The ridership on the day of Obama’s 2013 inaugural was 782,000, compared to 570,557 for Trump’s; there were 1.1 million rides on Metro on the day of Obama’s first inaugural in 2009. It was less Spicer’s incorrect numbers, though, than his demand that reporters disbelieve what they had seen with their own eyes, that sparked a backlash.
Spin, obfuscation, eliding context, or even lying by omission––these are normal acts of dishonesty expected from political spokespeople. It is the job of press secretaries to put a gloss on the facts that makes their boss look good. In administrations run by both parties, this has sometimes turned into outright lying or dishonesty.
Spicer’s behavior however, was so different in degree so as to be different in kind––he was demanding that reporters report that 2+2 =5, and chastising them for failing to do so. He was not merely arguing for a different interpretation of the facts, he was denying objective reality. Both Spicer and the mainstream press used that first encounter to establish the ground rules of their relationship, drawing lines for what each would allow the other to get away with.
But any suggestion that the Trump administration’s reliance on, in Conway’s coinage, “alternative facts,” would lead to the mainstream press adopting a more permanent adversarial approach to the White House dissipated the next day, as Spicer drew rave reviews for repeating many of the same lies he offered on Saturday, along with new ones, simply because he did so without yelling.
Consider: Spicer insisted that the WMATA numbers were correct based on what we “knew at the time,” but WMATA’s public statements on the day of the inauguration about ridership at 11 AM made it clear that Trump’s inauguration crowd was smaller than Obama’s two inaugurations.
Spicer went on to repeat his lie from Saturday about crowd size, then insisted that he was talking about online viewership numbers, while misstating those as well. He suggested that he’d been referring to the online viewership combined with the in-person crowds and not both. “Again I didn't say in person,” he said. “Both in person and around the globe, to witness it.” But that claim was belied by his attack on the press on Saturday for insisting that “photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.”
Later, Spicer repeated his attack on a reporter for misreporting that a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the White House, and then mischaracterized an apology he had previously publicly accepted.
SPICER: I think you guys might want to leave before I do. But look, I want to make sure that we have a healthy relationship. We saw the other day that -- and I'm not trying to rehash history, but you're asking the question so I'm going to answer it. You know, we had a Tweet go out about Martin Luther King.
Think about how racially charged that is. And someone rushes out and says to the entire press corps that the president of the United States has removed the bust from his office. Do you -- I mean, think about what the signal -- hold on, please.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIC) and apologized?
SPICER: No, no. He actually apologized to "my colleagues." That's the exact quote. OK? That quote, that report got Tweeted out around. And to report -- where was the apology to the president of the United States? Where was the apology to millions of people who read that and thought how racially insensitive that was? Where was that apology?
Both the reporter’s apology and Spicer’s acceptance of that apology remain visible on Twitter. Spicer apparently believes he is entitled to bring the full force of White House condemnation upon a reporter for a mistake for which he apologized, but despite being a public employee, declined to apologize for lying to the American people himself.