Commentary

Deviator In Chief

If the first 100 days of his presidency are anything like the first two, Donald Trump could well go down in history as the deviator in chief. By that, I don’t just mean a deviation from researchable facts -- you know, the truth -- but from quantifiable statistics.

Yes, statistics can be spun. Nobody knows that better than a trade reporter who has covered audience estimates for nearly four decades. But usually, the spin has to do with the way the researcher tabulates and analyses the numbers, not by making them up.

In the parlance of media research, a “deviator” is a “variable equal to the difference between a variate and fixed value, often the mean.” Based on the first 48 hours of media spin, I think that is an apt label for the commander in chief.

While some of the facts surrounding the size of his inaugural audience are subject to interpretation, there are enough quantifiable statistics to prove that it was not, as Press Secretary Sean Spicer asserted to the White House press corps, “the largest audience to witness an inauguration -- period. Both in person and around the globe."

Photographic evidence aside, there are quantifiable statistics to prove the in-person audience was not the largest, including Washington, D.C.’s historical mass transit usage on inauguration days. Washington D.C.’s Metro ridership was 571,000 on the day of Trump’s inauguration vs. 782,000 on Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration day and 1.1 million on his 2009 inauguration day.

While the absolute global media audience for the inauguration may not be known for some time, if ever, the U.S. television audience was not the largest -- period.

According to the most commonly accepted source in the media industry, Nielsen, Trump’s audience ranked fifth among modern televised U.S. presidential inaugurations.

But it wasn’t until I heard Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway being interviewed by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday morning that I realized what the problem may be. It could be the Trump Administration just doesn’t know how to do math.

“I’m a pollster by trade, so I’m into things that are actually quantifiable,” Conway asserted, before going on to state: “Donald Trump’s been President for about eight hours. President Obama was here for eight years.”

The interview took place about 45 hours after Trump had been inaugurated as President.

But the real issue isn’t what the the absolute numbers are, but why, in its first two days in power, the Trump Administration has chosen to go to war with the media over statistics that are quantifiably untrue.

After acknowledging the debate over the absolute inaugural audience size is not that important, ABC’s Stephanopoulos zeroed in on the question that is:

“The question is why does the President choose to talk about that at the CIA? And why does he send his press secretary out to talk about it in his first White House briefing and say things that aren’t true?” Stephanopoulos asked Conway.

Remarkably, she replied by citing a statistic that anyone on Madison Avenue would describe as “apples to oranges.”

“Thirty-one million people watched this inaugural,” she said, adding, “That is far above 20.5 million that watched President Obama’s second inauguration.”

The apples-to-apples comparison would be the ratings for each President’s first inauguration. According to Nielsen, Obama’s first inauguration was watched by 37.8 million viewers, 23.5% more than watched Trump’s.

To be fair, those ratings estimates are based on Nielsen’s standard deviation. But you get the point.

But if I may answer Stephanopoulos' question indirectly, the reason is that Trump -- a former reality TV star and current reality TV producer -- still measures his performance based on audience estimates. And like a lot of TV industry executives, he can't help trying to spin them.

Or maybe it was as ABC News’ Cokie Roberts said later during “This Week’s” roundtable discussion.

“What he’s managed to do is minimize the incredible demonstrations yesterday all over the world of women turning out by more than a million,” Roberts said. She suggested the Trump Administration intentionally misdirected the media’s focus from covering the women’s march against Trump, and directed it on Trump.

When Trump told the CIA -- and the news media attending his address -- “I have a running war with the media,” Roberts concluded, “We shouldn’t take the bait.”

8 comments about "Deviator In Chief".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, January 23, 2017 at 10:56 a.m.

    Watching the way that Trump continues to operate, I fear that we are in for a very rough ride with this guy in the White House. I assumed that he would adapt---and start to grow up----once he finally assumed the mantle of "leadership". Guess I was wrong.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 23, 2017 at 11:45 a.m.

    He needs a good conversion therapist. Perhaps Pence in the pants can refer one.

  3. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, January 23, 2017 at 11:52 a.m.

    Dude is 70 years old. He's not changing.

  4. Jennifer Jarratt from Leading Futurists, LLC, January 23, 2017 at 2:04 p.m.

    I suspect the prez did indeed need to turn attention away from the vast protest marches all over the US, and around the world. (note the one in Antarctica!). That was a mass of women taking up a huge amount of space--not something we ordinarily do. Beyond the politics, it has literal and visual meaning.

  5. Sal Tofano from Visionary Communications, January 23, 2017 at 2:54 p.m.

    To make comparisons of Trump vs Obama vs Reagan vs Carter TV audiences is preposterous. Trump won the election with a campaign strategy fueld by social media, Twitter, FB , streamig video and more. So where and what platforms and devices do we think much of the audience tuned in while they were working? Remember these are working citizens.  To keep reverting to TV audiences again and again is ridiculous when the vast majority engage their content, news, sports and data across multiple screens on their own time parameters is what's missing here. The fact that the mainstream pundits are spending so much time on this issue is even more preposterous. Sounds like sour grapes and the tone is quite disingenous.  Lets face it Trump baited the media again. I think whats more important is cost effectiveness and ROI of Trump vs the rest. Lets go back to how much he spent vs Clinton and Obama. He spent half of what Hilary did in ads and whooped her. He spent 1/3 of what Obama spent in 2012 and already he is proving to be more fiscally responsible. Time to move on.

  6. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, January 23, 2017 at 3:03 p.m.

    @Sal Tofano: This column does not focus on comparisons between of Trump's vs. others' TV audiences. It was simply commenitng on the Administration's deviation from the truth in two knowable statistics at the time they went to battle with the press: the size of the in-person audience attending the event, and the U.S. television audience that watched it. I agree other audience metrics are important too and MediaPost and others will report on them as they become available. We reported on estimates for the Twitter live streaming audience this morning:http://bit.ly/2kkURRD

  7. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network replied, January 23, 2017 at 6:11 p.m.


    Sal Tofano: You're free to move on, but don't even begin to suggest that others do the same. Trump and his cronies are proven liars. And while "all politicians lie" to some degree, Trump's world is pure fabrication. To deny it, openly, is foolish. And trying to convince others to deny it is stupid.

  8. John Grono from GAP Research replied, January 24, 2017 at 3:19 a.m.

    Donald Trump ... Damp Old Runt's anagram.

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