Trump inauguration crowd: Fake News

White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s angry declaration that the media faked low attendance does not stack up against photos, videos and public transport figures.

Crowds on the National Mall just before Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017 (left) and Barack Obama’s in 2009. Photograph: Reuters

Crowds on the National Mall just before Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017 (left) and Barack Obama’s in 2009. Photograph: Reuters

Sean Spicer’s angry insistence that Donald Trump drew “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe” is just the beginning of fake news and post-truths about to spout forth from the White House.

In his blistering debut as White House press secretary on Saturday, Spicer accused journalists of reporting inaccurate crowd numbers and using misrepresentative photographs “to minimise the enormous support” that he claimed the new president enjoyed at his swearing-in.

“No one had numbers because the National Park Service, which controls the National Mall, does not put any out,” he said, before going ahead anyway to declare that Trump had attracted “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration” in person and in the world.

“These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm for the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”

Crowd estimates can be fraught with difficulty and there is indeed no official figure. But images of the National Mall on Friday contradicted Spicer’s assertions – particularly when compared with pictures from Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and the turnout for the Women’s March on Saturday.

A timelapse video produced by PBS indicates that the National Mall was never full at any stage on Friday:

According to figures shared by the Metro Washington subway system on Twitter, 193,000 trips had been taken by 11am on Donald Trump’s inauguration day, compared with 513,000 during the same period on 20 January 2009 when Barack Obama took office.

“Ridership” as of 11am on Saturday stood at 275,000: more than eight times a normal Saturday and “even busier than most weekdays”, the Metro tweeted.

It is worth noting that Trump drew just 4.1% of the vote in Washington DC and lost the surrounding states of Maryland and Virginia.

His inauguration also occurred on a Friday – a fact that does not go any way towards mitigating the comparisons with Obama’s 2009 inauguration, which fell on a Tuesday, but does contextualise the strong turnout for the Women’s March on Saturday.

Before Spicer’s briefing room tirade on Saturday, Trump had told an audience at CIA headquarters that he had given his inauguration address to a “massive field of people … packed”, he estimated, with between 1m and 1.5m people.

To his eye, Trump said, the crowd stretched “the 20-block area, all the way back to the Washington Monument” – but a television network he didn’t name had broadcast a shot of “an empty field” and put the crowd at 250,000.

He went on to say that God had stopped rain from falling during his speech, before adding that he had “caught” the news network in a lie: “We caught them in a beauty.

“And I think they’re going to pay a big price.”

But the evidence certainly seems to challenge Trump’s assertion that he had drawn a crowd of as many as 1.5m people.