Breaking News Emails
As soon as the words "alternative facts" left Kellyanne Conway's lips, a meme mocking her turn of phrase began to reverberate around the internet.
Not everyone was laughing, however, with some commentators concerned that President Donald Trump's administration appeared comfortable disseminating easily-disprovable falsehoods.
Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, made the remark Sunday during a testy exchange with Chuck Todd on NBC's "Meet The Press."
She claimed her colleague, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, was not misrepresenting the truth when he said "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period" — a claim later debunked.
Conway's line that these were not falsehoods but "alternative facts" served as a starting pistol for a deluge of parody online, centered around the #AlternativeFacts and #SpicerFacts hashtags on Twitter.
Merriam Webster, the dictionary publisher, soon got in on the act, explaining that a fact is "a piece of information presented as having objective reality."
While the memes rolled on, others were concerned that Spicer's statements had set a troubling precedent.
"Why put him out there for the very first time in front of that podium to utter a provable falsehood?" Todd asked Conway. "It's a small thing. But the first time he confronts the public it's a falsehood?"
Todd noted that the press secretary is "not just the spokesperson for Donald Trump, he also serves as the spokesperson for all of America at times."
By way of reply, Conway said "if we're going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms I think that we're going to have to rethink our relationship here."
She also took exception to a corrected report that erroneously stated Trump had removed the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office.
Conservative website Breitbart echoed this complaint in its article: "Fake News: Three Mainstream Media Lies on Trump’s First Day." It said reporters had sought to play up the significance of the crowd-size debate, and that Spicer "took the media to task" for trying to downplay attendance figures.
The media "are focusing on minutiae, and in some cases actually telling lies, both of omission and commission, " it added. "That risks alienating the public even further — making it harder, actually, for the media to act as watchdogs. "
Contrary to Spicer's claims, aerial photographs showed swaths of empty space on the National Mall, compared with the packed crowds for Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
Spicer claimed that more people had taken the D.C. Metro on Friday than on Obama’s inauguration in 2013. However, he compared the number of people who traveled for Trump with figures only up to 11 a.m. for Obama, as provided in a tweet by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
The WMATA’s like-for-like figures for morning ridership showed Trump was way down on both Obama inaugurations, as well as George W. Bush’s in 2005.
Media as 'foil'?
Many commentators believe Trump's self-declared "running war with the media" — typified by Spicer and Conway's combative appearances — is a deliberate ploy to continue his successful campaign tactic.
"Trump excels ... when he has a foil," Politico reporter Eliana Johnson said on "Meet the Press." "He has called the media the new opposition party. And so he is making the media his foil."
Ben Mullin, managing editor of poynter.org at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies journalism school, also weighed in.
"If the White House can't be trusted to tell the truth on trivial matters like crowd sizes, then the public might question its comments on more important issues such as terror threats or foreign policy concerns," Mullin told The Associated Press.
"I don't think the American people as a whole, whether they supported Donald Trump or not, want a situation where the press secretary to the president comes out and knowingly tells a lie," he said.