Media make false comparison of inauguration costs

››› ››› TOM ALLISON

Leading up to President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony, several media outlets have advanced the claim that Obama's inauguration will cost significantly more than President Bush's 2005 inauguration. Citing "estimates" ranging from $150 million to $170 million in total costs for Obama's inaugural events, the outlets have compared the purported total costs in 2009 to the approximately $42 million in private funds spent on Bush's 2005 inauguration. However, these outlets omit the additional costs of security, transportation, and other expenses incurred by federal, state, and local governments in conjunction with the events in 2005 while including them in the projections for the 2009 events.

Leading up to President-elect Barack Obama's January 20 swearing-in ceremony, several media outlets have advanced the claim that Obama's inauguration will cost significantly more than President Bush's 2005 inauguration. Citing "estimates" ranging from $150 million (MSNBC) to $170 million (ABC News) in total costs for Obama's inaugural events, the outlets have compared the purported total costs in 2009 to the approximately $42 million in private funds spent on Bush's 2005 inauguration. However, as Media Matters for America has noted, these outlets omit the additional costs of security, transportation, and other expenses incurred by federal, state, and local governments in conjunction with the events in 2005 -- which reportedly reached $115.5 million -- while including them in the projections for the 2009 events. Further, Media Matters senior fellow Eric Boehlert noted that many media outlets have failed to show any evidence to support their estimates.

For example, MSNBC anchor David Shuster ignored the cost of transportation and security in Bush's 2005 inauguration and provided no source for his "estimates" when he asserted during the January 19 edition of MSNBC Live: "Some estimates put the price tag [for Obama's inauguration] as high as $150 million. That dwarfs the record $42 million spent on President Bush's celebration in 2005." During the segment, MSNBC presented on-screen text titled "Inauguration Price Tag" that read, "2005: $42 million" and "2009: $150 million (ESTIMATE)."

A January 19 ABCNews.com article headlined "What Recession? The $170 Million Inauguration" detailed the costs of the 2009 inauguration:

The actual swearing-in ceremony will cost $1.24 million, according to Carole Florman, spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

It's the security, parties and countless Porta-a-Potty rentals that really run up the bill.

The federal government estimates that it will spend roughly $49 million on the inaugural weekend. Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland have requested another $75 million from the federal government to help pay for their share of police, fire and medical services.

The article's author, ABC News business writer Scott Mayerowitz, compared the "roughly $45 million" in private funds raised by Obama's inaugural committee to previous inaugurations' private funding: "That's more than the $42.3 million in private funds spent by President Bush's committee in 2005 or the $33 million spent for Bill Clinton's first inaugural in 1993." However, in making the comparison of privately funded costs, Mayerowitz did not compare the total cost of Bush's 2005 inauguration -- including public funds -- despite highlighting those expenses for Obama's inauguration.

Media Matters has noted that when the costs incurred by the federal government and the District of Columbia are factored in, the total cost of Bush's 2005 inauguration was reportedly around $157 million. The Washington Post reported in January 2005 that the cost of Bush's second inauguration, which the Post reported to be $40 million, "does not include the cost of a web of security, including everything from 7,000 troops to volunteer police officers from far away, to some of the most sophisticated detection and protection equipment." Further, The New York Times reported on January 5 that in 2005, "the federal government and the District of Columbia spent a combined $115.5 million, most of it for security, the swearing-in ceremony, cleanup and for a holiday for federal workers."

The ABCNews.com article was featured by the conservative website the Drudge Report with the headline: "WHAT RECESSION? THE $170 MILLION INAUGURATION."

Drudge

From the January 19 ABCNews.com article:

The country is in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, which isn't stopping rich donors and the government from spending $170 million, or more, on the inauguration of Barack Obama .

The actual swearing-in ceremony will cost $1.24 million, according to Carole Florman, spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

It's the security, parties and countless Porta-a-Potty rentals that really run up the bill.

The federal government estimates that it will spend roughly $49 million on the inaugural weekend. Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland have requested another $75 million from the federal government to help pay for their share of police, fire and medical services.

And then there is the party bill.

"We have a budget of roughly $45 million, maybe a little bit more," said Linda Douglas, spokeswoman for the inaugural committee.

That's more than the $42.3 million in private funds spent by President Bush's committee in 2005 or the $33 million spent for Bill Clinton's first inaugural in 1993.

From the January 19 edition of MSNBC Live:

SHUSTER: You're looking at live pictures -- people just starting to walk along the National Mall here in Washington, D.C. We are just less than 27 hours away from the swearing-in of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. People off to something of an early start here in Washington with some of the snowflakes and about 32 degrees. But this is going to be a fairly pricey inauguration; in fact, perhaps the most expensive inauguration ever. Some estimates put the price tag as high as $150 million. That dwarfs the record $42 million spent on President Bush's celebration in 2005. Obviously a very different feel for this one, and a very huge crowd that has already arrived in Washington.

Network/Outlet
MSNBC, The Drudge Report, ABC
Person
David Shuster
Stories/Interests
2008 Elections
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