On January 21 Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway coined the term ‘alternative facts,’ responding to the media lambasting Press Secretary Sean Spicer for stating falsehoods regarding President Trump’s inauguration crowd size.
During an NBC Meet the Press interview with Chuck Todd Conway called the inaccurate data presented by Spicer ‘alternative facts,’ implying that they bore equal weight to those given by National Parks Service and the Washington Metro.
“Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck,” Conway said. “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and they’re giving — Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts about that.”
Spicer’s claims included: largest number of attendees at any inauguration; that white ground protestors – being used for the first time – made the crowd appear smaller; magnetometer and fencing usage blocking crowds from entering; 420,000 people used the DC Metro over Obama’s 317,000;
Archival photos and input from related experts disproved Spicer’s claims, most stating that they had no basis in reality.
The first dispute of the term came from Todd, immediately after Conway’s statement in the interview.
“Four of the five facts he uttered were not true!” Todd said. “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”
The phrase ‘alternative facts’ immediately attracted wide derision from the media and populace alike. The term began to be used sarcastically to refer to blatant falsehoods, whether they were from the Trump Administration or not. Jokes on Twitter made derisive references to ‘alternative time,’ alternative technology,’ and ‘alternative payment.’
Journalist Dan Rather sharply criticized the presentation of demonstrable falsehoods, saying that it was unlike anything the country had seen before. He also called on press to hold Republican lawmakers accountable for not calling out falsehoods.
“Facts and the truth are not partisan,” Rather said in a Facebook post. “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.”
The Public Relations Society of America released a statement sharply criticizing ‘alternative facts,’ stating their commitment to trust and disapproval of information manipulation.
“Truth is the foundation of all effective communications… PRSA strongly objects to any effort to deliberately misrepresent information,” Society Chair Jane Dvorak wrote in a statement. “Honest, ethical professionals never spin, mislead or alter facts. We applaud our colleagues and professional journalists who work hard to find and report the truth.”
Some conservative publications have come to Spicer and Conway’s defense, including far right website Breitbart News, of which Steve Bannon is the former executive chair.
“To make his case, Spicer presented what Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway later called ‘alternative facts’ — a harmless, and accurate, term in a legal setting, where each side of a dispute will lay out its own version of the facts for the court to decide,” Senior Editor-at-Large Joel K. Pollak wrote. “In the heated debate, however, the term quickly became a left-wing meme as a euphemism for “lying” — in much the way that a Bush aide inadvertently gave the mainstream media a badge of honor when he used the phrase ‘reality-based community.’
The phrase has come to be considered Orwellian, and was accompanied by a spike in sales of George Orwell’s 1984. The book reached Amazon’s #1 seller position, a 9,500% increase from its previous slot. Similarities were drawn between the governmental promotion of falsehoods and the Ministry of Truth’s historical revision and ‘newspeak’ in the novel.
“’The Party told you to reject all evidence of your eyes + ears. It was their final, most essential command.’ -Orwell, 1984,” wrote Micah J. Murray on Twitter.
“Someone should let @KellyannePolls and @seanspicer know that #Orwell‘s #1984 is a warning; not a guide,” Mexico High School English/Media teacher Michael Charbonneau wrote.
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary reported that a spike in searches for ‘fact’ occurred following the Todd-Conway interview.
Spicer later corrected his statements on the Washington Metro ridership, saying that he had been given the statistics, but maintained his other statements regarding inauguration crowd size.