It wasn’t the start most of America was hoping for, with the Trump administration spending its first weekend peddling misinformation and “alternative facts.”
Speaking Saturday at the Central Intelligence Agency, President Trump blamed the media for creating a feud between him and the intelligence community. In reality, Trump repeatedly criticized America’s spy agencies after they concluded Russia intervened in the U.S. election with the intent of helping him win the presidency.
Trump’s pick to head the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo, has backed the intelligence community’s assessment. But Trump called it “ridiculous.” Trump’s criticism of the intelligence community created the rift he says he is trying to repair. The media merely reported what he said.
Trump then went off script and claimed 1.5 million people had attended his inauguration, again blaming the media for understating the crowd. It boggles the mind that Trump felt the need to focus on something as trivial as attendance. Aerial photographs clearly showed fewer people attended his inauguration than former President Barack Obama’s 2009 swearing-in. An expert hired by the New York Times estimated the National Mall crowd for Trump’s inauguration to be about a third of the size of Obama’s.
But the pettiness didn’t end there. Later in the day, new White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period.” Spicer gave no evidence to support his claim and stormed off without taking questions from reporters.
Once again the facts told a different story: Not only was the live audience for Trump’s inauguration much smaller than Obama’s in 2009, but Nielsen said there were fewer U.S. television viewers for Trump’s inauguration (30.6 million) than for Obama’s in 2009 (38 million) or Ronald Reagan’s in 1981 (42 million).
Spicer made three other false claims, including the number of riders on the Washington Metro system; that floor covering had not been used previously to protect the mall’s grass; and that fencing and new security measures prevented Trump supporters from accessing the mall. That Spicer, who read from a prepared script, could not get such basic facts straight raises troubling questions about the veracity of more important information expected to come from the White House.
Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Spicer’s statement that Trump had the largest audience ever to watch an inauguration was based on “alternative facts.” To which the show’s host, Chuck Todd, rightly responded that “alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.”
It’s not unusual for a new administration to get off to a rocky start. But the claims of Trump and his surrogates is disturbing if you prefer life in a reality-based world. Leave disinformation to totalitarian governments. The public’s trust requires America's president to be truthful.