The media is ‘delegitimizing Trump,’ says White House

Trump accused journalists of underestimating the crowd that turned out for his swearing-in

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In what is turning out to be the opening exchange of a fiery beginning for the Trump administration, the White House has now vowed to fight the news media “tooth and nail” over what it sees as unfair attacks. In its bid to counter low inauguration crowd estimates, suggested by a few media organizations, a top adviser said the Trump administration had presented “alternative facts”.

On his first full day as president, Trump said he had a “running war” with the media and accused journalists of underestimating the number of people who turned out Friday for his swearing-in. White House officials made clear in television interviews on Sunday that set a much harsher tone in the traditionally adversarial relationship between the White House and the press corps.

“The point is not the crowd size. The point is the attacks and the attempt to delegitimize this president in one day. And we’re not going to sit around and take it,” Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday.” The sparring with the media has dominated Trump’s first weekend in office, eclipsing debate over policy and Cabinet appointments.

Also read: White House accuses media of playing down inauguration crowds

It was the main theme at the Republican president’s first visit to the CIA, at the press secretary’s first media briefing and in senior officials’ first appearances on the Sunday talk shows. Together, they made clear the administration will continue to take an aggressive stance with news organizations covering Trump.

“We’re going to fight back tooth and nail every day and twice on Sunday,” Priebus said. He repeated White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s assertions that the media manipulated photographs of the National Mall to make the crowds on Friday look smaller than they really were. Aerial photographs showed the crowds were significantly smaller than when Barack Obama took over as president in 2009.

The Washington subway system said it had 193,000 riders by 11 am on Friday, compared with 513,000 at that time during the 2009 inauguration. Spicer’s categorical assertion that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period” was widely challenged in media reports citing crowd count experts and was lampooned on social media as well.

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Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” why the press secretary was uttering provable falsehoods, White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway fired back. “If we are going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms I think that we are going to rethink our relationship here,” she said.

Conway responded to criticism that the new administration was focusing on crowds rather than on significant domestic and foreign policy issues by saying: “We feel compelled to go out and clear the air and put alternative facts out there.”

Priebus and Conway focused on a press pool report that said the bust of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office after Trump took office. The report on Friday night was quickly corrected, but Trump called out the reporter by name during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency on Saturday. Spicer also berated the reporter later in the day.