How big was the crowd at Trump’s Inauguration?
Bear with me. I wasted waaay too much time on this study. But the results are significant.
This is a teachable moment. What happens when literally everybody is lying, and the matter is quite difficult to verify to begin with?
Ideally, you’d expect people to notice and demand better standards from politicians and journalists, but no.
The two sides just choose the narrative they like, then run with it.
Eventually the public moves on. But I’m not. I waited a few days to see if someone came up with a decent article on the subject, in vain.
See, the topic itself isn’t that important. The implications about how people treat each other and their relationship with the truth are.
This is the story of 1 hard fact, 1 mistake and 7 deceptions.
The image opening this article pits two Inaugurations one against the other: Obama’s 2009 speech vs. Trump’s.
You must admit they look pretty similar!
In 2009, reportedly 1.8 million people attended. I’ve seen at least one source that claimed it was 2 million.
Let’s see what Trump had to say. Keep in mind the photos above and consider the optics: from the podium the impact is even more impressive than from where the camera was placed. Imagine how you’d feel in Trump’s shoes. Especially if you were a narcissist who dreamt for that moment for 3 decades.
Our starting point is that 1.8 million supporters allegedly acclaiming Obama in 2009. Here’s a transcript of Trump’s words, commenting how the Inauguration was covered on TV:
I turned on one of the networks and they showed… an empty field… I said: wait a minute! I made a speech. I looked out, the field was… it looked like a million, a million and a half people…
[…] Honestly it looked like a 1,500,000 people! Whatever it was, it was. But it went all the way back to the Washington Monument… And I turned on (the TV) and by mistake I get this network *laughter from the audience* …and it showed an empty field, and it said we drew 250,000 people.
Now that’s not bad, but it’s a lie. We had 250,000 people literally around, you know, that little ball that we constructed, that was 250,000 people!
The President has been attacked and ridiculed for these remarks. As a predictable reaction, he must have been fuming, so he instructed his team (Spicer & Conway) to double down on his assertions. Spicer wisely decided to focus on the international audiences: the number of people watching the ceremony online or on TV surely must be unprecedented for this type of event, albeit hard to measure. A LOT more devices are connected now; beyond that IMHO his election was followed more closely and elicited more international interest.
Anyway, Trump and his cabinet were then further ridiculed and depicted as dilettantes shamelessly pretending to come up with a fake reality based on “alternative facts”. We’ll see how this is not the case.
The problem is, Trump was wrong. But it was a honest mistake. Notice how he’s both building on a commonly held truth, the 1.8 million Obama crowd, and giving a version of what he saw that is subjectively reasonable, very personal and direct. This is the opposite of the usual political spin.
His starting point is that the tickets for the area closer to the Capitol were 250,000, so the assessment of a grand total of 250,000, based on what he knew, not only had to be inaccurate, but also a shameless lie.
1 Mistake. Trump got mad at the media for a 250K figure that is actually not far from the mark, yet seemed implausible.
1 Hard truth. Crowds are very difficult to size up. They also look way bigger than they are, if seen from a low visual angle. Pictures shot from above tell a completely different story.
Media deception #1. Crowd sizes at rallies are massively overstated. Every single time! And the media choose to cover for the organizers and their lies, if they represent a leftist entity.
Media deception #2. The widely circulated Trump Inauguration attendance photo was perfect to make his support appear thinner than it was.
Media deception #3. Initially, they pitted a very conservative estimate of 2017 T.I. presence against a wildly exaggerated 2009 O.I. figure.
Media deception #4. After Trump tried to defend his false impression, thus involuntarily inflating the numbers precisely as the media shiftily did with Obama in 2009 (!), they pushed hard to create the false impression that he and his team were guilty of spreading bold lies, single-handedly creating a new phenomenon: politicians clinging to imaginary “facts” (see #1).
Media deception #5. After the Trump-shaming effect had been obtained, most outlets refrained from actually trying to size up the attendance (dropping the 250K initial remark), so they stated or implied that they were willing to concede that it was several hundred thousand (bigger than it was in reality!) in order to cover for the 2009 1.8 million lie.
Media deception #6. By making people fixate on the size of rallies and public demonstrations, they are shifting the political discourse to where the left is stronger, through a mob culture that prioritizes the grievances of those who scream louder over substantial and rational arguments. Thanks also to well funded activists and astroturfing.
Media deception #7. The Trump team was mad at the media for demonstrably creating fake news stories to hurt Trump’s image, including the fresh false story of Trump removing MLK’s bust from the White House. The way the journalists played their hand, shifting the narrative to the tricky attendance topic, they managed to cover their shortcomings and once again go on offense, effectively provoking their sworn enemy. And predictably winning the argument.
Long story short, the widely circulated yet preposterous “1.8 million” figure from the 2009 ceremony has been exaggerated almost 4-fold; the actual ballpark would be around 500 thousand, possibly less. Trump’s crowd should have been around 3/5 of that, close to the 300 thousand mark and also not far from Obama’s fake “1 million” 2012 Inauguration.
Which is not bad, considering that such events traditionally see many more Democrats participating.
A closer look
The only noticeable difference between the two photos seems actually in favor of Trump: if you look closely, there’s a significant group of people behind the
phallic symbol Peace Monument (the white thingy on the top right) occupying most of Pennsylvania Avenue NW to the intersection with 3rd Street. I’d say this space could accommodate 1-2 thousand people.
Based on the CNN gigapixel image (T) and the aerial you’ll find down here (O), I’d say there were significantly more people in 2017 standing between the Reflecting Pond and 3rd St; maybe a 2-3 thousand more. But in 2009 photos there are more people closer to the Pond and in front of it: there’s even people seated on top of Ulysses S. Grant Monument! It seems the two groups are comparable. To the opposite side of 3rd Street a group in Maryland Avenue SW of about 1000 seems just to roughly correspond to another group that in 2009 was positioned differently. But it’s likely that the whole occupancy of the left side of the photo is in Obama’s favor, thus compensating the Pennsylvania Avenue advantage.
All in all, the “ticket area” closer to the Capitol (allegedly containing 250K people) seems quite similar, you couldn’t tell if there’s any “Obama advantage” and if there is, it must be insignificant.
The thing is, due to security reasons the 250K figure has to be realistic.
In both ceremonies there may be some room left (some people may just have decided to stay outside of the perimeter), but I’d say it couldn’t be more than 10 thousand in both cases, since there’s a significant incentive in “being there” and the place looks pretty full.
But enough about the foreground. Let’s examine the scene from the opposite angle. A Reuters photographer climbed on the obelisk (Washington Monument) to gift us with a better view.
Here’s the side by side comparison that made the rounds on the world media. A seemingly embarrassing defeat: a few people showing up for Trump, a huge crowd for Obama. That’s how this story was sold.
There’s so much win in this photo for the D camp, that most people were either laughing “case closed” or grasping at straws to try and find some silver lining, some retort.
The most obvious objection was: this must be from earlier in the morning, when most people weren’t even there yet.
First things first: it’s no big deal
People shouldn’t be surprised to discover that Democrats participate to mass events in way larger numbers: there’s a long tradition of mass protests and demonstrations from the left.
Republicans individually deciding to take a day off to come to a pretty uneventful event just to be able to proudly claim “I was there, I supported the President” couldn’t compete with community organizers bussing people around, often with expenses paid.
Distance is a factor too. After all this is Washington DC, where as I highlighted discussing the election results, 91% voted for Hillary, only 4% for Donald; the entire region is filled with faithful Democrats that lean left, in no small part due to their making a living thanks to the federal bureaucracy (directly or indirectly).
Attendance to this ceremony would be a pretty uninteresting subject, if it weren’t for the media shouting: “Look! Look! Here’s how Trump is totally lacking support! Very few people there! Now watch and see how they are lying about it. They lied again!”
Truth is hard. I was wrong too.
Things didn’t seem to add up. The contrast between the images is so stark that you expect to find a different explanation.
Initially I came to think that some trick with the timing of the photo could explain part of the problem. But only part of it: they wouldn’t risk being caught red-handed with an obvious deception, I thought.
There were many anecdotal reports of people giving up on entering due to the long queues and/or being confronted by protesters.
This was to be expected: DC authorities and their minions have a political axe to grind in cases like this. But this kind of inconveniences shouldn’t have a significant effect on totals.
Then I came across the photo sets shared by this guy on Twitter:
Truth. The “couldn’t get into the Trump rally crowd” covered half the slope of the Washington Monument this time. pic.twitter.com/sydAicwgOc
— Tyrannocankles rex (@Tyrannocankles) 20 gennaio 2017
My obvious reaction: it’s unthinkable for so many people to gather that far away, around the obelisk, when there’s so much empty space right smack in the middle of the Mall! It didn’t seem to make sense.
I was wrong. Even during Obama’s Inauguration, thousands converged there. Plus, we know from Tyrannocankles testimony that the authorities actually routed a lot of people there.
Turns out all that empty white space was indeed left empty, and part of the reason was the decision to put thousands of people outside of the Mall, where no media entity would acknowledge their presence. They were literally left out of the picture.
This video shows that the peak attendance in the Mall was possibly slightly higher than what was presented in the Reuters photo, shot when Trump took the Oath. A few hundred people arrived only after that. If you look closely, you could actually tell that there were still people coming even while others were already leaving. This would confirm the various accounts lamenting obstructionism from the City of Washington.
And yet it’s immaterial: the numbers are small.
But notice: a few outlets like the New York Times and Snopes decided to present a starker contrast by indeed using an earlier picture!
This is quite clever yet devious: by contrasting 2 pictures, both shot 45 minutes before the central moment, they can claim they were comparing apples to apples. But in 2009 45 minutes made no difference, while in 2017 the difference is quite visible because probably 10% of the people in the Mall, almost all of them in the foreground, weren’t there yet. Here’s the tricky part: since the perception of a mostly empty Mall has already being established in the public consciousness, this schtick is adding icing on the cake, reinforcing the message; yet, if you tried to counter it, you’d be laughed at, because in a us-vs.-them confrontation, everyone is assumed to be 100% partisan, and there’s no room for objectivity. No room for nuances, clarifications, an honest assessment of the dishonesty of the side that “won anyway”.
When there’s literally thousands of journalists, activists and fact-checkers hard at work to undermine their adversary in any possible way, the compound result contains lots of small deceptions; you can’t unpack them all, so the general impression is preserved even when you do your best to get the record straight on a couple of items.
I wanted to better understand the magnitude of the crowd during Obama’s speech. Let’s say I had a hunch. What follows is the account of what emerged after too much time wasted searching the reticent Internet for answers and squinting at blocky photos.
The following 2009 aerial photo was taken just 5 minutes before Barack Obama got on stage. Notice how the shadows to the left of trees and buildings are pretty long. This means a single person looks like a segment, and a sparse group of people looks packed. Nonetheless, the Mall itself looks surprisingly empty. That’s how tricky these things are.
I had to check and recheck the photos. You just have a hard time believing your eyes. From the Washington Monument, the entire lawn area seems packed, safe for a few patches here and there; and there’s people under the trees too. But the satellite image tells another story.
The cloud cover prevented satellites from taking an equivalent picture on January 20th 2017.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence
From the first photo comparison to the second there’s one crucial detail that changed: angle. The grass is always greener when seen from the side.
From the second comparison to the satellite image, the same principle applies! That’s how reality happens to surprise us.
The Mall can be divided in squarish sections of 180 by 160 meters. From top to bottom, the 1st and 2nd one are probably 1/3 filled, but you can see that the 3rd is almost empty. Another 4 large groups occupy the remaining sections.
But how packed are they, actually?
The shape of the groups is determined by the presence of jumbotrons, the large video panels that represent the only means for bystanders to watch the ceremony.
Now look again at the 3rd sparse gathering. Maybe the 3rd screen wasn’t functioning properly? The small group of a few hundred people stationing there is clearly shaped by the visual angle. They don’t seem to need to stay close together to warm up each other either. There’s a lot of free space but people couldn’t be bothered to move from the 2nd group, which is a short walk away (and they had lots of time to spend there). This means the bigger group wasn’t very dense, otherwise most human beings would feel more comfortable moving to the emptier patch. Would you stand for hours at less than arm’s length from strangers when there’s plenty of free space available?
Notice also how despite the low resolution, the terrain under the groups is partially visible. Too bad they didn’t put the white tiles like this year.
People under trees: consider how even in winter the branches become an annoyance if you want to look directly at a screen: thus despite the blobby shape of the “anthills” you see on the satellite photo, it stands to reason that the groups were significantly less dense there.
Now let’s take as a reference this old article from the WSJ. It dealt with a polemic regarding the One Million Men March: an event involving “only” 400,000 people according to the United States Park Police (a subsequent estimate was offered of more than 800,000). I’d say the former figure may be a bit off because, contrary to what happens during an Inauguration, people were all over the place, including the adjacent streets: this complicates the estimates. I’d also surmise the latter may have been a little inflated for political reasons.
Here’s a computer generated image taken from said article, simulating a dense crowd of 1 million people occupying the Mall. Look how far the red stripe goes: you’d need to be able to find people standing even on the waters of the Potomac River…
Make no mistake: a packed Mall, with only 4 square feet per person on average (which is what you could typically get in a concert, with slightly less than 2 sq.ft. per person only in the first few rows closer to the stage) could accommodate less than 400,000 people.
Here instead we are talking of groups occupying only parts of it!
How could they possibly come up with a 1.8 million figure? Since we are leaving out some 250,000 spectators closer to the Capitol, we’d still need to accomodate more than 1.5 million people, i.e. this red stripe PLUS another half of it!
The origin of the 1.8 million lie
I found a source: voteforamerica.net. The whole endeavor is so asinine it’s actually funny. Bear with me. This guy basically circled all the areas in the aerial photo that he declared occupied by people (based on his impression), then calculated their surface and multiplied the total area by a factor meant to represent crowd density.
That’s how he got to a total of 2,365,000 sq.ft. (actually it’s 2.5 million).
Now, first of all some areas are almost empty; even if it’s true that he failed to spot a few small clumps of people, his borders are far too generous. The areas marked 1 and 4 contain only trees (okay, maybe 5 or 6 loners sitting there), yet in his calculations they represent 18500 people…
The most important mistake he made: he used a figure for crowd density that was meant for security simulations, for the assessment of the risks of congestions or contra-flows during evacuations. In other words, he arbitrarily put in every single area he circled, regardless of density, the highest possible number, i.e. people had to be packed as tight as possible (Japanese Train Style)…
I don’t want to pick on this TJHalva from Voteforamerica. He’s probably a dilettante like I am. But this ridiculous number was picked up by all the usual suspect in the media; it served the correct narrative and they happily ran with it. Reinforcing the impression of a historical moment, a gigantic popular support, unprecedented everything. Which it was, of course; they simply had to overdo it…
In more recent articles some media outlets quietly corrected the figure, taking it down to 1 million (which is still ludicrous and unjustified, BTW).
But here’s the shameless part: when it became expedient again to inflate Obama’s numbers to better crush Trump’s supporters, swarms of media entities switched back to the 1.8 million preposterous projection!
Talk about double standards. After 8 years, they are still pushing an obvious lie, based on high-school grade research. But for Trump’s numbers the herd came charging and sneering from day one, with a roaring thunder of triumphant contempt.
I carefully examined the larger version of the satellite photo and the Voteforamerica circled areas, to determine a reasonable crowd density for each numbered area; I put the numbers in a spreadsheet to calculate the sizes of the groups standing on each area.
To estimate the attendance at Trump’s Inauguration there were less ideal options. For the Mall I had to rely on the high resolution photo from the Washington Monument; I extrapolated a ballpark figure based on the approximate number of rows of people on the x and y axes for each sector. I had a hard time trying to count heads, because even at the maximum resolution you deal with blobs of pixels.
For the Washington Monument I could only find the Tyrannocankles photo set; in my conservative approach in the Obama case I estimated two large groups stationing there, of 40-45 thousand people each, while for Trump I just considered a single gathering of 15-30 thousand.
Remember: the reliability of my claim is quite limited because I had to extrapolate from a few unsatisfactory images; more accurate estimates could prove me wrong.
On the other hand this approach is at least producing a reasonable result, that should be not far off from the mark, and crucially, more credible than the figures touted by media outlets that could employ far more resources than me.
You may notice the numbers don’t add up: there’s no point in pretending to express a result with more than 1 significant figure.
Still, the Trump figure may be within a 10% range: most of it is based on the ticket area closer to the Capitol. If anything, though, the attendance could have fallen a little short. I really don’t see a reasonable way for someone to claim it’s less than 270,000 or more than 320,000.
The Obama total could be associated with more uncertainty; I may have introduced some bias on my own, plus the crowd that needs to be estimated is quite large. Still, I’m confident the 2009 crowd couldn’t be less than 400,000 people, and I think it’s quite difficult to try and argue that it could have reached 600,000.
Now you may understand the scope of Media deception #2
From the Capitol, the perspective gives you a false impression, the crowds appear quite similar.
A TIE: 250+distant crowd, 250+distant crowd
But from the top of the Washington Monument the least populated areas are in the foreground: any difference in crowd size is greatly inflated.
A CRUSHING 5-TO-1 DEFEAT: 25+distant crowd, 125+distant crowd
It’s not easy to size up this misperception because the almost empty foreground for the 2017 Inauguration carries so much weight.
Most people would probably see it more like a 10-to-1, without being able to express this impression consciously. That’s how you were sold the subtle illusion that Trump was a loser, even though the day itself was a celebration of his triumph.
Remember: the actual ratio is about 3-TO-5, which, as I said, is reasonable considering the demographic factors involved, and shouldn’t be misconstrued as a measurement of legitimacy or actual popular support among voters.
What about 2013?
I had a hard time finding photos for Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Ceremony.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but both the Washington Post and Breitbart articles seem to have lost some valuable material, including aerial photos. The WaPo page doesn’t seem to work correctly, but maybe it’s me… The Breitbart 2009-2013 comparison contained a photo that was still visible in Google’s cache (but it was really blurry) the first time I checked: this may mean it was removed very recently.
Well, as the late Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti used to say: “A pensar male si fa peccato, ma ci si azzecca” (If you think badly of someone, it may be a sin, but you get it right).
My impression is that Obama’s 2013 was of course larger than Trump’s 2017, but not by a mile… I could speculate it was around 350,000, certainly not much more than that: the “1 million people” narrative becomes ludicrous. Again.
On the other hand, a right-wing magazine like Breitbart may feel a little embarrassed when their 2013 photo from the most unforgiving angle shows a lot of empty space, and they were pounding on Democrats for that, but now it’s 2017 and the roles are reversed, plus Trump’s crowd is visibly smaller…
See why I said everybody here is twisting the truth?
A 2013 Mall photo shows plenty of empty space → Democrats: “Don’t show it”
…but it’s still more than Trump’s crowd → Republicans: “Don’t show it”
Clinton 1993: the leftist media like Vox or Snopes take for granted that in that occasion the attendance was around 800,000! The few images I could find suggest that there were probably less people in attendance than in 2017.
Even more so the images for Bush 2005 suggest a smaller audience.
Let that sink in. Clinton’s 800K were probably less than Trump’s 300K.
Notice: this is not about popularity, because 1993 is really another era, it would be apples to oranges. This is about media bias.
A rough counter-check.
Metro ridership figures tell us an interesting story. You see, without assuming some shenanigans from the city’s authorities on the numbers reported, reading the data differently actually undermines the triumphant proclaims from the liberal media.
According to the NYT, a tad more than 570 thousand trips were taken in occasion of the Inauguration; more than 1 million the next day for the Women’s March against Trump; and some unspecified number, but slightly larger, during Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
In other words, the difference between the “500 thousand/1 million” Women’s March and Obama’s “1.8 million” is immaterial.
If you split those numbers in half, you get an estimate of the passengers involved (assuming a typical round trip): respectively 285, 500 and 550 thousand.
But consider: even if it’s true that you can expect a baseline of metro riders who had nothing to do with the ceremony, there’s also a baseline of people who got there without taking the metro. I may suggest under reasonable assumptions that some 20 thousand people came to the Amtrak Union Station and walked from there to the ceremony. Others certainly took advantage of the city buses and taxis, plus of course Uber, which wasn’t a factor in prior events. In other words, the sum total of other means of transportation used to get to the Inauguration, minus unrelated metro trips, could be in the ballpark of 20 thousand, bringing the total for Trump, again, in the vicinity of 300,000.
But since those services reach saturation pretty quickly, their contribution during bigger events couldn’t increase anyway. 280 then becomes 300, 510 becomes 530. Margins of error should be larger than that!
This isn’t so much a way to measure attendance as it is a coarse method to check a certain reconstruction’s credibility. And it works satisfactorily.
Some more Media Deceptions™
I already noted how the NYT and Snopes used minor tricks to prove their point.
One of the first results that came up when looking on Google for articles on the subject of crowd size at the Inauguration was this page from Inquisitr, a website I never heard of before.
After showing the infamous comparison where the Trump crowd is not at peak (but marginally so, as I said earlier) they take for granted an estimated attendance of 700 to 900 thousand people (!), so that their argument (and the title of the article) becomes:
President Obama Had About One Million More People Than President Trump’s #Inauguration Crowd
See? It’s so silly it’s not even funny. They are willing to concede an implausibly large crowd for Trump (based on expectations before the event), in order to defend the claim that there were 1.8 million people in 2009!
Now, let’s touch on an elusive subject: the amount of buses parked in Washington for the event.
This Inquisitr mentions
about 10,000 charter buses that requested permits on President Obama’s big day in comparison to only 200 buses that applied for permits for President Trump’s swearing-in ceremony
Mmmmhhhh… 10 thousand is a suspiciously round number, sounds more like a rough estimate. Possibly a generous one.
Problem is, for the 2017 Inauguration the 200 buses figure is already present in articles written on January 12th: that’s a partial figure, not necessarily for the entire town, for the requests already filed more than 1 week before the event!
Sloppy or deceptive?
Here the Washington Post presents the same 200 buses figure, again with great emphasis in the title of the article; the comparison is made with the Women’s march, where a whopping 1200 had already been requested…
All those figures come from a local politician. Lots of other newspapers and websites reported the same piece of news.
At least we get to know that those reservations were just for parking permits at RFK Stadium, and not for the entire metro area.
Here’s a local news source quietly reporting:
Councilmember Charles Allen told News4 on Wednesday that about 200 permits were requested for the inauguration on Friday, Jan. 20. The city has received about 1,800 permits for the following day, Jan. 21, when thousands are expected to attend the Women’s March on Washington in protest of President-elect Donald Trump.
As of Thursday afternoon, 393 permits were issued for Inauguration Day and more than 1,200 for the march.
Ok, I get it. On Wednesday 11 the buses were respectively 200 and 1800; in just one day, the Trump buses essentially doubled to 400, while the Women’s March buses decreased by 1/3, to 1200. Sounds legit.
But wait! Here’s Buzzfeed telling us that the actual figures for January 12th are: Trump Inaug. 393, W.March 1200, Obama 2013 900…
Oh, I see.
Now the same Democratic councilmember happens to be the source also for this article: Trump Inaug. 393, W.March 1300, Obama 2009 1200, Obama 2013 900…
So, it’s not 10,000 vs. 200; it’s more like 1200 vs. 393, and crucially based on partial data, relative to a single location.
Finally, Vox here takes the Washington Post figures and implies they are final!
The 200 buses meme means nothing, it’s been reported in many different ways and at best it represents an earlier figure, despite the Washington Post explicitly saying it was given to them on the same day when many other news outlets, quoting the same source, were reporting a number that was twice that.
Of course, you could say, even though reporters were incorrect, vague AND deceptive, at a certain moment at RFK Stadium there were still 3 times more reservations for the Women’s March on the 12th than for the Inauguration.
I think it’s safe to say that it implies there were more people at the march, but it’s really too indirect, both in terms of space and time, to give any indication of the relative sizes. Not to mention the unreliable nature of the sources (who were basing their data on a Democrat politician) and the fact that the reservations for Trump doubled in just one day, if we have to believe them.
But of course, I’m pretty certain that there were significantly more people at the march; I’d say between 400 to 500 thousand, while as I said the Inauguration saw about 300 thousand people. So?
Groups of leftist protesters are normally expected to be more numerous than people wanting to celebrate Trump in DC. Who’s surprised by that?
“Alternative facts”: Kellyanne Conway’s incident, facing insufferable media constructs
I’ve been observing leftists for many years (across the globe!), and they are quite predictable in their behavior. If their sworn adversary scores, they absolutely, desperately need an even bigger unfavorable story to negate his victory, to drown the positive buzz under a torrent of disparaging reports. In this case, to overshadow a Presidential Inauguration the ideal counter-narrative lied in exploiting the expected difference in crowd sizes.
BONUS: when the Trump team took the bait, refusing to accept a very low estimate of the attendance, the media could double down accusing them of being bold-faced liars, capable of inventing the concept of “alternative facts” to cover for their lies: after all, they’re catering to Louisiana swamps ignoramuses, gun-toting rednecks and clueless white racists who couldn’t bother to listen to experts anyway.
Media deception #4. As we saw, attendance figures are routinely inflated, all the time. But the same reporters and pundits who wouldn’t dare challenge any ludicrous estimate benefiting Obama and the Democrats, this time (with Trump) were seeing blood.
But let’s see how the facts really unfolded. This is about an interview with Chuck Todd on January 22. Here the Washington Post provides even a transcript, albeit to build a case against Conway.
You may think over-analyzing this old incident isn’t worth it, but it’s actually a case study of how optics could transform a reasonable person using diplomacy into a sort of Patron Saint of Crude Liars.
The racism smear
On that day another story was being discussed, and it was a close-and-shut case of anti-Trump shameless deception.
Time reporter Zeke Miller wrote that a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the White House. This was a totally fake piece of news, beyond dispute (allegedly just a honest mistake, due to Miller not caring to take a good look to see if the bust was there, go figure).
You see, with the big names going apoplectic day in and day out over anything done by (or attributed to) Trump, millions of people hallucinating over the election of the Next Hitler as US President (some of which felt justified in committing acts of vandalism to “protest”), and the meme of Trump being obviously a racist snugly implanted in people’s heads, a completely baseless story about him not even wanting to see the image of the most admirable African American hero around was kinda big deal.
No, Trump is not racist. Stop that. As it’s been widely reported (for those who care to look), here but also by left-of-center mainstream outlets in the past, the real Donald Trump was instrumental on desegregating the prestigious Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago club when he took over running the facilities. He even teased members of the town council by sending them a copy of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, to convince them to let Blacks and Jews in.
Don King is a longtime friend of his, and he also confirmed he’s not racist.
Now, imagine how toxic the atmosphere becomes when you push very hard to convince millions of people that the most powerful man in the world hates them for the most odious reason, that he’ll ruin their lives and they must fight back, although unfortunately “the system” is on his side…
THIS is the kind of fake news that carries weight and against which any decent person must primarily fight!
During this exchange, Kellyanne Conway tries to discuss a number of different issues, but Jake Tapper focuses obsessively on that single topic where he knows he could score: crowd sizes and the fact that Sean Spicer and the Trump team didn’t cave in and admit that the Inauguration saw an embarrassingly low participation.
Conway tries to play it cool by sarcastically saying:
I think that we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here.
Frankly, I don’t know how people like Conway manage to play it cool. I’d rather approach the anchor with a confrontational attitude, similar to the style of Ben Shapiro: challenge the narrative, destroy their pompous baseless talking points, fake outrages and condescending posture. But if you are tasked with representing the US President, I guess transforming every interview in a tirade against the evil nature of modern journalism wouldn’t cut it.
That’s why you need a special kind of intelligence to manage this sort of situations, knowing full well that you won’t be able to contrast most of the attacks, but you must focus on a few essential talking points, usually by ignoring the questions.
Here Conway is already mad at the media because the MLK bust incident shows how she could expect to face a grueling 4 years of unfair coverage and fabricated stories.
More importantly, she had just spent a month discussing countless times, day in and day out, a preposterous (and potentially dangerous) narrative: that Russia caused the election of Trump and poses a grave danger to the nation. The point is, she knows it’s all balderdash, the journalists know it’s balderdash, and she knows that they know it, but everyone is expected to pretend it’s actually a serious threat! The media do so because it serves their purposes; the Trump surrogates because denying this alleged evil Russian plan would immediately be interpreted as proof that they are taking part in it!
That’s how frigging insane the political discourse has become in the USA today. You can’t defend the truth because they’ll see you as a traitor. It’s a bit like what happens in many Arab countries, where a politician that is accused of being secretly in cahoots with the Jews has no other option that to immediately accuse his adversary of being the one who’s actually in bed with Israel: any attempt at minimizing the power of the Israelis in your country would be seen as a definitive proof that you are a Mossad spy. Insane I say!
That’s the proper background needed to understand Conway’s mental process, when she used the infamous expression “alternative facts”!
She basically seemed to express the following thought: “Sigh, here we go again. I’m already tired of this. You really are creating an alternative reality. I really won’t let you redefine truth. I won’t concede. Not after all those lies. Even if personally I wouldn’t have wanted to discuss this topic, where my side is weak. Let’s agree to disagree: you have your so-called facts, we have others”.
Conway is smart and has a quirky sense of humor: after coining the “alternative facts” definition on the spot, she smiled for what was meant to be a sneer against the fabrications of the media, even if through the knowledge that her side wasn’t 100% accurate either.
In other words, this was about playing angles. And questioning the role of the the Guardians of Information.
Of course it was easy to exploit her words to reverse their meaning!
To shout from the rooftops that she was responsible for suddenly inventing the idea that if you don’t like the facts, you can pretend to substitute reality with a more desirable version of it.
In hindsight this was a big mistake on her part, because almost everyone saw the incident as a major gaffe, supposedly revealing the true nature of the new administration. The illusion is perfect.
I hope you can see now how difficult it is to unpack what lies behind a seemingly obvious major victory of the media against Trump.
Fake narratives making waves across the world
This media construct is quite effective, not to mention ugly. People are reinforcing their prejudices thanks to it.
For instance there’s this (otherwise lovely) Italian website dedicated to linguistics, i.e. theoretically not covering politics, where since the days of the election they started adding disparaging comments against Trump here and there. It’s the kind of thing that leaves a mark, precisely because it’s not intentionally meant to influence: they were discussing the English language itself, and to better illustrate the newest developments, a few concepts like post-truth, fake news and alternative facts were discussed. All from the perspective of an intellectual élite bubble, where it’s not just indecorous to defend Trump, but so inconceivable that my comments there were seen as genuinely surprising and awkward.
A perfect short-circuit: see this image of the almost empty Mall? This is proof Trump is shamelessly spreading lies because he can’t stand inconvenient truths. Besides, why are you so fixated on this subject, since the USA is not even our country?
One of the commentators looking down on me with contempt even pointed out the fact that the Women’s March against Trump had a way larger participation than the Inauguration, therefore I was clearly in denial… Too bad I never mentioned the Women’s March in my comments there! This is typical: you are so absorbed by this “us-vs-them” mentality that you lose the ability to process the content of what the other person is saying, hence a rebuttal can completely ignore it and build a straw man on a new subject.
Final remarks, attn: all conservatives
I may come late to the party, since essentially everyone moved on to other, more pressing matters. But a careful analysis requires time; I suggest we don’t let the media decide that a certain piece of news is worth discussing only when it’s so fresh that we usually don’t have all the facts available.
The Trump team made a mistake; they should have been prepared to face a predictable “Very few people came to see Trump” narrative; instead the President was caught off guard and reacted instinctively; unfortunately, due to optics, for once his instinct was wrong; but if you re-read his words from the opening of this article, you can see he was as straightforward and honest as any normal person would have been in his shoes. (We can’t say the same for the journalists cleverly playing with perceptions to influence the viewers.)
They let the adversaries control the narrative, so they were left with defending a vague impression of a very huge crowd, against a seemingly factual and reliable reconstruction by experts.
These are rookie mistakes. You can expect many more: it’s normal for a new administration.
I’ve seen a few reactions from the Right to this “empty Mall” meme, some with tens of thousands of views on Youtube, and they were going nowhere, yet pretending to have vindicated their side’s honor. This is no good.
You can’t insist presenting the photo from the Capitol to prove that the photo from the Washington Monument was deceptive, case closed, let’s move on, the left was lying again.
They were indeed telling lies, but subtle and nuanced lies, containing some impactful nuggets of truth.
If you dismiss them so easily they’ll rightfully laugh at you!
Guys, if you don’t want to be mischaracterized as gun-toting rednecks and clueless white racists who couldn’t bother to listen to experts and face the scientific truth, please! Challenge their narrative by going deeper, proving that you care more about facts than about being right.
Remember what Margaret Thatcher once famously said:
The facts of life are conservative
Don’t try to win every battle. But fight for the truth. Even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it means admitting that in a particular occasion a certain leftist expert was right and your favorite politician was wrong.
I think it’s more important that a single motivated individual comes up with a thorough pamphlet like this on a specific topic, to kill a fly with a bazooka as one might say, while others likewise could focus on some other issues, instead of producing tons of half-baked rebuttals that only embolden the so-called Progressives.
Leftists believe in pie-in-the-sky promises and utopias; if forced to face the harsh realities of life, they necessarily run away from facts.
But if you are content with defending your Conservative Bubble, they are way better than you at this game: their Leftist Bubble will squish it.
And they will be able to pretend they own all the facts.
One last word: if you think this article deserves to be read, please share it with your friends. I think it would be a pity to waste this effort on a limited audience.