WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - A top adviser to President Donald Trump said on Sunday (Jan 22) that his press secretary Sean Spicer had offered "alternative facts" in a statement in which he contested reports on the size of Mr Trump's inauguration audience.
"Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts," Trump counsellor Kellyanne Conway said on NBC's Meet The Press.
Her remark drew a riposte from the programme's host Chuck Todd: "Look, alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods."
In her retort to criticism that the new administration was focusing on crowds rather than on significant domestic and foreign policy issues, Ms Conway said "we feel compelled to go out and clear the air and put alternative facts out there".
Mr Spicer said on Saturday that the media manipulated photographs of the National Mall to make the crowds during the inauguration on Friday look smaller than they really were. Aerial photographs showed the crowds were significantly smaller than when Mr Barack Obama took over as president in 2009.
The Washington subway system said it had 193,000 riders by 11am local time on Friday, compared with 513,000 at that time during the 2009 inauguration.
Mr 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.
Asked on NBC's Meet The Press why the press secretary was uttering provable falsehoods, Ms 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."
After her remarks, Merriam-Webster weighed in on Twitter, posting a definition of the word "fact" and a link to its website.
"Lookups 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 Mr Trump's White House and the news organisations that cover it, less than two days into his administration.
TRUMP'S REMARKS ON MEDIA
On Saturday, during a speech at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Mr Trump accused the media - whom he termed "among the most dishonest human beings on Earth" - of inventing a "feud" between him and the US intelligence community.
In fact, Mr Trump has fought a running public battle with intelligence community leaders for months over their conclusion that the Russian government intervened in the presidential campaign, going so far as to suggest that the CIA was the source of leaks against him.
"One last shot at me," Mr Trump said about the intelligence community on Jan 11 on Twitter, where he has over 21 million followers. "Are we living in Nazi Germany?"
In the same appearance at the CIA, Mr Trump mused that "a million or a million and a half" people had attended his inauguration.
There is no official crowd count for the event, but photographs from the same vantage point at about the same time of day clearly show that attendance was significantly less than at Mr Obama's first inauguration in 2009, when city officials said that 1.8 million people gathered on the National Mall.
Photographs and data from the subway system, Metro, also indicate that Saturday's Women's March on Washington, a protest against Mr Trump, outdrew the inauguration. Over one million people rode Metro on Saturday, transit authority CEO Paul Wiedefeld said in a letter to employees. It was the second-busiest day in the system's history, after Mr Obama's 2009 inauguration, he said.
Total ridership on Friday was 570,557, which would not rank among the system's highest ridership days.