Trump White House steps up attack on media
Aide vows to ‘fight back’ against alleged attempts to delegitimise US president
Reince Priebus and wife Sally Priebus arrive for Trump’s inauguration: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” Photograph: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
US president Donald Trump’s new administration stepped up its dispute with the media, saying it was presenting “alternative facts” to those reported in the press and vowing to “fight back tooth and nail”.
On his third day in office, senior aides in Mr Trump’s White House joined the Republican administration’s attack on the media, accusing reporters of trying to question the legitimacy of his presidency a day after he claimed that the media had understated the number of people attending his inauguration.
During an interview with Fox News, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus cited reports on Friday’s turnout that appeared from photographs to be much smaller that Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.
He referred to an incorrect tweet by a Time magazine reporter, that he later retracted and apologised for, that the bust of Martin Luther King Jr had been removed from the Oval Office.
Repeating a warning from Mr Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday, Mr Priebus put the media on notice that the new US administration would challenge issues around “honesty in the media”.
“There’s an obsession by the media to delegitimise this president and we are not going to sit around and let it happen,” he said. “We are going to fight back tooth and nail every day and twice on Sunday.”
Mr Trump has long castigated the media as “dishonest” during the presidential campaign and brought what he called on Saturday his “running war” with the media into his presidential term when he visited the CIA headquarters.
Standing in front of a memorial wall to slain CIA intelligence officers, the new president falsely accused the media of inventing a “feud” between him and the US intelligence community. He labelled the media as “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth”.
The visit to Langley, Trump’s first official meeting with a government agency as president, was scheduled to resolve differences with the intelligence agencies after he accused them of leaking an unsubstantiated dossier detailing allegations about his ties with Russia and compared them with Nazi Germany.
His latest skirmish with the press over the size of his inauguration crowd grabbed the most headlines. Mr Spicer held an unscheduled press conference on Saturday evening to rebuke the media for “false reporting”.
“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period – both in person and around the globe,” he said. “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”
Even though the Trump administration said there were no official figures, the president said at the CIA that it “looked like a million, million and a half people.”
Mr Spicer provided figures to the media that totalled 720,000 and said that more people used the Metro underground than for Mr Obama’s swearing in, contradicting lower figures provided by transit officials.
Aerial photographs, transit figures on underground journeys and television viewership figures show that more people attended the first Obama inauguration than Mr Trump’s swearing-in.
“Alternative facts are not facts; they are falsehoods,” host Chuck Todd responded.
Asked what was the administration’s motive behind the “ridiculous litigation of crowd size”, Ms Conway told him it was “not your job” to call statements made by the president or press secretary ridiculous.
Mr Trump toyed with the media again on Sunday when at an event in the White House he showed an envelope that he said he found in the Oval Office that contained “a beautiful letter” from Mr Obama.
“It was really very nice of him to do that and we will cherish that,” he said. “We will keep that and we won’t even tell the press what’s in that letter.”