New White House press secretary Sean Spicer, widely criticized for his assessment of the crowd size at President Donald Trump's swearing-in last Friday, said Monday “it's unquestionable” that the event was the “largest watched inaugural ever.”
Spicer said “tens of millions” of people watched Trump's assumption of power on social media and online streaming by news networks, in addition to the 30.6 million viewers on U.S. television networks and perhaps a few hundred thousand at the event in Washington.
Late Saturday, Spicer told reporters, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”
He offered no documentation for the claim and took no questions from reporters. But his statements on the size of the crowd mirrored Trump's earlier boast that perhaps as many as 1.5 million watched from the National Mall in Washington as he was sworn in as the country's 45th president.
Government avoids estimating crowds
At his first official briefing Monday, Spicer acknowledged that information he passed on Saturday night about subway ridership leading to the inaugural turned out to be inaccurate, but he said, “I’d like to see any information” that disproves the contention that it was the most watched U.S. presidential inaugural.
“I believe that we have to be honest with the American people,” Spicer said, adding, “I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. Our intention is never to lie.”
The U.S. government no longer makes crowd estimates for large gatherings on the National Mall, after feuding for years with groups staging events that often claimed bigger crowds than the officials said had shown up.
But virtually all U.S. media accounts concluded that far fewer people attended Trump's inauguration, compared to those in 2009 and 2013 for former President Barack Obama.
Widely published photos of Obama's 2009 swearing-in, when he started his first four-year term, compared with Trump's inauguration showed a much larger crowd eight years ago, with large swaths of the National Mall nearly empty last Friday. An estimated 1.8 million people jammed the mall for Obama's first inauguration, while one television network estimated Trump's crowd at 250,000, although some estimated a bigger crowd.
Conway defends press secretary
Whatever the Friday number, other analysts said many more people attended Saturday's Women's March on Washington, a celebrity studded event intended as a rebuke to Trump's ascent to power.
Spicer's assessment of the crowd size has drawn wide scorn on social media in the United States, with some offering humorous parodies of it, such as, “The groundhog is the most accurate predictor of weather in history. Period. #SpicerFacts.”
Kellyanne Conway, another Trump aide, said Sunday that Spicer was offering “alternative facts” about the crowd size, but repeatedly declined to say why Trump ordered his press secretary to make the erroneous crowd statements.