Tuesday 20 March 2018

Trump declares war on media in row over numbers at inauguration

White House team mocked for 'alternative facts' claims

A combination of photos taken at the National Mall shows the crowds attending the inauguration ceremonies to swear in US President Donald Trump last Friday (left) and former president Barack Obama in 2009 (right). Photo: Reuters
A combination of photos taken at the National Mall shows the crowds attending the inauguration ceremonies to swear in US President Donald Trump last Friday (left) and former president Barack Obama in 2009 (right). Photo: Reuters

Nick Allen

Donald Trump launched an all-out war on the media yesterday, vowing to fight it "tooth and nail" after a row in which his press secretary made false claims about the crowds at his inauguration.

The White House also declared that the president would not release his tax returns despite an earlier pledge that he would, saying that the American people "didn't care" about them.

In his first briefing, Sean Spicer, Mr Trump's press secretary, accused journalists of "deliberately false reporting" after attendance at the inauguration was compared unfavourably with Barack Obama's in 2009.

Mr Trump, in a speech at CIA headquarters, had accused the press of "lying" and called them "among the most dishonest human beings on Earth".

The confrontation showed that, in office, Mr Trump intends to escalate his antagonistic relationship with the "mainstream media".

Aerial photographs taken of Mr Trump's inauguration and Mr Obama's appear to show a significantly larger crowd in 2009. But Mr Spicer said: "This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration. Period. Both in person and around the globe. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong."

He claimed the photographs were misleading, saying white flooring had been placed on the National Mall for the first time this year, which highlighted spaces in the crowd. It later transpired that similar covers were used four years ago.

Read more: White House spokesman gave 'alternative facts' on inauguration crowd, Kellyane Conway

Mr Spicer also said magnetometers - to measure magnetic forces - were used at the Mall for the first time, so the area filled up less quickly, but the Secret Service later said it had not used the devices.

He cited figures that showed more people used the Washington train system on Friday than they did when Mr Obama was sworn in. But CNN cited figures showing that by 11am on Friday, 193,000 trips had been taken, compared with 513,000 eight years ago.

A long war between the White House and the media looks likely, and advisers to Mr Trump went on the offensive.

Kellyanne Conway, counsellor to the president, said: "We feel compelled to go out and clear the air and put alternative facts out there."

Chuck Todd, the NBC 'Meet The Press' host interviewing Ms Conway, responded: "Wait a minute. Alternative facts? Alternative facts? Four of the five facts he [Mr Spicer] uttered were just not true. Alternative facts are not facts, they're falsehoods."


The phrase "alternative facts" was mocked by several major media outlets and opponents of Mr Trump. But Reince Priebus, Mr Trump's chief of staff, said: "The point is not the crowd size. The point is the attacks and the attempt to delegitimise this president in one day. And we're not going to sit around and take it. We're going to fight back tooth and nail every day and twice on Sunday."

Mr Priebus singled out an incorrect report that a bust of Martin Luther King Jr had been removed from the Oval Office.

Major US media outlets hit back, with 'The New York Times' accusing Mr Trump's team of making "false claims".

Amid the controversy, it was confirmed that Mr Trump will not release his tax returns. During the election campaign, he said he would release them once an audit was completed.

Read more: 'We can whimper, whine, or we can fight back' - Hundreds of thousands march worldwide to protest Donald Trump's presidency

A petition on the White House website calling for him to release the returns has been signed by more than 200,000 people. Every president since 1976 has released their returns.

The president also appeared to do an about-face on his response to the women's march on Saturday, when hundreds of thousands of protesters worldwide took to the streets.

He initially denounced the demonstrations, saying: "Why didn't these people vote? Celebrities hurt the cause badly."

But less than two hours later he struck a more conciliatory tone. He said: "Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don't always agree, I recognise the rights of people to express their views." (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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