Under Trump, write the truth and be called 'liar'

For most journalists, being a member of the White House press corps is their dream job.

Being up close to the President, reporting on events which will enter the history books is the pinnacle of their career.

But for the forseeable future, the job will be a poisoned chalice, because even if you accurately report events, the President will call you dishonest.

Even if you have photographic and video evidence to back up your story, you will still be called a liar.

That’s what I take from yesterday’s extraordinary comments by Donald Trump and his press secretary Sean Spicer.


National Mall on January 20, 2017 and January 20, 2009, in Washington
Image Caption:
A picture put out by Reuters showing the inauguration crowd in 2017 (L) and 2009 (R)

Assertions they made about the number of people attending the inuguration events on Friday were demonstrably false.

But they still asserted they were true and anyone who reported to the contrary was wrong.

President Trump said the crowds stretched all the way from the Capitol to the Washington monument.

They didn’t. I took a photo from live TV pictures at 11.51am, just before he took the oath of office.


Ian Woods' tweeted picture taken nine minutes before Donald Trump was inaugurated
Image Caption:
Ian Woods’ tweeted picture taken nine minutes before Donald Trump was inaugurated

I also tweeted about the thin crowds at the time. Then other people reported comparisons with the Obama inauguration in 2009.

Sean Spicer used his first White House news conference to slam the reports as inaccurate.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe.”

But even the US TV audience of 31 million was smaller than Obama’s first inauguration (38 million), though bigger than his second in 2013 (20.5 million).

There are good reasons why the turn out for Trump was smaller.

The election of the first black President was an historic event that drew many African-Americans; Washington DC is a heavily Democratic city.


Crowds packed Washington's National Mall for Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009
Image Caption:
Crowds packed Washington’s National Mall for Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009

Most Trump supporters live hundreds or thousands of miles away and the cost of staying in the capital during an inauguration is prohibitive; the weather and the security may also have been a deterrent.

I myself tried to get to the parade route in the afternoon but gave up because the queue at security gates was long and slow.

And yet the White House chose to prioritise an argument over crowd numbers over all other issues on the President’s first full day in office.

The narrative should have been about his visit to the CIA headquarters, but even as he stood in front of the wall of stars, which mark those agents who were killed in action, Mr Trump still spent more time talking about himself, his youthful vigour, his intelligence, and the “dishonest” media.

And even when he talked about the CIA, it was to say that suggestions of a feud with the intelligence agencies had been concocted by the media.

His past tweets and comments in a televised news conference disprove that.

Naturally his aides leapt to his defence on the Sunday morning talk shows.

His chief of staff Reince Priebus told Fox News on Sunday: “There is an obsession by the media to delegitimise this President and we are not going to sit around and let it happen.”

His advisor Kellyanne Conway said Spicer had presented “alternative facts”.

I’ve been reporting on Washington politics, on and off, for 16 years.

There have been times when I have reported comments as facts which later proved to be untrue.


Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary
Video:
White House goes to war with the media

For example, the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq turned out to be false.

Many comments from politicians are open to interpretation and, as a reporter, it’s easier to sit on the fence and present two sides of an argument.

On the one hand … on the other hand.

But when the President and his spokesman say something that is demonstrably false, the only thing to counterbalance it with is the truth.

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