White House goes to war with the press over dubious claims about crowd sizes

Kellyanne conway
Kellyanne Conway appears for several television interviews in front of the White House. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s top officials stood defiant for a second day in the face of withering media criticism over dubious White House claims about the size of Trump’s inauguration.

During a visit to CIA headquarters in Virginia on Saturday, Trump asserted that there were over a million people at Friday’s inauguration, though independent estimates put the crowd at closer to 250,000 attendees.

There are no official government estimates of the crowd size, but photographic evidence comparing Trump’s inauguration to past inaugurations and metro ridership statistics suggested that the number was far lower than the White House claimed.

But Trump officials refused to admit Trump made factual inaccuracies or exaggerations, instead taking aim at the media.

During a brief appearance Saturday evening, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer criticised some media outlets’ coverage of the inauguration, asserting that Friday’s crowd was the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.”

Top officials also took to the Sunday political talk shows to combat criticism of Trump’s press conference, instead blasting the entire media over an inaccurate Friday report from Time’s Zeke Miller that the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. was removed from the White House. Miller corrected his story within minutes, apologizing to Spicer, who accepted his apology on Twitter.

Chief of Staff Reince Priebus dismissed Fox News anchor Chris Wallace’s question about whether the battle over crowd size would “benefit the American people.”

“It really isn’t about crowd size. What it’s about is honesty in the media,” Priebus said.

He continued: “The media from day one has been talking about delegitimizing the election. Talking about the Russians, talking about everything you can imagine except the fact that we need to move this country forward.

Appearing on “Meet The Press,” Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway similarly deflected questions about Trump’s misstatement by lashing out at Miller, as well as host Chuck Todd for characterising Spicer’s statements as falsehoods.

“If we’re going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms I think that we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here. I want to have a great open relationship with our press. But look what happened the day before talking about falsehoods,” Conway said, referring to Miller.

At times, both Priebus and Conway blamed the media for covering the story at all. 

Speaking with CBS’ John Dickerson on “Face The Nation,” Conway said it was “disappointing to get into this argument about crowd control,” while on Fox News, Priebus falsely claimed that media outlets did not cover the substance of Trump’s remarks at the CIA.

For their part, the journalists appeared frustrated by the Trump team’s obfuscation and denial.

Wallace dubbed the conversation over crowd size “ridiculous,” but continued to insist that having seen the crowds from the National Mall, they were far smaller than the president and Priebus claimed.

“I was there, I was there on the mall,” Wallace said, adding moments later. “I’m telling you, there were huge, empty areas there.”

Todd was even more blunt, saying he was “befuddled” that the administration was arguing over falsehoods and criticising the media writ-large for Miller’s hastily corrected inaccurate report.

After Conway repeatedly refused to concede that the inauguration crowd size was smaller than the administration claimed, Todd admonished the adviser for characterising the falsehoods as “alternative facts.”

“I’m sitting here trying to answer basic questions and you’re trying to attack me with some weird Twitter feed you guys are obsessed with,” Todd said.

Other media figures also expressed alarm at the White House’s claims. 

Spicer’s briefing was harshly criticised by some past White House press secretaries from former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s administrations.


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