The “alternate facts” of the Trump White House and the nature of truth in post-Trump America

On Friday, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. According to scientists that have studied the crowd photos, approximately 160,000 people were in attendance, or less than one-tenth of the 1.8 million people who showed up to witness Obama’s inauguration in 2009. President Trump, however, has suggested that the crowd at his inauguration was actually quite a bit larger than is being reported in the press. Speaking at CIA headquarters yesterday, our new President said, “I looked out, the field was — it looked like a million, million and a half people,” adding that the area “all the way back to the Washington Monument was packed.” And White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in remarks to reporters yesterday, doubled down, saying that what we saw on Friday “was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.”

Regardless of what Trump might say about the role of the “dishonest media” in distorting the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, the photos don’t lie. The following images were taken 45 minutes before Obama and Trump took their oaths of office in 2009 and 2017 respectively.

Screen Shot 2017-01-22 at 8.45.02 PM

Spicer, for what its worth, didn’t just lie once to the press. He apparently told four significant lies over the course of his five speech. For instance, he said, “We know that 420,000 people used the D.C. Metro public transit yesterday, which actually compares to 317,000 that used it for President Obama’s last inaugural.” This, as Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler points out, was simply not true. “The actual numbers are 783,000 trips for Obama in 2013 — double Spicer’s figure — and 571,000 for Trump in 2017,” Kessler said in a report published today. “The number for Trump,” he went on to say, “is actually lower than the average weekday ridership of 639,000 trips.” And, it’s important to note, Spicer was reading from a prepared statement. So this wasn’t an instance of someone just talking off-the-cuff. This was someone knowingly lying. This was Trump’s White House Press Secretary knowingly disseminating incorrect data as fact, apparently unconcerned that what he was saying would be quickly fact-checked and proven wrong.

When asked about Spicer’s repeated lies on Meet the Press this morning, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, said the Press Secretary didn’t lie, but merely offered “alternative facts.” [A flabbergasted Chuck Todd responded by saying, “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”] Here, if you haven’t seen it, is the video.

Is it a big deal that very few people, at least comparatively speaking, turned out to see Trump sworn in as President? No. While it’s interesting that three times as many people showed up in D.C. the day after the inauguration to protest than showed up the day of the inauguration to show their support, I don’t see how inauguration crowd size matters all that much. What matters a great deal, tough, is the fact that this administration would send their Press Secretary out in front of reporters to brazenly lie… to tell people that, despite what they may have seen with their own eyes, our new President actually had the biggest inauguration crowd in the entire history of the United States. That’s incredibly significant. We all suspected that Trump would continue to play fast and loose with the truth at President, but apparently it goes deeper than that. This administration, for whatever reason, has apparently made the decision that they can manufacture the truth, that they can tell us, without fear of reprisal, that black is white and up is down.

As for why the administration might be proceeding like this, the Washington Post today shared an interesting memo that has been circulating on social media which is said to have been written by a former White House staffer… Here’s what it says.


And, yes, it’s going to get real bad.

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  1. Bob Krzewinski
    Posted January 22, 2017 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    From USA Today – Trumps limo on the parade route. Notice the “crowd” in the stands –×1680/local/-/media/2017/01/20/USATODAY/USATODAY/636205334142144163-AFP-AFP-KG37Y.jpg

  2. Jean Henry
    Posted January 22, 2017 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Kelly Ann is losing her mojo. The pivots don;t work so well when the guy isn’t running for office. They’re a lot more obvious now. “Alternative facts” goes right up there with “you always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.” I feel kind of bad for her. She’s a brilliant strategist and pollster. (I wish she had been working for our side.)She’s not nearly as good at being the apologist in chief.
    I wish she had been working for our side.

  3. Kat
    Posted January 22, 2017 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Here’s what Conway really thinks of Trump.

  4. Jean Henry
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    Well that’s what she said when she worked for Cruz. Not necessarily what she meant. I’m not even sure Conway knows what she really thinks. If she does, she’ll never let us know. Her job is to spin the stories. Trump makes that a tougher job than usual, but she’s no more duplicitous than any one else in that racket. That’s what campaign managers do. I only point this up because male campaign managers are never subjected to the same scrutiny. Shocking I know.

  5. Morbid Larson
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    Self-immolation is the only practical strategy.

  6. Maria E. Huffman
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    Why do people read the Washington Post? No to any immolation… I am telling you.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    From Time: “He says the news media will pay a “big price” for what he claims was dishonesty.”

  8. Morbid Larson
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Mass suicides and immolation are the only way to make a point. Violence against others will not do.

  9. Meta
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Reuters: “Trump says he’ll be picking reporters covering the White House.”

  10. Jeannie Leverich
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    “The Party told you to reject all evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” George Orwell, 1984

  11. Janette Rook
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    The Little Golden Book of Alternate Facts

  12. Eel
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    The inaugural cake was plagiarized.

    “Trump’s Baker Says She Was Commissioned To Copy Obama Cake”

  13. Mark Tucker
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I think in this new age of “alternate facts” journalists will have to be more vigilant with fact finding and fact presentation. And they have to stop chasing red herrings. For instance, arguing over crowd size is important only in the context of holding the President accountable to accurate numbers–numbers that are going to be very important when it comes to future events worldwide. But I wasn’t convinced by the photos produced by the NYT (since they can be Photoshopped, taken at different times, etc.) as “proof” of differing crowd sizes–one has only to see the photo Trump produced, of the view of the mall from the dais, to see how “point of view” helps to create “alternate realities and truths”. I’m not defending the Trump administration, which I would characterize as a group of deplorables, but I do want the press to be careful about stepping into the traps that Trump is setting–particularly at a time when the country’s faith in the press is at such a low point. He’s the master of misdirection. A magician who enjoys watching his trickery play out. And he’s playing the media like a sleight-of-hand pro. So if facts still matter, then it’s uber-important for the media to report facts and not slip into hyperbole. Also as a visual artist/educator, I’m not surprised that a lack of visual literacy in this country makes people more subject to visual, not just verbal, lies. People believe what they want to believe even if the “truth” is served up on a silver platter via photos and youtube videos–any of which can be altered–the press/media needs to figure out how to present information that elevates by making sure to present balanced views of BOTH sides of the issue, regardless of how inconceivable the “alternate truth” may be. Photos need dates and times on them, statistics need to be accurate and presented consistently across the board, etc. Report both sides honestly and let the public decide. And give appropriate weight to each story, not just blow up mini-stories into mega-stories to fill up network time and improve ratings. Font size matters.

  14. Mark Tucker
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Just to be clear, I’m not arguing against the evidence produced that shows Spicer/Trump lying. I’m making a general statement that producing counter evidence has got to be thorough, vigilant, and fact-checked repeatedly from several angles–not just Google–otherwise, one reporter’s mistake (i.e. the MLK statue removal) ends up being symbolic of all reporting. For instance, I also heard a VERY late Saturday night interview on CNN where the chairman of the inauguration event came on and told several reasons why the mall may not have filled up as quickly (at the time the photo was allegedly taken), due to increased security measures, etc. Is he lying, is he telling the truth? I don’t know, but I never saw that interview resurface–supported or debunked by “alternate facts”.

  15. Donald Harrison
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    The Trumplers are creating and then selling their version of reality. They’re seeing how far they can take it, how much they can get away with. Who’s stopping them? The Dems can’t (much). The Republicans aren’t (at least so far). The media is still somewhat dazed and confused. The people on the street can primarily be ignored (though hopefully just getting started). They’re taking pages out of propaganda tactics and abuser techniques. I think it’s important that journalists call these tactics out, like the article Mark cited. Media needs to uphold journalistic standards, aim for even higher standards, develop ways of citing and transparency to address this “post-truth” malaise and educate the public on how to become more media literate.

    The idea that we’re a country divided into thirds (pro-Trump, freaked-out by Trump, not-sure/not-engaged) seems to be an important part of their strategy. They won with this riled up third and will continue to do so however long they stay in power (as long as they can get away with). And post presidency, even if (or when) he’s run out of D.C., Trump will have his legion of loyal third followers, viewers and customers to continue his empire building. That’s his end game. And that’s why he might only divest from his businesses over his dead body.

  16. Meta
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    New York Times: “News Media, Target of Trump’s Declaration of War, Expresses Alarm”

    The news media world found itself in a state of shock on Sunday, a day after Mr. Trump declared himself in “a running war with the media” and the president’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, used his first appearance on the White House podium to deliver a fiery jeremiad against the press.

    Worse, many journalists said, were the falsehoods that sprang from the lips of both Mr. Trump and Mr. Spicer on Saturday. Mr. Trump accused the news media of confecting a battle between himself and the intelligence services (in fact, he had previously compared the services to Nazi Germany in a Twitter post). And among other easily debunked assertions, Mr. Spicer falsely claimed that Mr. Trump’s inauguration was the most attended in history (photographs indicated it was not).

    “It was absolutely surprising and stunning,” the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, Jeff Mason, said on CNN on Sunday.

    In a phone interview later, Mr. Mason said: “People were surprised. I was surprised. It’s not what I was expecting for the first statement by the press secretary in the press room.”

    The tensions flared anew on Sunday when Kellyanne Conway, one of Mr. Trump’s top advisers, said in a television interview that Mr. Spicer had merely presented “alternative facts” about the inauguration, prompting an astonished response from her questioner, Chuck Todd of NBC.

    “Wait a minute — ‘alternative facts’?” Mr. Todd asked Ms. Conway on “Meet the Press.” “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”

    When Mr. Todd pressed her about why the administration had put Mr. Spicer behind the lectern for the first time to “utter a provable falsehood,” Ms. Conway responded with a sharp threat. “If we’re going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms, I think that we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here,” she said.

    Video of Ms. Conway’s evasion quickly spread on social media. The phrases “alternative facts” and “#alternativefacts” had been used on Twitter more than 380,000 times by midafternoon on Sunday, a Twitter spokesman said.

    Also by Sunday afternoon, there were scattered calls for the White House press corps to boycott Mr. Spicer’s briefings, although such a drastic response appeared unlikely.

    Ben Smith, the editor in chief of BuzzFeed, said on Sunday that the briefings were “a useful, if not essential, tradition” and that his outlet would keep a reporter there. Mr. Smith added that the Trump administration would “find practical reasons to be honest.”

    “In particular,” Mr. Smith wrote in an email, “I think they’ll find in moments of real crisis, rather than political theater, that they need to win back the credibility that they are spending now.”

    Mr. Mason, the correspondents’ association president, who is the chief liaison between the White House press corps and Mr. Spicer, said his goal was to maintain a constructive relationship.

    Read more:

  17. Leisa Thompson
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    It worked to legitimize alt right. So I’m guessing they think it would work again for alt facts.

  18. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Blocking people from entering the mall was wrong.

  19. M
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Not only did he attack the press at the CIA, but he brought his own cheering section to make it look as though the CIA was solidly behind him.

  20. Mark Tucker
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    I do believe (and I think it’s important to distinguish one’s beliefs from “facts”) that unless we find a more level playing field for displaying the facts and can convince folks on multiple sides of the issues that although there may be several points of view, ultimately, verifiable facts trumps one’s wishes and beliefs, and that developing a fair process to distinguish between the two is absolutely crucial to developing a healthy democracy. Our only tools to do this so far are the Courts and Free Press. Trying to undermine either of those is paramount to, I believe, terrorism or treason–which is why the Press (and the Supreme Court) has to be held to the highest of standards–we ultimately DEPEND on those institutions as arbiters of the truth.

    I also believe, like others have said, that Trump displays pathological lying tendencies. Unlike a small child that learns that at times it is difficult to tell the truth but that lying is more harmful, a pathological liar uses a lie to get out of a situation, or to exaggerate situations to bring attention to themselves, and, when it works, gets caught in an ever-widening web of lies, where the only solution is the manufacture of more, and more lies. That the POTUS is a pathological liar should shake us to our very core because regardless of whether or not we agree with him, we simply cannot trust him–ever.

    It is no less crucial to developing trust in a democracy than it is to developing trust between a parent and child, for instance. However, what parent among us has not had to “lie” to our children at some point, to preserve a greater truth, to keep lines of communication open, to keep from hurting feelings—or even for selfish reasons. To not acknowledge that gray area exists, that alternate viewpoints have value, that the truth can be politicized, that lies can be distorted into truths, that all of us have lied–is a lie unto itself. Distinguishing between what we know to be the truth and what we know to be a lie–regardless of how that truth or lie may personally affect us–is at the bedrock of shaping who we really are as a person, as a neighbor, and as a nation. Regardless of the issue, BELIEF in the truth is what manifests into trust. We all have to admit to our complicity in the manufacture of “truths” to our own benefit in order for anyone to believe us when we insist that “this time” it really is the truth.

    But pathological lying is completely separate from occasionally stretching the truth—it is a psychological disorder.

    It’s hard to conceive that one day we may be looking back at Trump and reflecting upon him in the way that some people are now pining for the return of the good old days of George W. Bush, George H. W., Ronald Reagan–forgetting, or wanting to forget, that these despots were also responsible for horrific worldwide wreckage. Trump, we’ll realize looking back, wasn’t the worst, because regardless of his limited world-view, or because of it, regardless of his glaring lack of intellect or his pathological lying–Trump had an illness. My fear is that Trump is simply paving the way for a smarter, healthier, Trumpster, a trickier liar, to get into power. The only way that can happen is if Trump gains even more notoriety, if not legitimacy, by having us all fight over what is or isn’t true, as a means of trying to hold his feet to the fire instead of realizing that he’s a sick man who really needs to be in the care of mental health professionals..

    What we need to do is recognize his illness– publicly. We need to have compassion for his mental illness and remove his legitimacy by not chasing him around. Simultaneously, if we can’t get him into therapy then we need to ignore him as much as possible. Instead, we should be creating more community-wide events, making art, writing, plays, playing music, discovering cures, designing, inventing, dancing, cooking, gardening, playing, working—in short, making the most of our lives in the most productive ways possible—This would send the ultimate message that as a political leader Trump is both ill and illegitimate.

    His Achilles heel is his ego, his insatiable need for fame, and his willingness to lie to achieve anything. Delegitimizing him by not acknowledging his existence, except as a sick man, could end this madness.

    The Emperor is indeed naked. Until he gets proper help, we need to look away.

  21. iRobert
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m waiting for EOS’s final numbers.

  22. Lynne
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Re: “Blocking people from entering the mall was wrong.”

    I agree but in the end it didn’t matter. There were just too many people and many of them found their way onto the mall anyways. I know because I spent the whole day on the mall

  23. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Oh, that shit matters.

    It is fitting that you found your way in. Trump thanks you.

  24. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    I thought you were our numbers guy, iRobert.

  25. Jean Henry
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

  26. NY Times: breaking news
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Another data point.


    Speaking to lawmakers, President Trump again falsely claimed that illegal immigrants had cost him the popular vote

    Monday, January 23, 2017 9:45 PM EST

    President Trump used his first official meeting with congressional leaders on Monday to gripe about his loss of the popular vote, falsely telling the lawmakers that he would have won a majority if millions of illegal immigrants had not voted against him.

  27. anonymous
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    From CNN: “Trump even described the inauguration weather inaccurately, saying that the skies became “really sunny” after his speech, when in fact it remained cloudy.”

  28. EOS
    Posted January 24, 2017 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    I’m waiting for Nate. He never gets it wrong.

  29. Maria E. Huffman
    Posted January 24, 2017 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    EOS…how does it work? do you get paid per sentence? Per point made?
    per word, or letter?
    and how much do you charge per hour?

  30. EOS
    Posted January 24, 2017 at 9:47 am | Permalink


    Do you really think my comments are so good I should be paid? I guess I’ll take that as a compliment. Thanks.

  31. Maria E. Huffman
    Posted January 24, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    No, I think they are so mean. and I think you get paid to be mean.

  32. EOS
    Posted January 24, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    ???? I’m mean? That’s funny.

  33. Anonymous
    Posted January 24, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    It’s not important but this is great.

    Budget Director Pick Forced to Testify That Trump’s Inaugural Crowds Were Smaller Than Obama’s

  34. Lynne
    Posted January 24, 2017 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Maybe EOS is one of those Russian agents who get paid to needle people online. Except I don’t think this is a good site for such things.

  35. Meta
    Posted January 27, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Washington Post: “Trump pressured Park Service to find proof for his claims about inauguration crowd”

    On the morning after Donald Trump’s inauguration, acting National Park Service director Michael T. Reynolds received an extraordinary summons: The new president wanted to talk to him.

    In a Saturday phone call, Trump personally ordered Reynolds to produce additional photographs of the previous day’s crowds on the Mall, according to three individuals who have knowledge of the conversation. The president believed that the photos might prove that the media had lied in reporting that attendance had been no better than average.

    Trump also expressed anger over a retweet sent from the agency’s account, in which side-by-side photographs showed far fewer people at his swearing-in than had shown up to see Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

    According to one account, Reynolds had been contacted by the White House and given a phone number to call. When he dialed it, he was told to hold for the president.

    For Trump, who sees himself and his achievements in superlative terms, the inauguration’s crowd size has been a source of grievance that he appears unable to put behind him. It is a measure of his fixation on the issue that he would devote part of his first morning in office to it — and that he would take out his frustrations on an acting Park Service director.

    Read more:

  36. Eel
    Posted February 2, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Have everyone seen this footage of CNN’s Anderson Cooper reacting to Kellyanne Conway’s mention of ‘Alternative Facts’? It’s hilarious.

  37. Jean Henry
    Posted February 2, 2017 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Yeah that video is it’s own fake news, but funny. And we all need a laugh lately.

4 Trackbacks

  1. […] agency, went on a rant about the “dishonest media,” which had sought, in his opinion, to underreport the number of people who had attended his inauguration. “As you know, I have a running war with the media,” Trump said to the over 400 CIA […]

  2. […] it. I just can’t accept that we, as a nation, are actually debating the existence of “alternate facts.” I guess, in retrospect, given how Republicans have dealt with issues like global climate […]

  3. By Never forget Bowling Green on February 3, 2017 at 10:15 am

    […] shines. Without a recent Muslim attack to point to, she reached deep down into her bag of “alternative facts,” and came up with something truly inspired. Out of thin air, she invented an absolutely […]

  4. By The evolving acceptability of presidential golf on February 23, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    […] know we’ve entered the world of “alternative facts” and that reality doesn’t hold as much weight as it once did, but it’s important […]

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