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.