TL;DR – “Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.”
So it really happened. Donald J. Trump is now POTUS. On 20th January 2017, he was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
And on his first day as POTUS, his administration has already shown their incompetence. What do I mean? Take a look at this:
People, meet Sean Spicer, President Trump’s press secretary. That’s him (sort of yelling) at his very first press briefing. Spicer made the press wait for an hour, and then he spent over five minutes berating the news media for their reporting of the number of people who attended the inauguration. And then he left the room without taking any questions.
By the way, the first press media was supposed to take place on Monday, so this one was actually unplanned and organised last minute, presumably because President Trump was upset about the reports of how the turnout at his swearing-in was not as big as Obama’s. You can watch a timelapse video of President Trump’s inauguration here.
Yes, the news media might have exaggerated the difference in number of people who attended Trump’s inauguration and the number of people who attended Obama’s inauguration. But hey, I’m willing to bet that the media’s probably closer to the actual number of people who turned up than the Trump team.
And right, Spicer got his facts abysmally wrong too. Here are three examples.
1. Floor coverings
“This was the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings had been used to protect the grass on the Mall that had the effect highlighting any areas where people were not standing, while in years past, the grass eliminated this visual.”
Nope, not true. Similar coverings were used during Obama’s 2013 inauguration.
Spicer claimed that:
“This was also the first time that fencing and magnetometers went as far back on the Mall, preventing hundreds of thousands of people from being able to access the Mall as quickly as they had in inaugurations past”
That’s untrue too. A United States Secret Service spokesperson told CNN, no magnetometers were used on the Mall.
3. Number of people who used the D.C. Metro
According to Spicer:
“420,000 people used the D.C, Metro public transit yesterday, which actually compares to 317,000 for president Obama’s last inaugural.”
Spicer got both numbers absolutely wrong. According to the Metro, 570,557 on the day Trump was inaugurated, while 782,000 trips were taken on the day of Obama’s second inauguration.
A sloppy administration devoid of facts?
One wonders where Spicer got his “facts” from. How can he be so terribly wrong on things which he could have easily checked? It seems like he didn’t check with the National Park Service about the coverings, Secret Service about magnetometers, or with the Metro about ridership before he delivered his rant against the media. If he can’t get his facts right, what right does Spicer have to berate news media of spreading falsehoods?
Speaking of the National Park Service, did you read about how they had retweeted two tweets on Inauguration day and one of which was the comparison of the turnout at Obama’s inauguration back in 2009 and Trump’s on Friday, American time?
Anyway it appeared that President Trump’s team panicked and issued an urgent directive to get all bureaus and the department to shut down Twitter platforms immediately until further notice. So the National Park Service deleted the two retweets and said they regret the retweets.
We regret the mistaken RTs from our account yesterday and look forward to continuing to share the beauty and history of our parks with you pic.twitter.com/mctNNvlrmv
— NationalParkService (@NatlParkService) January 21, 2017
And is this the shape of things to come for the Trump administration? Shall we expect that members of the Trump administration to consistently get their facts so wrong? And to block government departments from updating the public of information so long as it’s deemed unfavourable to the President?
And perhaps more worrying is whether the Trump administration will be consistently making decisions and crafting policies based on information that is wrong?
Also, the fact that Spicer and his team didn’t manage to get their facts right also shows a certain sloppiness. Are other teams in the Trump administration just as sloppy? If they are so sloppy in their fact-checking, does that mean that they will be sloppy in other areas of their work? Will they be as sloppy in their analyses, in making decisions, and crafting policies?
Trump’s counsellor said Spicer gave alternative facts, not falsehoods
Just when you think it doesn’t get worse than this, it does.
President Trump’s counsellor Kellyanne Conway appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press and when asked about why Spicer had falsely called the crowds at the swearing-in ceremony “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”, she staunchly defended Spicer and said he used “alternative facts”.
When pressed by the host on why Spicer had used his first media appearance as White House Press Secretary to proclaim falsehoods, Conway got increasingly agitated and started saying things like, “I think it’s actually symbolic of the way we’re treated by the press, the way you just laughed at me.”
The host countered Conway summarily, “Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.”
(There’s an interesting piece on alternative facts on Poynter here. The Poynter Institute is a school dedicated to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders.)
"Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods," Chuck Todd tells Pres. Trump's counselor Kellyanne Conway this morning. WATCH: pic.twitter.com/Ao005dQ13r
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) January 22, 2017