“Inaccurate numbers involving crowd size were also tweeted,” Spicer continued, because the NPS did not count. (My colleague Robinson Meyer explained how crowd counts at events like the inauguration come about.) He incorrectly characterized ridership statistics provided by WMATA, D.C.’s transit authority.
Then came the big whopper: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period—both in person and around the globe.”
Spicer’s statement required dismissing all available evidence: ridership count, eyewitness testimony, independent crowd-counts, and Nielsen television ratings. Spicer cut his teeth at the Republican National Committee as the combative voice of a body often at odds with the media, but even by those standards, his furious insistence on assertions at odds with the evidence were peculiar.
They are, however, emerging as a hallmark of the administration. For days ahead of the inauguration, Trump aides insisted that the president-elect was writing his own inaugural address, without the aid of speechwriters. They went so far as to stage a photograph that purported to show him writing the speech—though the image showed Trump wielding a Sharpie, and some internet sleuths speculated that the desk he was using is typically used as a reception desk at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
On Friday, however, The Wall Street Journal reported, “Much of the speech was written by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, two of Mr. Trump’s top advisers, a White House official said.” Why mislead the public about who wrote the speech? After all, the news that Miller would be assisting in writing the address had emerged days ago, and there’s certainly no shame in a president employing speechwriters, nor has the practice dimmed positive reception for past presidential addresses.
Ahead of the inauguration, Trump threw a concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial. “This started out tonight being a small little concert, and then we had the idea maybe we’ll do it in front of the Lincoln Memorial,” Trump said in brief remarks. “I don’t know if it’s ever been done before. But if it has, very seldom.” That claim was also ridiculous, whether it was intentionally misleading or simply badly misinformed. There was a huge, widely covered concert at the memorial to kick off Obama’s inauguration festivities eight years ago.
These are only three examples of Trump and his aides offering statements that are not only provably false, but easily checked. (There are plenty more where they came from, like Trump’s claim that Russian hacking was not brought up before the election.)
There was a brief skirmish within the journalism world around the new year, when Wall Street Journal editor Gerry Baker professed wariness about how some of Trump’s statements had been labeled. “I’d be careful about using the word ‘lie.’ ‘Lie’ implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead,” he said. Baker took some heat for that statement in some more progressive parts of the press, but his distinction is real and important.