Perhaps never in our nation’s history has the press been more under attack by the government it is entrusted to hold accountable.
Last Saturday, newly appointed Press Secretary Sean Spicer spent the majority of his first meeting with reporters lambasting the media for its accurate coverage of the turnout for Donald Trump’s inauguration in Washington D.C.
More alarming than his refusal to take reporters’ questions was Spicer’s false and unsubstantiated claim that Trump’s inauguration had “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe.”
As reported by CNN and The New York Times, the available evidence points to the contrary. While the official estimated crowd size isn’t recorded by the National Park Service, a major disparity can be seen when comparing a 2009 AFP aerial picture showing the crowd size of President Obama’s inauguration to the most recent Presidential Inaugural Committee’s aerial photo showing Trump’s crowd size in 2017.
And while some may question the validity of that photo comparison, since neither photo is time stamped, what can’t be disputed is that Spicer spread false information in an attempt to back up his audacious claim – otherwise nefariously known as “alternative facts” by Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s chief advisers.
For the most part, Spicer’s claims were built solely on conjecture. As noted by The Washington Post, when Spicer boasted about the thousands of people who were able to fit within the confines of the National Mall lawn and areas surrounding it, he failed to take into account that just because that many people could potentially congregate within those spaces doesn’t mean they actually did. Tweets from reporters who were present at the inauguration event say otherwise, in fact.
In addition, he got basic facts wrong. He stated this was the first official inauguration with white grass protection covering on the National Mall lawn, when in fact it was used for Obama’s inauguration in 2013.
So what is an informed citizen to do when legitimate reporting by the news media is being deemed as false by the government, when information that is so obviously false is being referenced as “alternative facts?”
As tweeted by New York Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer, reporters must show Spicer his power has limits and that we will refuse to humor him and give him the power to spread his outright lies.
“If @seanspicer is going to lie in your faces fellow reporters, you don’t need to go to his briefings. You don’t need to talk to him at all.”
While Steinhauer was talking directly to reporters, every citizen should do their best to eliminate the power fake news and information has in influencing our everyday lives. We must learn to be more speculative and question everything we read and hear, only accepting things as true when a source has proven their due diligence to always give viewers and readers the truth.
It is now perhaps more important than ever that “we the people” do our best to come together to cast aside the power clickbait news and partisan journalism has in igniting our social media feeds. In a culture already inundated with false information being spread both online and in print, the last thing our democracy needs is the dissemination of false information by our elected officials.
By becoming more media literate, we can reveal the Press Secretary’s “alternative facts” for what they really are – the mystification of false information.