Joe Scarborough: Unlike Trump, 'everybody saw this coming in early January'

Everybody saw this disaster coming in January, Joe Scarborough claimed on MSNBC today:


This is a delusion that it appears many on the left now have. As they rant and rave about President Trump dithering they simultaneously believe they were exceptions. They saw this coming months earlier. They knew how serious it was immediately. If only we had listened to them. But in Joe Scarborough’s case, it’s possible to actually look at his record. For instance, how many times did Joe tweet about the virus in January? Glenn Greenwald tallied the numbers:

Okay, but surely Joe used his own TV show to warn the nation. Tom Elliot found the first time the virus was mentioned on Morning Joe. And what message did Joe’s expert send on that date: That Americans should be more worried about the flu.

Elliot later corrected himself. The clip above is from January 27th, not the 24th. Far from sounding the alarm, it seems Joe was downplaying the seriousness of the virus to Americans in January. And to be fair, that was fairly common at the time. Many media sites published pieces suggesting the seasonal flu could be worse than the coronavirus.


People forget that in mid-January, China and the WHO were still denying the virus could spread from person to person. This is from January 14:

So it was actually impossible to be appropriately concerned about the virus in early January because China was lying to the world at that point. To take another example, on January 24, Vox published a piece titled “The coronavirus outbreak is not yet a global health emergency, WHO says.” It wasn’t until January 30 that Vox published a follow up: “The coronavirus outbreak is now a global health emergency, WHO says.” Had the alarm finally been sounded? Here’s a sample of that piece:

Just because the emergence of the new coronavirus is now officially a global health emergency doesn’t mean it’ll become a pandemic. It’s important to note the outbreak is still heavily centered on mainland China…

It’s possible that as we learn more, 2019-nCoV will look more like the common cold than like SARS. That’s because infectious diseases typically look more severe when they’re first discovered, since the people showing up in hospitals tend to be the sickest. Once more of these mild or asymptomatic cases are discovered, this virus could wind up looking a lot less scary.


Getting back to Joe Scarborough, Tom Elliot says his first real commentary about the potential impact the virus might have on American society was on February 26th. Note this was a Wednesday, one day after Mardi Gras took place in New Orleans. As you can see in this clip, Joe is just starting to think about the fact that businesses and events might be shut down “if” the crisis continues.

But again, it’s easy to pick on Joe Scarborough for his false memories of raising the alarm about the virus. He asked for it by claiming everyone saw this coming in early January when in fact that was impossible. But the important point is that most media outlets followed the same learning curve. I mentioned Vox’s two stories about the virus from January. Here’s a sample of what they published in February.

Feb 8: “What happens next in the coronavirus outbreak? We mapped 8 scenarios

Feb 13: “Coronavirus cases in China just jumped by 14,000 — but not for the reason you think

Even though it may feel like the coronavirus crisis is dragging on, we’re actually early in the outbreak of a newly discovered virus. The way this disease is being diagnosed and tracked is very much a work in progress. And as more countries get diagnostic tools and come up with their own ways of classifying Covid-19 cases, we will surely be in for more spikes and plateaus that don’t actually tell us much about how the virus is spreading on any given day.


Feb 14: “Why the coronavirus outbreak might be much bigger than we know

For now, it’s important to remember that a disease can spread widely, and even become a pandemic, and not be particularly severe. In his Facebook video, Prime Minister Lee repeatedly asked Singaporeans not to panic, reminding them that this virus already appears to behave more like seasonal flu than SARS: While it’s more contagious than SARS, it looks much less deadly — a point Fauci recently reaffirmed.

At the same time, even a less severe pandemic has the potential to overwhelm a country’s health infrastructure. There are studies out of China suggesting as many as a quarter of patients need care in the ICU, for example — something that could wreak havoc on health systems and cost billions. “There’s always chance [this disease could] overwhelm health systems in a number of countries, even in countries with good health systems,” Fauci said.

Feb 25: “‘We are at a turning point’: The coronavirus outbreak is looking more like a pandemic

Feb 26: “If the coronavirus hits America, who’s responsible for protecting you?” This one contains an interesting section:

The first question to ask about outbreak response in the United States: Who is in charge?

You may think “the White House,” or some arm of the federal government. But per the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution, public health is not a power specifically given to the federal government, and so it rests mainly with the states, as well as large cities with strong public health departments, like New York City.

“It’s important to remember that public health is actually a police power that is delegated to the states,” says Rebecca Katz, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown.


Feb 28: “WHO raises Covid-19 alert to highest level after cases found in nearly 50 countries

“This virus has pandemic potential,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, on Thursday. (A pandemic means a new virus is spreading in multiple regions of the world, but it doesn’t say anything about a disease’s severity.) It was the first time the agency’s director general acknowledged what other public health experts had been saying in recent weeks with increasing urgency: that we appear to be on the precipice of a pandemic, if we’re not already in one.

The point is that even if you were following this closely at a progressive news site, no one was sure what was coming even in early February. As the month progressed there was growing concern but it wasn’t until late February (which ended on the 29th) that it became clear this was probably going to be a pandemic. The WHO didn’t actually declare it a pandemic until March 11, which is when many U.S. businesses like Broadway, the NBA, NHL, etc. began shutting down.

Scarborough and others can claim everything that has happened was predictable months ago but it’s just not true. It’s helpful to remember how gradually this crept up on us and how relatively recent is was that we realized the unprecedented impact this would have.

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