President Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer, making his first statement in the White House briefing room, slammed the news media on Saturday for trying to “lessen the enthusiasm” of Trump’s inauguration through reporting on crowd size and a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Oval Office.
In a combative tone, Spicer insisted that Trump’s swearing in was “the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the world.”
But overhead photos clearly show that the crowds did not match Barack Obama’s 2009 swearing in, when an estimated 1.8 million people attended. Ratings also were lower for Trump’s swearing in than they were in 2009. And Metro ridership in Washington also was lower.
Trump’s team scheduled the press statement late on Saturday afternoon, after news networks spent much of the day covering the Women’s March on Washington and in other cities around the world. Organizers reported that the turnout was much larger than expected, with a flood of people packing the mall and streets around it, as well as in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue, Chicago in Grant Park, and Los Angeles in Pershing Square and at City Hall.
Spicer challenged press accounts that compared the size of the crowd on the National Mall for Trump’s inaugural to the numbers who showed up for Barack Obama’s swearing-in in 2009.
Spicer claimed some of the media was engaged in “deliberately false reporting.”
Trump himself claimed that the crowds stretched to the Washington Monument, complaining in a speech at the CIA on Saturday that the media was showing photos of empty spaces on the mall and that “it looked like a million, a million and a half people.”
He said that he has a “running war with the media.”
Still, photos from the two inaugurations show that, with some gaps, crowds stretched to the Washington Monument in 2009, while that was not the case this year. The photos were each taken from the same vantage point — atop the monument itself. Spicer had claimed that in some media accounts, photos were “framed in a way” to minimize the crowd size.
Spicer contended that security officials were more aggressive in their use of metal detectors, keeping more spectators from witnessing the ceremony.
There is no official estimate of crowd size from the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the National Mall. Some media outlets reported on an unofficial estimate that put the size at 250,000, and a number of media outlets reported that the size of the crowd for Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington at 500,000.
Spicer said that in fact “no one had numbers” of crowd size, but he suggested that should be taken into account when reporting on the Women’s March. Spicer claimed that “we are going to hold the press accountable as well.” His first official briefing is scheduled for Monday.
Spicer also took issue with a report on Friday that Trump had a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. removed from the Oval Office. Several reporters tweeted it out, based on a pool report. But the pool reporter, Zeke Miller, initially didn’t see the bust as he was in the Oval Office on Friday, and later sent out a correction.
Earlier in the day, Trump, in his visit to the CIA, told an audience that the media “sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. And just want to let you know that the reason you’re the No. 1 stop is exactly the opposite.” He made the comment while standing at the CIA Memorial Wall to honor fallen personnel.
In fact, Trump was upset over the leak of intelligence information about Russia’s role in U.S. election, and tweeted on Jan. 11, “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
The reaction to Spicer’s press conference and Trump’s media attacks, coming on the first day of the new administration, drew words of astonishment from White House correspondents and TV anchors.
Chuck Todd of NBC News tweeted, “I’ve run out of adjectives.” CNN’s Jim Sciutto tweeted, “In the hierarchy of inaccuracies today inauguration crowd size is distant 2nd to President’s claim media created his feud w/Intel agencies.
“Forget crowd estimates. What happens when the numbers actually matter? US troops killed, terror cells ID’d, North Korean missiles fired?”
Ari Fleischer, press secretary under President George W. Bush, said via Twitter, “This is called a statement you’re told to make by the President. And you know the President is watching.”