Editorial: Trump’s first days foreshadow bleak future for the press

White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks in the media briefing room on Jan. 21. Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS

The election is over, the delegates have voted and the oath has been taken — Donald Trump is the president of the United States.

His very first day in office set an early precedent for the future of the administration’s interaction with the press and the people — and it’s not one that’s favorable for anyone not working for the president.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed Saturday that Friday’s turnout “was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration” — a blatantly false statement. In line with Trump’s campaign rhetoric for most of 2016, Spicer blamed the media for unfairly reporting the attendance in an effort to delegitimize Trump’s inaugural success.

That Trump and Spicer chose to focus on attendance and viewership numbers as a way to legitimize the president’s first day in office, instead of on more substantive aspects of the weekend — such as Trump’s inaugural address, his plans and policies for the future or the Women’s March — is worrisome.

The scapegoating and desperate attempt to prove Trump’s popularity is further evidence for this administration’s tendency to ignore facts in favor of grandeur. Although photographs, experts and D.C. Metro data quite deftly debunk Spicer’s falsities, we should be immediately diligent in questioning further, less obviously untrue claims coming from the press officer’s podium.

Fact checkers around the nation are well-versed in detecting Trump’s exaggerations, and sometimes absolute disregard for the truth. But the brand of lying that has surfaced in the White House is of a more devious nature. It’s not just Trump and Kellyanne Conway anymore — it’s an entire contingent of people, most notably Spicer, who seek to manipulate the truth. Spicer’s tactic, in its most essential form, is propaganda.

Trump won — he has little need to misguide and convince voters anymore. His only obligation is to become the president for all Americans that he promised on election night. Instead, his lies hold the potential to divide Americans even further — supporters will believe him, critics will grow continuously frustrated and the rest of the country is likely to disengage from this confusing debacle all together.

Spicer also set the stage for how the administration will be treating the media in the coming years. Reading off a prepared document, Spicer’s aggressive tone rarely let up and took an especially notable hike when he told reporters and journalists, “That’s what you guys should be writing and covering” in regards to “Senate Democrats stalling the nomination of Mike Pompeo,” Trump’s nomination for CIA director. He left the room directly after finishing his comments without allowing questions, clarifications or pushback from journalists and reporters.

And when NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Conway, Trump’s former campaign adviser and current counselor, about the conference Sunday, she redirected the conversation to the Time Magazine journalist who mistakenly reported that Trump removed the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office. She went on to call Spicer’s statements “alternative facts.”

Let’s be very clear: there is no such thing as “alternative facts.” There are facts, opinions and speculation. Trump and his team want to believe that his inauguration was the most well-attended in history — but that doesn’t make it the truth, and we shouldn’t let them label it as such.

And after all the fuss he made about his inauguration, Trump had little to say about the millions of people marching all across the world to speak out against him. The president chose to issue only a three sentence tweet chastising nonvoters and celebrities and another stating he respected the right to protest, a statement a president certainly shouldn’t have to make for us to know it’s true. Instead of attempting to assure concerned Americans and global citizens that he had heard them, he sent his press secretary out to try and convince the world that he does, in fact, have many, many supporters.

We don’t need to know that Trump has fans — that’s how he got to the White House. We need to know that he is listening to everyone, including the majority of the country who did not vote for him, and that he’s got real plans for the coming years.

If our new president really plans to unify Americans as he claims, he needs to walk away from his ego and commit to transparency and old-fashioned hard work. If the press won’t be given the chance to do so, everyday Americans must take up the responsibility of holding him accountable by looking for real facts, not “alternative” ones.

“The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action,” said Trump, only minutes after taking his oath. And we couldn’t agree more. The time for fanfare, crowds and television ratings are over and we’re ready for real action.

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