President, spokesman lash out at media

President Donald Trump responds on Sunday to the huge crowds of protesters with tweets asking why didn't they vote and then saying he recognises the rights of people to protest peacefully.
A combination of photos taken at the National Mall shows the crowds at the inauguration ceremonies of Mr Trump last Friday (left) and then President Barack Obama on Jan 20, 2009. About 1.8 million people flooded the area in 2009 when Mr Obama was fir
A combination of photos taken at the National Mall shows the crowds at the inauguration ceremonies of Mr Trump last Friday (left) and then President Barack Obama on Jan 20, 2009. About 1.8 million people flooded the area in 2009 when Mr Obama was first sworn in as president, according to federal and local agencies.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump and his chief spokesman launched an unprecedented assault on the media for a US president's first full day in office, accusing reporters of downplaying the turnout at his swearing-in ceremony.

Mr Trump, during a speech at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in nearby Langley, Virginia, last Saturday, insisted that he drew 1.5 million people to his swearing-in ceremony a day earlier.

Later in the day, when White House spokesman Sean Spicer addressed the media for the first time from the White House, he yelled at the assembled press corps and accused it of "sowing division" with "deliberately false reporting" of Mr Trump's inauguration crowd.

The attacks came as more than two million people flooded US cities in protests led by women opposed to Mr Trump, who many fear will roll back the rights of women, immigrants and minorities.

They also came as Mr Trump took office with an approval rating of just 37 per cent - low for a new president.

'IT'S A LIE'

It looked like a million, million and a half people... It's a lie. We caught (the media). We caught them in a beauty.

US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, accusing the media of showing "a field where there was practically nobody" and reporting that he drew a low turnout at his inauguration last Friday.

ACCOUNTABILITY GOES BOTH WAYS

There's been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable, and I'm here to tell you that it goes two ways... We're going to hold the press accountable as well.

WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN SEAN SPICER, during his first media conference at the White House.

Analysts saw the twin attacks on the media as an attempt to change the subject.

Non-stop news network coverage of last Saturday's sprawling anti-Trump demonstrations were replaced within hours by debate over his "war on the media".

Mr Trump insisted, despite evidence to the contrary, that he drew 1.5 million people to his swearing-in ceremony last Friday.

"I made a speech. I looked out, the field was, it looked like a million, million and a half people," he told CIA staff. "They showed a field where there was practically nobody standing there. And they said, Donald Trump did not draw well."

Hours later, Mr Spicer doubled down on the media assault, using his first press conference in the White House briefing room to blast the journalists seated before him for "deliberately false reporting" on crowd size.

"This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period!" he said. "These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong."

The spokesman said that, while there has been a lot of talk about holding the new president accountable for his actions, that "goes both ways".

"We're going to hold the press accountable as well," he said. "The American people deserve better."

And in a highly unusual move, he left the briefing without taking questions.

About 1.8 million people flooded the National Mall area in 2009 when Mr Barack Obama was first sworn in as president, according to federal and local agencies at the time.

The Washington authorities reportedly predicted that 800,000 to 900,000 people would attend Mr Trump's inauguration, about half of the 2009 crowd.

The intensity of the spokesman's delivery suggested that he and Mr Trump were furious at the media coverage of the inauguration, which many outlets said fell well short of the 2009 inauguration in terms of crowd size.

A comparison of aerial photos taken on Jan 20, 2009 and last Friday appeared to bear that out.

The Washington city authorities do not provide official crowd counts, but television footage clearly showed that the gathering did not stretch all the way to the Washington Monument, as Mr Trump asserted.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'President, spokesman lash out at media'. Print Edition | Subscribe