Fighting political lies and fake news
If you watched the limousines proceeding toward the Capitol on Inauguration Day last month, you may have noticed the route lined with sparse crowds. You may have heard only scattered cheering and seen bleachers that were half full.
Later, as dignitaries walked out of the Capitol and onto the inauguration platform, you might have seen — halfway down the Mall — large expanses of white ground cover that remained exposed. Where were the crowds? Did the camera angles give a false impression?
The next day, women marched on the Mall, partly to protest Donald Trump's election but more in solidarity with all women seeking equality, freedom and respect. Aerial photos taken at noon (at the same time as photos of the inauguration) looked as though twice as many people had shown up for the Women's March as for the inauguration.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority reported online that ridership at 11 a.m. on Inauguration Day was 193,000; on the day of the Women's March, it was 275,000. That is 40 percent more people headed toward the Mall for the march than for the inauguration.
Accurate estimates of crowd size are difficult to make. Density varies and crowds move. Also, there are political considerations: When the National Park Service estimated that 400,000 people attended the Million Man March in 1995, the ensuing political firestorm convinced the agency to stop estimating crowds altogether.
Which leaves the truth to us, to our leaders and to the media. Whom do we trust? Let's look at each.
Eyewitness accounts are notoriously inaccurate. Memories shift. Photos can be altered. So, even if we swore something happened, we may be in error. However, streaming video in real time cannot be changed, so what we saw in the videos of the Mall on Jan. 20 and Jan. 21 can give us a high degree of certainty that the crowds were comparatively small for Trump's inauguration.
Can we trust our leaders to tell the truth? Sean Spicer, Trump's White House press secretary, claimed in a late-night press briefing that Trump drew "the largest inauguration crowd ever," even though photos of Obama's inaugurations showed four times as many people on the Mall in 2009 and three times as many in 2013. Trump claimed on Jan. 21 that 1 million to 1.5 million attended his inauguration, but anyone who followed events on TV on Jan. 20 knows that is a gross exaggeration — if not a flat-out lie. Based on Metro ridership and the amount of the Mall covered, only about 250,000 people attended Trump's inauguration.
The last source for truth is the media. Can we trust them? A better question is, which outlets can we trust?
Since anyone can make up a story and put it on the Internet, that is the most suspect outlet. The least suspect are those publications and broadcast stations that have proven for decades that they have journalistic integrity, which means they don't print something unless they have verifiable, peer-reviewed facts. And if they do make a mistake, they apologize. In this category are the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, the Oregonian, The Review and others.
The best way an individual can fight fake news is to subscribe to publications that have shown a loyalty to truth for decades. Investigative reporting, the kind that uncovers Watergate, the Catholic Church, lead levels in armories, Cylvia Hayes, etc., is expensive. An underfunded press is never free. So, subscribe. It is a small price for freedom.
Peter Wright is a resident of Lake Oswego