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Who Decides Which Facts are “Alternative” and Which are Real?

January 30, 2017


When White House counsel Kellyanne Conway said on NBC News that the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, had presented the press with “alternative facts” about the size of Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd, the press immediately concluded that alternative facts were, in fact, lies. They’ve had a field day with it ever since.

Yet Spicer argued at a January 23 press conference that if the press publishes a correction, it is not necessarily seen as lying. So, too, the press shouldn’t assume the White House is lying if they are proven wrong. However, Spicer maintained that the inauguration viewership—including online viewers and television viewers—was the largest ever.

“Look, alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods,” said NBC’s Chuck Todd during the January 22 interview on NBC’s Meet the Press in which he relentlessly hounded Conway about Spicer’s conduct:

CHUCK TODD: What was the motive?
KELLYANNE CONWAY: —and your job is not to give your—
TODD: What was the motive?
CONWAY: —opinion, Chuck. Respectfully, your job is not to call things ridiculous that are said by our press secretary and our President. That's not your job. You're supposed to be a news person. You're not an opinion columnist.
TODD: Can you please answer the question? Why did he do this? You have not answered it.

Todd continued to badger Conway, asking the same question at least a half dozen times. It is highly unlikely that Todd would have relentlessly badgered a Democratic guest the same way. After all, Todd is a former Democratic staffer, and his wife is an activist for liberal Democrat politicians and causes. We always know where his sympathies lie.  

The press and social media have relentlessly mocked and criticized Conway for the idea that there might be alternative facts that support differing interpretations. “Most people believe there is truth and there are lies,” writes Jill Abramson, former executive editor at The New York Times, for the UK Guardian. “‘Alternative facts are lies.”

Karen Tumulty, writing for The Washington Post said, “Donald Trump, having propelled his presidential campaign to victory while often disregarding the truth, now is testing the proposition that he can govern the country that way.”

But alternative facts aren’t necessarily lies, or even false. Sometimes they are misleading, but other times they provide context which illuminates the original lie—often the ones perpetuated by the mainstream media.

“We believe there is an objective truth, and we will hold you to that,” states a letter to President Trump from the press corps authored by Kyle Pope of the Columbia Journalism Review. “When you or your surrogates say or tweet something that is demonstrably wrong, we will say so, repeatedly,” states the letter. “Facts are what we do, and we have no obligation to repeat false assertions...”

We have repeatedly reported about how the media have continued to distribute fake and false news in the service of President Obama, most notably the continued claim that the Iran deal is signed. It is not, and the lack of anything that would make this agreement enforceable explains continued Iranian aggression. Here the Obama administration narrative is fed by false reporting.

Another pervasive lie by both the media and Obama administration officials is that former President Obama had a scandal-free administration. What, exactly, does it take to make something officially a scandal? Is it only a scandal if the liberal media label it one? Instead, reporters ignored or downplayed the IRS scandal; the death of four heroes in Benghazi; the hundreds of thousands who died while waiting for care from the Veterans Administration; and gun-running under Fast & Furious. What about Hillary Clinton’s lies about Benghazi, about her years as Secretary of State, regularly sending and receiving classified material on an unsecured server, and her outrageous pay-for-play schemes that she ran out of the State Department? How do those compare to lies, if that’s what they are, about the size of the crowd at the inauguration, or the number of fraudulent votes cast in the presidential election? Why weren’t the media more vigorous in an effort to hold Obama and Hillary accountable? It’s because they’re on the same ideological team.

When the IRS scandal broke, Obama claimed that he found out about it from national news at the same time that the public became aware. We found that, in fact, the White House Chief Counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, knew about the brewing scandal weeks earlier, as did White House chief of staff Denis McDonough. Are we supposed to credibly believe that President Obama wasn’t told by his staff?

Former President Obama must have operated in a bubble. Otherwise, how could he also claim that he learned about Hillary’s private email at the same time that the news broke? Press Secretary Josh Earnest massaged Obama’s claims back in 2015: “The point that the President was making is not that he didn’t know Secretary Clinton’s e-mail address…But he was not aware of the details of how that e-mail address and that server had been set up…”

By making the scandals about other entities—whether it is a regional Cincinnati IRS office, or Mrs. Clinton herself - Obama sought to save himself from the mark of scandal. However, claims about a scandal-free Obama administration are not alternative facts - they come from an alternative reality altogether.

Accuracy in Media has reported how the media have used unemployment statistics to support the contention that Obama handed off a growing, thriving economy to Trump. The alternative fact here, however, is that millions of Americans are being left behind in our economy. The relevant data is not the rosy unemployment rate so much as our ailing labor participation rate. The only reason the unemployment rate is so low is that millions of people have quit looking for work because so few good jobs were available, and Obamacare’s mandates forced millions of people into part-time jobs. The unemployment number by itself doesn’t mean much, without additional, or alternative, facts that give it context.

Alternative facts can shine a light on the times that the left sell their own lies.

As for the inauguration turnout, it is clear that the press is playing a duplicitous game. This New York Times article contains a video that shows vast open white spaces at President Donald Trump’s inauguration. However, our screen captures of CNN’s gigapixel panorama of the event shows those areas filled. I am no expert in this area, but it appears that there were a lot more people at Trump’s inauguration who weren’t in the Times’ photo, so this is guesswork. Brit Hume of Fox News tweeted that the Times’ photo with all of the empty space was “taken early,” and that the “area was considerably fuller by the time of the speech.”

It matters little, in the end, whether Trump had a momentous inauguration turnout or not. But the mainstream media should think before claiming a whole set of facts are false; they have been guilty of purposeful twisting of the truth too many times themselves.

None of this is meant to justify Trump or his appointees saying things that they can’t back up with some credible evidence or sources. Being the president is different than being a candidate or even President-elect. They have to be more careful. But the media’s disposition towards Trump is proving far more adversarial than towards previous administrations. All of a sudden they are eager to show how principled and high-minded they are when it comes to their sacred profession. The sad truth is that what we are witnessing by the media is largely partisan politics and a double standard, not a passion for speaking truth to power, or holding the powerful to account.  

Copyright ©2017

Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi. He can be contacted at roger.aronoff@aim.org.

 


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