Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, took to the White House briefing room for the first time on Saturday to lash out at news organizations and accuse them of false reporting about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration the day before.
“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the world,” Spicer said. “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”
He took no questions from reporters and he did not say specifically how many people the White House believes attended the inauguration. He said three large sections of the Mall that each held at least 200,000 people were “full when the president took the oath of office.”
He alleged that some photos of the inauguration were “intentionally framed in a way” that minimized the crowd, without providing examples or evidence.
Trump earlier on Saturday, in remarks at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, said that from his vantage point at the podium, “it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there, and they said Donald Trump did not draw well.”
Trump also said parts of the National Mall “all the way back to the Washington Monument” were “packed.”
Photographs of the event clearly showed that the Mall was not full in the sections Spicer described, with dwindling-to-nonexistent crowds near the Smithsonian Institution Building and west toward the Washington Monument. There was also sparse attendance along the parade route from the Capitol to the White House.
No official agency provides estimates of the size of gatherings on the Mall. But photos taken from the same vantage point at about the same time of day show that the crowds were far smaller than for President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, which Washington city officials estimated at 1.8 million people.
Television coverage of Trump’s inauguration reached an average of 30.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media figures reported Saturday by The Hollywood Reporter. By comparison, almost 38 million people watched Obama’s first swearing-in ceremony in 2009 and 41.8 million viewers for Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural, according to data reported by Nielsen. The ratings for Trump, however, don’t account for the increase in alternative methods of watching, such as streaming.
Photographs and data from Washington’s subway system also indicate that Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington, a protest against Trump’s presidency, outdrew the inauguration. Spicer also claimed there was no way to accurately estimate that crowd.
‘President is Watching’
“This is called a statement you’re told to make by the president,” former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Twitter after Spicer’s remarks. “And you know the president is watching.”
Real estate investor Tom Barrack, a close Trump friend who was the chairman of his inaugural committee, said that Trump was disappointed in news coverage of the inauguration, which he regarded as a success. Trump had been told by staff, who Barrack didn’t identify, that attendance was as high as 1.5 million, based on the number of people who used mass transit, the number of hotel rooms sold, and estimates of how many local residents would show up.
“I think he was disappointed this morning at just the point of view,” Barrack said in a phone interview. “These photos shown were deceptively displayed to show a point of view that wasn’t encouraging to a new administration.”
Attacking the coverage in a news briefing “isn’t the approach I would take,” Barrack said, adding, “the president is smarter at this than I.”
Trump and Spicer also criticized a journalist for Time Magazine who on Friday incorrectly reported that a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office. The reporter, Zeke Miller, quickly corrected his report and apologized on Twitter and to news organizations receiving White House pool reports.
Spicer retweeted Miller’s apology Friday evening and said “apology accepted” on Twitter but also chastised the reporter, calling the incident “a reminder of the media danger of tweet first check facts later.” Trump then used time in his speech at the CIA to call out Miller by name and call him “dishonest.”
Spicer criticized Miller again during his statement on Saturday, calling the report on the bust “egregious” and “irresponsible and reckless.”
Barrack said Miller’s report had factored into Trump’s outrage at coverage of the inauguration.
Trump’s thinking, he said, is: “If you are going to hold me accountable, with fact checks on everything I do, I’m going to hold you as equally accountable.”