Following demonstrably false statements made by President Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer that Trump's inauguration ceremony had “the largest audience to witness an inauguration," numerous websites that Media Matters has identified as purveyors of fake news cheered on Spicer for his comments or attempted to verify his false claims. Nearly all of these websites are still supported, in part, by revenue from Google’s advertising service and many attempted to brand mainstream media reporting about the crowds as “fake news.”
White House Press Secretary Lies That Trump’s Inauguration Drew “The Largest Audience To Ever Witness An Inauguration”
NY Times: Trump Press Secretary Spicer Falsely Claims Trump Drew “The Largest Audience To Ever Witness An Inauguration.” The New York Times reported that White House press secretary Sean Spicer held a briefing where he “scolded reporters and made a series of false statements” about the inauguration crowd size, including that Trump drew “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.” The Times noted that “photographs clearly show [Spicer’s statement] to be false” and that Spicer used incorrect figures when describing ridership on Washington’s metro system. From the January 21 report:
Later, at the White House, [President Donald Trump] dispatched Sean Spicer, the press secretary, to the briefing room in the West Wing, where Mr. Spicer scolded reporters and made a series of false statements.
He said news organizations had deliberately misstated the size of the crowd at Mr. Trump’s inauguration on Friday in an attempt to sow divisions at a time when Mr. Trump was trying to unify the country, warning that the new administration would hold them to account.
Mr. Spicer said that Mr. Trump had drawn “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration,” a statement that photographs clearly show to be false. Mr. Spicer said photographs of the inaugural ceremonies were deliberately framed “to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall,” although he provided no proof of either assertion.
Photographs of Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and of Mr. Trump’s plainly showed that the crowd on Friday was significantly smaller, but Mr. Spicer attributed that disparity to new white ground coverings he said had caused empty areas to stand out and to security measures that had blocked people from entering the Mall.
“These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong,” Mr. Spicer said. He also admonished a journalist for erroneously reporting on Friday that Mr. Trump had removed a bust of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office, calling the mistake — which was corrected quickly — “egregious.”
And he incorrectly claimed that ridership on Washington’s subway system was higher than on Inauguration Day in 2013. In reality, there were 782,000 riders that year, compared with 571,000 riders this year, according to figures from the Washington-area transit authority.
Mr. Spicer also said that security measures had been extended farther down the National Mall this year, preventing “hundreds of thousands of people” from viewing the ceremony. But the Secret Service said the measures were largely unchanged this year, and there were few reports of long lines or delays. [The New York Times, 1/21/17]
PolitiFact Debunked Spicer’s False Claims And Rated Them “Pants On Fire.” According to PolitiFact, “Spicer offered a few pieces of misleading or inaccurate evidence” regarding the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration, including falsehoods about floor coverings on the National Mall and metro ridership. PolitiFact debunked Spicer’s arguments and rated the claim “Pants on Fire”:
Spicer said, “That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period.”
To support his claim, Spicer offered a few pieces of misleading or inaccurate evidence.
He said that floor coverings highlighting empty spaces on the National Mall were not used for previous inaugurations, but these were in place for Obama’s 2013 inauguration.
He claimed metro ridership was higher for Trump’s inaugural than for Obama’s 2013 inaugural, but he compared numbers for the morning of Obama’s inaugural to the whole day for Trump’s.
Spicer suggested 720,000 attended Trump’s inauguration, while organizers said they expected 700,000 to 900,000, and Trump himself estimated 1.5 million. All of those figures are less than the 1.8 million people who attended Obama’s 2009 inaugural.
We rate Spicer’s claim Pants on Fire. [PolitiFact, 1/21/17]
Websites That Regularly Publish Fake News Cheer On, Echo Lies About Inauguration Crowd
American News: “Sean Spicer Loses It, Completely DESTROYS Dumb Lib Reporters For Running Absurd Fake News” About Inauguration Crowd. American News, which has perhaps the largest Facebook following of any fake news-purveying website and is verified on Facebook, praised Spicer for “destroy[ing] dumb lib reporters” and called reports on the inauguration crowds a “fake news smear” and “fraudulent reporting.” From the January 23 story:
Now that Donald Trump has been sworn in and is inhabiting the White House, he has made it clear to the irresponsible mainstream media that he will no longer put up with their fake news smear. His Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently laid down the law, scolding liberal reporters in a brutal way for their fraudulent reporting.
The most recent smear the media laid on Trump was the story they cooked up about his inauguration somehow being sparsely attended compared to Obama’s, when this was clearly not true. At a meeting with journalists, Sean held up Trump’s inauguration speech vow that “we’re going to hold the press accountable as well.”
Explained Sean, “Photographs of the inaugural proceeding were intentionally framed in a way in one particular tweet to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.” He added, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period. Both in person and around the globe.” Are you glad Sean set these idiots straight? [American News, 1/23/17; Media Matters, 1/15/17]
Angry Patriot: “Trump And Sean Spicer Have Made It Clear That This Kind Of Lying Will Not Be Tolerated.” Fake news purveyor Angry Patriot asserted that Spicer and Trump “call[ed] out the dishonest media,” which it accused of offering “ridiculous coverage of the inauguration” and using misleading images. The post echoed many of Spicer’s claims, including the false claim that white floor coverings highlighted empty space on the National Mall while in years past, “the grass eliminated” visuals of empty space. In fact, the coverings were also used in President Obama’s second inauguration. [Angry Patriot, 1/21/17; PolitiFact, 1/21/17]
Freedom Daily: “Spicer Laid Into The Media” For Photos, “Nailed” Them For “Outright Media Propaganda.” Freedom Daily praised Spicer for “nail[ing]” journalists for “outright media propaganda,” adding that the press “cherry picked photos” to make the crowds look small. The post called the media’s actions “shameful,” adding that it is no wonder Trump “hates” the media and “is going to severely restrict their access.” From the January 22 post:
Spicer laid into the media for using pictures of the Inauguration that intentionally made it look like there were low numbers of Americans there. That is another lie… I saw for myself a number of pics where the square was absolutely packed. They cherry picked photos as people were coming in and of areas that had a special covering on the ground. It was outright media propaganda and Spicer nailed them for it.
Spicer also slapped the media on what he called inaccurate crowd estimates, stressing, “No one had numbers,” since the National Park Service, which oversees the National Mall where spectators stand, no longer makes public an official crowd count. It’s just shameful how the media is treating Trump. No wonder he hates them and is going to severely restrict their access. Serves them right. [Freedom Daily, 1/22/17]
TruthFeed: “Fake News Liberal Media Busted Using Dirty Tricks To Try To Make Inauguration Crowd Look Smaller.” TruthFeed, which previously claimed that Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was involved in the abduction of a young girl, wrote that photos of the inauguration came from “fake news liberal media.” One post alleged the media used “dirty tricks to try to paint the Trump Inauguration event as less of a success than it was.” The website posted an additional story calling reports of lower turnout “fake news” and showing various photos of the crowd. [TruthFeed, 1/21/17; 1/23/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]
USA Politics Today Accused CNN Of Editing Footage Of Inauguration Crowd, Called Its Coverage “Propaganda.” USA Politics Today wrote that CNN tried “something that you would only think possible in the Soviet Union” by “trying to paint the picture that Trump didn’t have a packed house.” The story called CNN part of the “crooked mainstream media,” adding that “Trump is right to call them fake news!” The article posted as its evidence various images showing crowds at the inauguration from an alternate angle. [USA Politics Today, 1/20/17]
Conservative Brief: CNN, The “Fake News Leader,” Edited Footage Of Inauguration Crowd. Conservative Brief called CNN the “fake news leader” and asserted that the network was “caught editing inauguration crowd footage.” The post stated that CNN “tried to portray that it was not a packed house” and falsely claimed that the crowd was “packed all the way to Washington Monument.” [Conservative Brief, 1/21/17]
Nearly All Of The Above Named Fake News Purveyors Pull In Revenue From Google AdSense
Every Fake News Purveying Website Listed Above Except USA Politics Today Still Uses Google’s Advertising Network. American News, Angry Patriot, Freedom Daily, TruthFeed, and Conservative Brief continue to use Google’s advertising service, Google AdSense, as of publication, despite an announced ban on websites that post “misrepresentative content.” Fake news purveyor USA Politics Today previously drew revenue from Google AdSense. A Media Matters analysis in December found 24 websites violating the ban, and another analysis in January found at least 20 of those websites still use Google AdSense. [Media Matters, 12/14/16, 1/12/17; American News, accessed 1/23/17; Angry Patriot, accessed 1/23/17; Freedom Daily, accessed 1/23/17; TruthFeed, accessed 1/23/17; Conservative Brief, accessed 1/23/17]