Published on January 23rd, 2017 | by Claude Saravia0
Kellyanne Conway and Chuck Todd Spar on ‘Meet The Press’ Over Alternative Facts as Freedom of the Press Lies in the Balance.
“All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.” – I.F. Stone
Kellyanne Conway, a Trump advisor, defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Sunday in reference to his first press conference where he stated: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.”
The media quickly jumped on Conway and rightfully so. Spicer clearly told a fib. We know that the term ‘falsehood’ is another word for a lie. But what exactly are alternative facts, as Conway described Spicer’s remarks?
Merriam Webster defines the word fact as “a piece of information presented as having objective reality.” The word in question is alternative, which Merriam Webster defines as “different from the usual or conventional.”
For instance a jury usually consists of twelve jurors, while also having two or more alternative jurors.
Using that logic, an alternative fact can be described as a fact which is also true but is stated in a different or non-conventional way than it normally would. Using the above example, the alternative juror is in fact a juror. Just not a staring one and thus not a juror at all unless something happens to one of the other jurors.
Here is a loose example of our interpretation of a fact and an alternative fact:
Fact: The condom was invented in 1855. Alternative Fact: The condom was invented in mid-1600s.
Both of these statements are technically factually correct, or at least have a basis of truth in them.
The first rubber condom (rubber latex is what the majority of condoms are made of and how we perceive the term condom) was produced in 1855; however, the oldest condom ever found dates back to the 1640s (they were found in a cesspit at Dudley Castle and made of animal and fish intestines). These forms of condoms are rarely if ever used anymore and the average person would not consider this to be a condom. But factually speaking, it served the purpose of what a condom is meant to do. It laid the groundwork for what a condom is today.
Politicians are famous for manipulating facts to serve their purposes. One way to do that is by using alternative facts. This is not limited to just politicians. As fantasy football analyst Matthew Berry once stated in reference to how he can manipulate stats to talk up or talk down a player, this is common practice by everybody.
“Politics, pop culture, tech, sports … whatever the subject, whoever is telling you something is NOT telling you the whole truth,” Berry stated in an article previewing the 2016 NFL Fantasy Football Season.
This statement perfectly sums up why investigative journalism is needed and freedom of the press is a right to be cherished.
Conway spinning Spicer’s statements on the inauguration an alternative fact is most definitely a falsehood and can not in any way be classified as an alternative fact. Even in the loosest definition of the term, it simply has no basis of truth.
We, the people, demand our politicians do not speak in spin or riddles or alternative facts (especially when they are false). We demand truth.
Let’s examine the actual facts.
President Obama’s first inauguration attracted a larger crowd than President Trump’s inauguration, as aerial photos have shown all over the Internet. The photo this article uses is courtesy of Reuters. Nielsen ratings also highlight that Obama also had a bigger television audience in his first inauguration.
Reuters had estimated approximately 900,000 people would attend the 2017 inauguration, a far cry from the record-breaking 1.8 million people that turned out to celebrate the election of the first African American president of the United States eight years ago.
Politifact states inauguration crowd numbers have vaired widely over the years, with Obama raising an estimated 1 million in 2013, down from 1.8 million in 2009; George W Bush drawing 400,000 in 2005 after 300,000 in 2001; and Bill Clinton 800,000 in 1993 then 250,000 in 1997.
A timelapse video by PBS indicates that the National Mall was never full at any stage on Friday:
Much of the confusion is partially the result of the media comparing this inauguration with the first Obama inauguration, and the Trump team comparing this inauguration with the second Obama inauguration, as President Trump’s tweet below shows.
This is a classic example of misleading the public by spinning truths and passing them off a facts, alternative or not.
To give the President credit, he was very clear in this tweet what he was referencing in his comparison of television ratings:
Wow, television ratings just out: 31 million people watched the Inauguration, 11 million more than the very good ratings from 4 years ago!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2017
Former President Obama’s first inauguration was a milestone moment in the US as he had become the first African American President. Attempting to compare President Trump’s inauguration audience with either of Obama’s is not a fair or justifiable comparison. Obama was bound to win. Of course, President Trump becomes our first reality TV/real estate mogul President but that does not figure to be of quite of the same historic importance.
More importantly, this fiasco points to President Trump having an ongoing difficulty of letting the ‘little things’ go. The President needs to be thick-skinned. Trump, for instance, does not handle little things such as how the media portrays his poor inauguration numbers in comparison with Obama’s. Or him responding to Marco Rubio’s attack on the size of his hands and what that means about the size of his manhood. How that approach plays out in his diplomacy and handling of foreign policy remains to be seen.
The President will not be judged on the size of the crowd at his inauguration. History books will hopefully not reference the inauguration crowd size. Things like walls, deportations, racism and foreign relations will quickly determine what Trump’s legacy will be.
But the real issue at hand is that during a White House Press Secretary’s first appearance with the press, he delivered what MSNBC host Chuck Todd called “falsehoods” and what Conway cited as “alternative facts” but what the average person would probably simply call “lies.”
The 45-year-old Spicer is a seasoned press operative. He is a native of the beautiful state of Rhode Island, and he worked in the George W. Bush administration before serving as communications director for the Republican National Committee.
Outside of Spicer’s claims that this was the largest attended inauguration ever, Spicer also heavily berated the media, including emphasizing that a journalist, who had already apologized for incorrectly reporting that Trump removed a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from his office, was “irresponsible and reckless”. This was a tactic by the media to continue to play up the card that President Trump is a racist.
“There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable, and I’m here to tell you that it goes two ways,” Spicer said.
“We’re going to hold the press accountable as well.”
The media, in turn, needs to hold this administration accountable. The question is, what happens when the alternative facts given are not relating to a small thing such as crowd size but rather are of things of consequence – such as a country that the administration is claiming has weapons of mass destruction and as such needs to be invaded/bombed?
Dan Rather, who has been in the news business since the 60s, stated on his Facebook page that these are not normal times and called the events which are occurring right now unlike anything he has ever seen. Rather specifically described Conway’s use of the term alternative facts as “Orwellian.” See the full post below.
This press conference is probably indicative of what we can expect on a daily basis going forward as the media and the White House clash.
The White House with its newly installed President leading the way, seems to want to declare a war on the First Amendment, namely the part that deals with Freedom of the Press. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, freedom of the press states that the government may not restrict mass communication.
Restriction can be done in many ways beyond simply not allowing a media organization to publish a story. It can easily be accomplished by twisting and distorting facts and manipulating the media.
According to Thomas Jefferson, “the only security of all is in a free press.”
Freedom of the Press is not a barrier that will come down with one blow. There is a gradual erosion of its core until one day it crumbles. This erosion began a long time ago, but perhaps the OJ Simpson trial is where the erosion truly began to become noticeable. It continues now with the rise of fake news and with the increased lies and misdirection of politicians. It starts with simple lies on crowd size and deceptive use of language to confuse the masses. But what is the next lie?
Let’s not forget the massive cuts of investigative staff on newspapers throughout North America, thus limiting the capabilities to truly cover the events of the day.
That last point is perhaps the most dangerous threat the press faces. With a President conducting massive amounts of controversial dealings seemingly on a daily basis, a full staff is needed to analyze and interpret each move for the public to stay informed. Is this possible with every newspaper’s staff being half of what it was in the 90s?
At the start of President Trump’s presidency, Reporters Without Borders had ranked the US at 41st out of 180 countries included on the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, barely edging out such countries as Trinidad and Tobago, Botswana and Bukina Faso. Those countries are not amongst the first that come to mind among those with a strong press core. The US was previously ranked at number 49 on the 2015 list.
We’ll see where that ranking is in 2020, but a nation founded on liberty should be leading the world in every measure of freedom? That honor currently goes to Finland, which is closely followed by The Netherlands and Norway. Sifting Through the Trash comes to you from Canada, which comes in at number 18, down from number eight in 2015.
Was there an alternative reason for these events to unfold at the press conference?
Theories have run amok over the meaning over this press conference with some even suggesting that Spicer, who was not Trump’s choice for press secretary but rather that of RNC chief Reince Preibus, was set up to fail by Trump so he could eventually install his own selection down the road. Trump was said to have labeled Spicer’s performance as “terrible.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich interestingly called for opening up these press conferences to average American citizens whose questions might counteract those from the “left-wing propagandists” of the Washington press corps. We actually find that to be a fascinating idea but one that could easily be manipulated to the politician’s benefit. A topic for another day.
Politico was perhaps most accurate in their description of the events. These are extraordinary times and while it has always been known that politicians lie, journalists need to simply do their jobs as they normally would. It is hard to fathom, but Trump is very calculating in everything he does. As Politico stated it, Trump is “a politician whose behavior is different only in degree, not in kind.”
It is extreme in the degree the President does it and it comes off looking like he is a loose cannon. But make no mistake. President Trump and his entire team are playing chess and each move is meant to distract the press along the way, who long ago gave up chess and prefers checkers. Further to that, He plays an unorthodox style of chess and makes what seems like bizarre sacrifices of valuable pieces with no rhyme or reason. But he is many moves ahead and perhaps more importantly, he is anticipating the other team’s moves – in this case the press, long in advance.
Game on Mr. President.
As this article was being published, Spicer gave a follow-up press conference (held on January 23) which was much longer and where he actually took questions. This press conference was not factored into this story.