“This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe,” Trump’s press spokesman said on Friday, a claim he repeated it on Saturday. “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period,” Sean Spicer told a very skeptical press.
He based the estimate in part upon the number of people recorded riding D.C. public transit on Friday. He erroneously compared the total number of riders that day with half-day numbers from Obama’s inauguration.
Spicer retracted his statement later, but the mainstream media pounced on him for what was likely an honest mistake, and gleefully ran with their own misleading analysis of the numbers. Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway defended Spicer on Meet the Press, “You’re saying it’s a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.” This just further incensed the media, with some outlets calling for Spicer to resign.
Why Does This Matter?
Why does this matter? Politicians and the press always fight about these things. It matters as an example of the larger problem: the vast attention the media places on favored events while ignoring others, in order to make the former appear more prominent than they really are.
So what about the inauguration crowd? Crowd size estimates were all over the board, in part because the U.S. Park Service no longer provides official numbers. The consensus seems to be there were about 900,000 people at Trump’s inauguration. An estimated 1.7 million attended Obama’s first inauguration, which the press was quick to point out.
But the press left out some important differences. Most important, millions watched the inauguration on TV and streaming media — probably millions in Russia alone.
Content delivery network Akamai reported that the inauguration was the largest, single live news event the company had ever hosted. It peaked at 8.7 Tbps (terabytes per second) during Trump’s speech. Obama’s first inauguration peaked at only 1.1 Tbps. In other words, about eight times more people watched Trump’s inauguration over streaming media than had watched Obama’s.
Media Tries to Make In-Person Attendance the Story
Instead of acknowledging the huge numbers that watched the inauguration over streaming media, the press honed in on the numbers of people who physically attended the event. Reporters jumped on Spicer’s mistake and tried to make that the story.
Media outlets also ran photos from earlier in the day, before the crowd was fullest. In these pictures, large stretches of white tarp stood out, exaggerating the effect of the empty spaces.
The media chose the worst comparison possible. Barack Obama’s first inauguration was the inauguration of the first black president. That was always going to draw a huge crowd. And Washington, D.C., is a heavily Democratic area. Trump drew just 4.1 percent of the vote in Washington D.C. and lost the surrounding states of Maryland and Virginia. How many Trump voters from Michigan or Missouri can get to the capital as easily as a Washington, D.C., Democrat can take the Metro?
Further, the media left out the fact that many people chose not to attend the inauguration for reasons that weren’t a factor at Obama’s first inauguration. Some stayed away to avoid the violent protesters, who increased the crowding and caused long security lines. May people reported not being able to get into the secure area at all thanks to protesters. Some chose not to attend because the weather, which was intermittent rain (the weather was clear for Obama’s first inauguration).
The Inauguration and the Women’s March
The first Obama inauguration wasn’t the only comparison the mainstream media made to try to make Trump look bad. Reporters claimed that the numbers for the Women’s March on Saturday, which reportedly attracted 500,000, surpassed the numbers at the inauguration.
That was clearly untrue. There were 250,000 official tickets issued for Trump’s inauguration, but another 650,000 people showed up to watch from the Mall. That’s 900,000, which is almost twice as many as 500,000.
Several factors inflated the attendence at the Women’s March. It benefited from all the liberals who had already made non-refundable flights and hotel reservations for the inauguration, expecting Hillary Clinton to win. It benefited from being in such a liberal area. And unlike the inauguration, which took place on a weekday, the Women’s March was on Saturday when most people were not working.
Furthermore, how many people watched the Women’s March from beginning to end? Did it grip people all over the country the way the inauguration gripped them?
Here’s one more revealing comparison. Newsbusters found that the Women’s March received 129 times more coverage than the annual March for Life, which also takes place on the Mall.
The pro-life rally has crowds of up to 650,000 (in 2013) and hundreds of thousands march every yer. Yet ABC, CBS and NBC devoted just 35 seconds to covering the 2016 March for Life, while spending an hour and 15 minutes this year on the Women’s March. (This year the mainstream media is finally covering the March. Maybe Trump pushed them?)
It Doesn’t Matter Anyway
It really doesn’t matter how many people watched or attended the inauguration. Conway summed it up best on Meet the Press, “I don’t think, ultimately, presidents are judged by crowd sizes at their inauguration. I think they’re judged by their accomplishments.”
More people may have attended Obama’s first inauguration, but he left office with one of the lowest average approval ratings of any post-World War II president, with his signature achievement, Obamacare, set to be dismantled. (For more from the author of “The Media Play the Numbers Game, and Somehow Conservatives Always Lose” please click HERE)