'All of This Space Was Full': A Photographic Fact Check

On January 21, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement criticizing journalists for their coverage of President Trump's inauguration. Some media outlets, Spicer claimed, were using photographs of the event in misleading and deceptive ways. To back this claim up, Spicer made a number of assertions that turned out to be false. He offered incorrect D.C. Metro-ridership numbers, and said that white ground coverings had never been used on the Mall during Inauguration before, when they had been employed in 2013. Two days later, during his first press conference, Spicer blamed the bad Metro numbers on an "outside agency" and stated that his claim about the "largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period," was meant to include all viewership, in person and online, rather than referring to the in-person crowd specifically.

One assertion Spicer made in his initial statement and did not amend, however, is that the National Mall was filled to capacity with spectators from the Capitol to the Washington Monument at the time President Trump took the oath of office. This assertion is not true. These were Spicer’s exact words on Saturday: "We do know a few things, so let's go through the facts. We know that from the platform where the President was sworn in, to 4th Street, it holds about 250,000 people. From 4th Street to the media tent is about another 220,000. And from the media tent to the Washington Monument, another 250,000 people. All of this space was full when the president took the Oath of Office."

Without disputing Spicer’s claims about the total capacity of the area he describes, his summary claim that it was "full when the president took the Oath of Office" is demonstrably false. The following photographs taken by Reuters photographer Lucas Jackson show the mall from the top of the Washington Monument. Enlarging the pictures makes it possible to see video screens with President Trump delivering his inaugural speech, complete with visible captions that help establish the time at which they were taken.

Please note that links to (very large) fullsize versions of these photographs are available in some image captions.

Editor’s note: Some commenters have noticed that the clock face visible on the Smithsonian Tower shows a time of approximately 1:15. I spoke with the Smithsonian’s public affairs office, and they confirmed the clock is currently broken. This can be further seen in two photos (photo 1, photo 2) taken by the same photographer, from the same vantage point, during the Women’s March on the day after the inauguration, January 21. Both photos, obviously not taken in the same instant, show the hands on the clock face in the same 1:15 configuration.

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