Clay Travis, with out-of-context quotes and selective interviews to boot.
Travis, a popular Fox Sports radio host and self-described “radical moderate,” assumed the forthcoming piece on him and Outkick would not be a positive one. So did his followers, who voted in Travis’s poll the day he recorded an hour-long interview with Strauss in early August.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) August 14, 2020
In recent years, Travis has made many enemies by denouncing the encroaching wokeness in both sports and sports media. A free-speech enthusiast, who once scandalized CNN’s Brook Baldwin when he said, “I believe in only two things completely: the First Amendment and boobs,” now draws attention beyond the sports media world for his opinion on topics hardly related to sports at all.
Knowing this, Travis recorded the interview and posted portions of the transcript on Friday after the 2,300-word Washington Post piece included only 94 words of his direct quotes, all of which lacked the context of Travis’s full responses to Strauss’s questions.
In one instance, Strauss even misquoted Travis as saying he had a lot of “fans” in the White House, for which the Post had to issue a correction. According to Travis, his full response to the question, “Are you like in regular contact with the White House Press Office at this point?” was:
They reach out quite a bit. Yeah, there’s a lot. We have a lot of listeners in the White House. I mean, the White House reached out to put Donald Trump on back in March or April of this year, and said the president likes the show. I don’t know if that’s true, I hope he listens to the show all the time, just like I hope everybody listens to the show all the time. But they said he likes the show and wanted to do it. Would we be interested in having the President on the show? And of course, I said 100%, yes.
In addition to the misquotes, and the general lack of quotes from Travis, Strauss interviewed Never Trumper Tim Miller, who wrote his own hit piece on Travis for The Bulwark. Miller is quoted describing Outkick as going from “from culturally conservative sports talk into a propagandist for the MAGAs.”
According to Travis’s transcript, Strauss asks Travis to respond to a similar quote, saying, “And I think somebody, you know, mentioned to me that it’s, you know, become Trump propaganda, essentially. And I guess that’s sort of what I’m asking about.”
Although we don’t know for sure, it appears Strauss asked Miller for all his hot takes on Travis and Outkick, took them to Travis to respond to, decided to only include the hot takes in his final piece, and to leave out Travis’s responses to the accusations against him and his website. Here was Travis’s full response to Miller’s hypothesis:
I think that’s funny. I mean, we’re not propaganda for anybody. Outkick is and I 100% believe this to be true, and I think this is why we are growing so fast, we represent the First Amendment wing of the First Amendment. I don’t think there is a single sports media company in the country that has as expansive of a range of opinions, smart opinions on a day to day basis, as we do on the internet. I 100 billion % believe that and certainly, that’s something that we’re working to build going forward.
Instead of including any of that quote, Strauss cherry-picked another quote from Travis, painting it as his response to the “propaganda” idea: “If I agree with something, then I’m happy to amplify it.”
Strauss also left out another one of Travis’s full answers on the subject, explaining that he doesn’t agree with everything President Donald Trump has said on China. “Because I think unless you’re the president of the United States, you’re not going to 100% agree with anything that any president says,” Travis said, according to his transcript.
The Washington Post reporter does not include any quotes or mentions of interviews with conservative sports fans, college football fans, or Outkick readers or listeners. Instead, Strauss sought out interviews from anonymous Fox Sports employees who were happy to provide disparaging characterizations of what “executives” think of Travis. He also included some expert opinion from an academic who studies “conservative media” and was able to draw a line from Outkick to Breitbart to “anti-elitist narratives mixed with racial politics,” which sounded too good not to include.
What started as a piece about Trump’s fight for the return of college football quickly spirals into an attempt to tie Travis and his popular blog to Trump and the pesky conservatives who appear on his radio show. It details a number of Travis’s opinions, painting them as problematic, and connecting them to Trump’s love of culture war fights, especially in the world of sports.
“Regardless, Travis insisted that politics won’t get in Outkick’s way. Because, he claimed, Outkick doesn’t do politics,” Strauss writes as he wraps up his profile. Travis refutes this claim on his blog, where he calls the whole article “fundamentally dishonest,” noting “I never claimed we don’t do any politics.”
I specifically responded to a question about why we had so much politics on the site by looking at the site and reading all the stories that we’d published on the day he was asking those questions. Most of our articles have nothing to do with politics. Sure, if you look, you can find articles like the ones he referenced. And what’s the point, that we shouldn’t publish an article about the President of the United States opinion on college football when he came on my radio show and gave it?
As Travis reminds Outkick readers, this isn’t an opinion piece or a column. Strauss is supposedly an objective reporter who covers sports and media for the Washington Post. Yet he clearly already had in mind the piece he wanted to write, even before he spoke to his subject for more than an hour.
Washington Post readers looking for their weekly dose of conservative-media bashing will find the Outkick profile satisfying. But unfortunately for Strauss, he picked a subject that is so transparently brash with his opinions and has a large enough platform to disseminate them, that most readers interested in college football, sports, and sports media, can easily pick out what’s interesting, and what’s part of a larger hack job on both Travis and fans on the “wrong side” everywhere.
“The public is not dumb,” Travis writes. “They know the sports media has picked a side and I’m not on the ‘right’ side so I don’t get positive media coverage.”