Sean Spicer gave a very quick press briefing yesterday that set the media on fire. Why? Because he transparently lied about the size of the inauguration crowds. In case you missed the briefing, it’s viewable here. Some of the most bizarre elements include:
- Highlighting “one particular tweet” as if it was indicative of the media writ large.
- Assailing “any attempts” to count the number of attendees before giving what amounted to incredibly ballpark guesstimates of how many people were likely in attendance at the inauguration.
- Coming up with the incorrect justification that “this was the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings had been used on the national mall” for an inauguration, trying to explain away why the crowds looked thin, when pictures indicate that is false (floor coverings were used for Obama’s second inauguration).
- Comparing (wrongly) the DCMetro commuter volume to Obama’s inauguration, implicitly suggesting it was a better metric to compare the size of their crowds rather than, say, side-by-side pictures comparing the crowds.
- Asserting that “this was the largest audience to witness the inauguration, period,” which was false both with respect to in-person attendance and television viewership.
- Criticizing the media for attempting to “lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration,” as if it is vital for the American people to be enthusiastic about D.C. pomp and circumstance.
- Noting that, when Trump visited the CIA yesterday, he was “greeted by a raucous, overflow crowd of some 400+ CIA employees….They gave him a five-minute standing ovation at the end in a display of their patriotism and their enthusiasm for his presidency,” which sounds more appropriate coming from a tin-pot dictator rather than from media statements by the press secretary of the United States.
- Telling the media what “they should be covering,” which is simply inappropriate coming from the White House (and which, I might add, would have been denounced as tyrannical from many on the right had it come from Josh Earnest during Obama’s tenure).
- Warning the media that “we’re going to hold the press accountable,” as if the White House’s job is to keep tabs on Twitter and the interwebs to make sure reporters are being fair to them.
This all is so trivial that it is stupefying that the press secretary would bother to address and highlight these issues. So why is this important? There are a few takeaways from this “irresponsible and reckless” briefing.
It’s highly doubtful Sean Spicer decided sua sponte to go before the media to patently make things up. He is the President’s public face, and he was almost certainly sent out by the President himself to state these falsehoods. That the administration was so petty here is indicative of the President’s mindset – his first priority in office with respect to the media was to scold them for giving him inadequately fawning press coverage and refusing to make stuff up to bolster his image. This makes sense, as assailing the media was a major modus operandi of Trump’s on the campaign trail. But, for a guy who held himself out as seeking to devolve power from Washington back to the people in his inauguration speech, it appears quite contradictory to focus on stroking his own ego rather than addressing, perhaps, something that actually mattered.
To add insult to injury, given how truly godawful the media has become, all this is doubly troublesome. Many media outlets are repeatedly guilty of engaging in flat-out disinformation and telling lies (usually by omission or “spin”) to advance their skewed agenda. Social media has become little more than an echo chamber where confirmation bias is par for the course. And now the administration is shoveling patent falsehoods in front of the American people (which, unfortunately, is nothing new, lest we forget). It is as if, no matter which way you turn, you are confronted with a flood of factually incorrect information that you have to sift through to ascertain the truth.
As such, it is more imperative than ever that every citizen who bothers to pay attention to the antics afoot in Washington, D.C., on a regular basis educate themselves by reading multiple media sources from different perspectives (e.g., read both the NY Times and the Washington Examiner) to triangulate what the facts are, sans spin. Or find specific individuals on social media who have a reputation as being truly “fair and balanced” (so, not most of the talking heads on Fox News), credible, and reputable, regardless of who or what they are covering. Whichever you choose, be sure also to do your homework to make sure the individual or outlet isn’t totally bogus (overuse of ALL CAPS, hyperbolic adjectives, or exclamation points in headlines are surefire giveaways that the outlet is garbage).
The Framers warned us that the success of our experiment in self-government would largely turn on possessing an informed citizenry. As Thomas Jefferson warned, “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be.” Our civic institutions are failing us in this regard, so it is up to us – you know, “We the People” – to educate and inform ourselves as to what is really going on in our country and the wider world.
One possible silver lining: given the nature of the lies, maybe we can just chalk this incident up to the President’s insecurities over the size of things?