News & Politics

Trump's Fight with Media Over Inaugural Numbers a Mistake

“Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel” is an old adage often attributed to Mark Twain, but in reality is of unknown provenance. That hardly matters. In this day and age, a barrel full of ink might print most of the newspapers in America still publishing on a daily basis.

But the advice is sound. The media, although not monolithic, can certainly be considered almost universally biased toward a specific political ideology.

You can rail against it. You can whine and gnash your teeth at it. You can wring your hands and question the ancestry of reporters. But in the end, you’re right back where you started: at a huge disadvantage given the numbers and reach of the media.

Donald Trump has picked a fight with the media over the number of people who attended his inaugural and the parade afterwards. He claims that photos were deliberately cropped to show fewer people in attendance than there actually were. His press secretary, Sean Spicer, went even further, telling The Big Lie that  Joseph Goebbels would have heartily approved.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the world,” Spicer said. “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”

It’s an argument he will win with his supporters but absolutely no one else who has two brain cells working. The evidence to the contrary is not only overwhelming, but incontrovertible:

Spicer better learn to lie with more conviction or his stint as press secretary will be a short one.

The only reason the press is making a big deal out of it is because Trump is making a big deal out of it. This subject might have been commented on for a while on Friday but then dropped as the media moved on to more interesting things.

But Trump couldn’t leave it alone:

Trump earlier on Saturday, in remarks at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, said that from his vantage point at the podium, “it looked like a million, million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there, and they said Donald Trump did not draw well.”

Trump also said parts of the National Mall “all the way back to the Washington Monument” were “packed.”

One facet of this argument is ironic. The press has savaged Trump from election day through January 19. They called him every name in the book and some names that had been banned. They compared him to Hitler so many times that ordinary Germans in the streets of Berlin were hit with the overwhelming urge to throw their arms up in the Nazi salute every time they heard Trump’s name.

And then the press is shocked! Shocked, I say, that the turnout for Trump was less than Obama’s?

And, of course, the rain had absolutely nothing to do with the small turnout for the parade because, after all, everyone loves standing outside on a cold, wet, winter afternoon to watch high school bands blare off-key patriotic songs.


The widely accepted estimate for crowd size at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration was 1.8 million. Crowd counters today believe Trump may have had half that number.

But what’s the big deal? Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 had world-historical implications — a black man becoming president in a country that once enslaved his race. Hundreds of thousands of black Americans traveled huge distances to become part of that history. How does it diminish Trump that he didn’t outdraw Obama?

It doesn’t — except that it’s a blow to Trump’s ego and cannot be allowed a free pass. So he concocts a fantastic lie about crowd size and then savages the press for not reporting his number instead of the truth.

This is a fight that Trump doesn’t need. Who cares about crowd size except people inside the Beltway?  It’s a needless battle whose negative impact is compounded by Spicer’s fantastic lie. If Trump is going to continue to insist that up is down, black is white, and evidence you can see with your own two eyes is false, he will lose whatever trust and credibility he has with the country at large very quickly.