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‘Alternative Facts’

Where is Mark Twain when we need him?

Or do I mean Benjamin Disraeli?

Both are said to be the originator of the phrase “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

Actually, it was Twain who gave Disraeli the credit for the coinage, although Wikipedia points out that nowhere in Disraeli’s writing does the phrase appear.  Others have been cited for similar quotes.

Whoever coined it, the phrase comes to mind in the context of the hoo-ha over how many people attended the recent inauguration of a United States president who shall remain, at least for the month of January, and in keeping with an earlier pledge, nameless.

The White House press secretary, one Sean Spicer – an apt surname, it seems – complained with some vehemence at a press briefing that the media had ‘shamefully’ reduced the estimated number of people who attended the inauguration.  The media responded by showing photographs of the latest event with the one that introduced Barack Obama in 2008.  Pictorially, the media seem to have it right.

But who knows?  And, frankly, who cares?

Spicer’s outburst could have sunk with little trace, dismissed as an aberration, but then White House advisor Kellyanne Conway dragged it out again by claiming in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press that Spicer had simply given ‘alternative facts’.   Her interlocutor, Chuck Todd, could hardly believe his ears.  “Alternative facts are not facts,” he spluttered.  “They’re falsehoods.”   

And so, with this absurd dispute over a topic of no consequence to either party, or to the rest of us, the contestants have entered the ring – in the red corner, the White House, and in the blue corner, The Media – and the gloves are off.    

One can only wonder what the next marginal skirmish will be about.  In fact, we already know.  One television network claimed, erroneously, that a bust of Martin Luther King had been removed from the Oval Office.  It does not help The Media’s ‘cause’ when mistakes like that are made, ostensibly a trivial matter but which might conceivably provide insight into the attitude of the administration.      

This is going to be a long-running battle.  Spicer did not hurl his grenade on a personal whim, or in the heart of the moment; he was acting under instructions.  On whose instructions, I hesitate to guess.  He is, though, a combative fellow in his own right – he holds the rank of commander in the United States Naval Reserve, and looks the part – and seems to relish winding up news people, who he obviously sees as natural enemies.  So far, he is on course to ensure that they remain so. 

This press-baiting, and the inevitable acts of reprisal, may become entertaining, or may just become tiresome.  It could also prove to be dangerous – but then where would the fun be if it wasn’t? 

It sure ain’t necessary, and some would say silly beyond words – but that won’t stop it.

Seconds out – and here we go.

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  1. James Keck James Keck

    JJ, you are right about the insignificance of bickering re the number of attendees at the inauguration. Pretty sure Spicer was under instruction to brace the media for its unending comparison of those numbers to those of Obama in order to make Trump look bad.

    The MLK bust argument likewise should have been nothing if not for the US press’s desire to label Trump as a racial bigot.

    Who’s to know, the new president may even do something positive in your eyes in the near future.

    Best to Martha.

    • John Jessop John Jessop

      I agree with your first two paragraphs. There is no reason to suppose that I’ll go along with the third.
      I’m sorry to be so ‘obsessed’ with the man and his works. But we have just been through the most extraordinary presidential election in US history and the man who now sits in the WH is the most extraordinary incumbent in history, and I don’t mean either in a positive way.
      We shall see, but after five days I fear the worst rather than the best ….
      Hope you’re well. Best.

  2. James Keck James Keck

    I didn’t expect much of an agreement on paragraph 3. I don’t agree with much of what he does or more to the point in the manner he does it. He is surely like no other that we have had but that, too, is something this country needs. By the way, Theresa May impressed the hell out of me yesterday when she gave her speech. Trump should take notice of her style and dispose of his campaign style of speech.

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