On Sunday, Dan Rather posted a commentary on his Facebook page blasting the notion of “alternative facts” that Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s aides used when she tried to defend the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer after he claimed that the crowds attending Trump’s inauguration were the largest ever. Rather’s post quickly went viral.
The day before on January 21, Spicer had declared that the crowd attending Trump’s inauguration was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.” He also scolded naysayers, saying “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong,”
Unfortunately for Spicer, experts in counting crowd size estimated that fewer than 200,000 people had attended the inauguration. They even displayed side-by-side pictures of Trump’s inauguration and Obama’s first inauguration. The latter had set records in crowd size, and the picture showed far more people.
On “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd had asked Conway why Spicer had lied about the crowd’s size. Conway answered,” You’re saying it’s a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.” She agreed with Spicer that there is no real way to accurately estimate a crowd’s size. Todd retorted that “alternative facts” were lies. Conway then said, “If we’re going to keep referring to the press secretary in those types of terms I think we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here.”
In his post, Rather expressed his disgust with the whole thing and described the phrase “alternative facts” as “Orwellian.” He began his post by saying, “These are not normal times” and then described the bullying and dishonest behavior of both the press secretary and the President. He also urged both the press and Congress to demand honesty from the President. He told journalists to end the interview if representatives from the White House or Congress refused to give straightforward answers to questions.
Rather concluded his post with the following: “Facts and the truth are not partisan. They are the bedrock of our democracy. And you are either with them, with us, with our Constitution, our history, and the future of our nation, or you are against it. Everyone must answer that question.”
Dean Obeidallah of CNN added his two cents in an editorial in which he agreed that with Chuck Todd that “alternative facts” are falsehoods, not facts. He pointed out “If Trump and his administration are going to continue lying to us, how can we trust any information they release? How can we trust the administration’s statements on issues like the unemployment rate, GDP growth or numbers of people signing up for government programs like Obamacare?”
How can we trust the Trump Administration? How can we trust them to tell the truth about important matters like national security if they’re willing to lie about something as trivial as crowd size at an inauguration?
Trump, of course, wanted to believe that a huge mob had attended his inauguration, for that would boost his ego. Naturally, that brings up another point: How can we trust a President who puts his ego before everything else, including the truth?
Yet another problem with the “alternative facts” business is that it is yet one more display of disrespect for expertise and knowledge. Crowd scientists have ways of estimating the size of crowds to a certain degree of accuracy. However, since their measurements don’t meet the President’s wishes, they are summarily dismissed.
To be fair to the new President, that attitude predates his administration by decades. Unfortunately, there are no signs it will go away during his regime. As Rather pointed out in his post, facts and respect for the truth are vital to a democracy. People cannot make intelligent decisions during elections or anything else without knowing the facts.