White House claims largest crowd size in history, despite evidence to the contrary

In striking comments, White House press secretary Sean Spicer used his first official statement on Saturday to castigate the media for what he claimed was “deliberately false reporting,” including reporting on the attendance at President Trump’s inauguration.

Spicer was particularly incensed about photos shared on social media by members of the press comparing the crowd at Trump’s ceremony with those at inaugurations past.

A number of reporters posted side-by-side photographs of the crowds amassed for the inauguration of Trump on Friday and for Barack Obama eight years before. Trump is famously focused on the size of his crowds, and he commented regularly on the attendance at his rallies during his campaign.

“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,” Spicer said.

It wasn’t clear which tweet he was referring to, but this was one of the most widely shared crowd comparison shots on Friday:

Despite the clear visual difference between the two inauguration crowds, Spicer declared that Trump had the largest crowd size in history.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe,” he said. “Even the New York Times printed a photograph … in their paper, which showed the full extent of the support, depth, and crowd and intensity that existed. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”

Though official numbers don’t exist, the Washington, D.C., Metro service reported that fewer train trips were taken by 11 a.m. for the 2017 inauguration than for either Obama’s in 2009 or George W. Bush’s in 2005. The inaugural address is at noon.

According to estimates compiled by PolitiFact, Obama’s 2013 inauguration drew 1 million people and his 2009 inauguration drew 1.8 million. The fact-checking service also pegged Bush’s 2005 inauguration at 400,000 people and his 2001 event at 300,000. PolitiFact agreed that photos of Trump’s ceremony “seem to show it was fewer people than for Barack Obama’s two inaugurations.”

Spicer also pointed to multiple factors that either made Trump’s crowd size appear less impressive or prevented people from filling in as quickly as they had during previous inaugurations.

“This was the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings had been used to protect the grass on the mall. That had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not standing, while in years past, the grass eliminated this visual,” he said. “This was also the first time that fencing and magnetometer went as far back on the [mall], preventing hundreds of thousands of people from being able to access the mall as quickly as they had in inaugurations past.”

Spicer also pointed out that the National Park Service does not provide official inauguration attendance numbers. “Inaccurate numbers involving crowd size were also tweeted. No one had numbers because the National Park Service, which controls the National Mall, does not put any out,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Trump held an event at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., at which he also ripped the media for downplaying his inaugural crowd size. Though an official crowd size estimate does not exist, Trump boldly suggested that a million or a million and half people had gathered for his inauguration.

Both Trump and Spicer also criticized the media for reporting Friday that Trump had removed Martin Luther King Jr.’s bust from the Oval Office and replaced it with one of Winston Churchill. The White House pool reporter at the time apologized for initially saying the civil rights icon’s bust, placed there by Obama, had been replaced. Both busts are apparently in Trump’s Oval Office.

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