Some of us – admittedly, naïve sorts – cherished the hope that upon assuming the mantle of the most powerful office on earth, Donald Trump would rise to the occasion and assume a more dignified tone in his statements and general mien. Perhaps, he would even start acting “so presidential.”
Or at least stop taking potshots at the press. Oh vain, foolish hope.
After a number of news outlets noted Trump’s inauguration apparently attracted a significantly smaller number of attendees than Barack Obama’s in 2009, Trump unleashed a fresh tirade against the mainstream news media, which he accused of deliberately under-counting the crowds in order to make him appear unpopular.
During his visit to the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, VA, Trump called journalists from the mainstream news media who were covering the “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” He claimed 1.5 million people had attended his inauguration.
The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, later amplified the assertion by adding: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”
Spicer cited the fact that the National Park Service no longer releases estimates for crowd sizes as support for his assertion. Separate estimates cited by the Financial Times put the audience at around 250,000, compared to 1.8 million for Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
When asked about Spicer’s statement by NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press,” White House strategy advisor Kellyanne Conway said Spicer was relying on “alternative facts.”
In what will surely become a familiar refrain, mainstream news outlets fired back by openly calling the statements falsehoods in their headlines and reporting — a level of overt antagonism almost never seen in modern U.S. history, even during the frostiest periods of White House-press relations.
Thus, Todd fired back at Conway: “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods.”
Similarly, The New York Times published an article with a headline stating point-blank: “With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift,” while Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan opined: “Sean Spicer’s remarks about the audience for Trump’s inauguration were full of falsehoods…”As always, it should be remembered that claims made by Trump and his proxies aren’t intended to persuade or deceive journalists or the people who get their news from them. Instead, they are simply meant to create an atmosphere of ambiguity — in which objective facts appear unknowable and all information is a matter of personal perspective.
This contested reality then allows Trump to present an alternative narrative to supporters who already dismiss all mainstream news outlets as inherently dishonest.