John L. Micek, 1/23/2017 [Archive]

The Alternative Facts Administration

The Alternative Facts Administration

By John L. Micek

So this is the funhouse mirror of a White House that the American public will be treated to for the next four years.

The day after brand, spanking new Trump administration spokesman Sean Spicer trotted out to the podium in the White House briefing room to offer easily disproved claims about the size of Friday's inauguration crowds, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway amped up the crazy.

During an appearance Sunday on "Meet the Press," Conway, whose struggles to keep a straight face must now rival the movement of the tectonic plates of early Earth, had an utterly surreal exchange with host Chuck Todd.

"Why put him out there for the very first time, in front of that podium, to utter a provable falsehood?" Todd asked Conway, according to The Washington Post. "It's a small thing, but the first time he confronts the public, it's a falsehood?"

In return, Conway offered this explanation:

"Don't be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You're saying it's a falsehood, and they're giving -- our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts to that. But the point really is --"

Let's hit the "pause" button there for a moment.

Spicer, according to Conway, offered "alternative facts," when, in fact, as Todd noted, four of the five facts that Spicer uttered Saturday were "were just not true. Alternative facts are not facts; they're falsehoods."

If you're tuning in late, Spicer, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, laced into the press on Saturday, accusing reporters of "minimizing the enormous support," shown to President Donald Trump during Friday's swearing-in ceremony and other inauguration festivities.

If you've the time and inclination, both The Washington Post and The Guardian extensively fact-checked the array of whoppers spewing forth from the new White House press secretary.

But for those inclined to scream "Liberal Media!" at the mere mention of those two news outlets, I'd recommend you watch a time-lapse video that PBS produced.

It shows, clearly, that at no point on Friday, was the National Mall ever completely full.

There was also pair of widely retweeted photos, showing the disparate crowd sizes between Trump's inauguration Friday and President Barack Obama's first inaugural in 2009.

Further evidence was offered by local law enforcement and mass transit agencies.

Washington's Metropolitan Police Department had prepared for a crowd of about 800,000 for Trump's inauguration, about 1 million less than Obama's 2009 inauguration. The difference between the size of the crowds was noticeable in photos taken from the National Mall.

Obama's 2009 inauguration had a record-breaking crowd of about 1.8 million. About 1 million people attended Obama's second inauguration. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority reported that there were 193,000 train trips were taken by 11 a.m. Friday.

During the same time period, there were 513,000 train rides taken on Inauguration Day in 2009."

The Guardian noted that Spicer "attempted to bolster his argument by giving whole-day ridership figures for the Metro of 420,000 on Trump's inaugural day.

"However, for comparison he used a figure of 317,000 which was the ridership figure only up to 11am on the inaugural day of 2013 - when Barack Obama had already been in office four years and attendance was, perhaps unsurprisingly, lower than for his first inauguration," the newspaper reported.

So you may ask yourself, "Why does this matter?"

On the campaign trail, Trump was routinely caught telling easily debunked fibs.

The man himself has referred to his rhetorical style as "truthful hyperbole," which is maybe understandable in a real estate developer trying to sell someone on his latest project.

But it's not acceptable from a presidential candidate. And I'll pause here to note that every political candidate, from Pericles to Hillary Clinton, has bent the facts to their favor when the situation suits them.

And it is even less so from the actual President of the United States.

What is unusual about Trump - and what continues to be worrisome - is his willful disregard for actual facts.

In other words, empirical pieces of information that should be subject to universal agreement, but instead, in Trump's hands, become just a tool to be used to his advantage.

A memo making the rounds on Twitter Sunday, and apparently written by someone from a "past administration" raises a key point: If the new administration is willing to obfuscate - and then go to war on its first day - on something as easily disproven as crowd sizes, what will it do when it matters?

When there are American lives on the line? Or the economy hangs in the balance?

The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously observed that "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." It's now one of the most overused chestnuts in our political lexicon.

But he had a point - facts are facts.

A crowd is either bigger than it was the time before or it is smaller. There are no "alternative facts" to that. There is no "fake news" about that.

But what we now clearly know is that this administration doesn't care.

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© Copyright 2017 John L. Micek, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at jmicek@pennlive.com.

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