WASHINGTON • The fight over the number of people who turned up at President Donald Trump's inauguration continued, with his top adviser Kellyanne Conway saying that the White House spokesman had offered "alternative facts" to refute media reports.
"Sean Spicer, our Press Secretary, gave alternative facts," Ms Conway, who is the President's counsellor, said on NBC's Meet The Press on Sunday.
Her remark drew a riposte from the programme's host Chuck Todd. "Wait a minute - 'alternative facts'?" he asked Ms Conway.
"Look, alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods."
When Mr Todd pressed her about why the administration had put Mr Spicer behind the lectern for the first time to "utter a provable falsehood", Ms Conway responded with a sharp threat.
"If we are going to keep referring to our Press Secretary in those types of terms, I think that we are going to have to rethink our relationship here," she said.
Video of Ms Conway's evasion quickly spread on social media. The phrases "alternative facts" and #alternativefacts had been used on Twitter more than 380,000 times by mid-afternoon on Sunday, a Twitter spokesman said.
After Ms Conway's remarks, Merriam-Webster weighed in on Twitter, posting a definition of the word "fact" and a link to its website.
"Look-ups for 'fact' spiked after Kellyanne Conway described false statements as 'alternative facts'," the dictionary publisher said.
Ms Conway's characterisation of Mr Spicer's statement exacerbated a growing rift between the White House and the news organisations that cover it, less than two days into Mr Trump's administration.
Last Saturday, the President accused the news media of lying about the turnout at his swearing- in ceremony.
"It looked like a million, million and a half people," he said, adding that "all the way back to the Washington Monument was packed".
Mr Spicer also lashed out at media that published photos showing the crowd was far from reaching the monument - calling their reporting "shameful".
Mr Spicer's conduct at his first media briefing - which ended with him walking out of the briefing room without answering questions from reporters - prompted former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer to write on Twitter: "This is called a statement you are told to make by the President. And you know the President is watching."
Former Obama adviser David Axelrod tweeted: "In the big scheme of things, the size of the crowd is a small matter."
He added: "The fact that the (President) is so obsessed by it is not."
The running feud between the White House and the press corps looks set to continue.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said that media coverage indicating higher turnout at the Women's March in Washington and at previous inaugurations compared with Mr Trump's inauguration amounted to attacks on the President's political legitimacy.
"There is an obsession by the media to delegitimise this President, and we are not going to sit around and let it happen," Mr Priebus said on Fox News Sunday.
"We are going to fight back tooth and nail every day, and twice on Sunday."
BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE