Ms. Geek Speaks: Nebulous Numbers, Trump and Fantasyland

If I’m at Disneyland or the movies, I enjoy a good fantasy. But we should worry about a White House press secretary who wants us to believe a fantasy about nebulous numbers.

Saturday morning, the day after the 20 Jan. 2017 inauguration, press secretary Sean Spicer told the press that Friday’s crowd, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” Spicer claimed that some photos were “intentionally framed” to mislead people.

Spicer also claimed that “This is the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings have been used to protect the grass on the Mall had the effect of highlighting areas people were not standing whereas in years past the grass eliminated this visual.” According to CNN this was not true because the grass had been covered during Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.

Newsweek reported the following about the Metro count:

Friday (11 a.m. ET) 2017: 193,000 rides

Obama 2009: 513,000 rides

Obama 2013: 317,000 rides

Saturday (11 a.m. ET) 2017: 275,000 rides

This was what the Metro Ridership tweeted on 20 Jan. 2017.

11 a.m. Friday 2017: 193,000

11 a.m. 20 Jan. 2013: 317,000 (Obama)

11 a.m. 20 Jan. 2009: 513,000 (Obama)

11 a.m. 20 Jan. 2005: 197,000 (George W. Bush)

#WomensMarch 11 a.m. 21 Jan. 2017: 275,000

Recently, adding to the fantasyland of fans of Donald Trump a beautiful Gigapixel photo from CNN raised hopes that it wasn’t true, that Trump’s inauguration actually had the biggest crowd ever or at least a good crowd for an inauguration.

However, a good photographer knows how to minimize empty seats as noted and the Gigapixel photo doesn’t show a side-by-side comparison. The Gigapixel photo is intentionally framed to provide a more flattering image. Elsewhere CNN did provide an aerial shot with a side-by-side comparison.

The Atlantic published an article about the science of calculating crowds and features a photo that seems to show a good sized crowd, but the article indicates that aerial photos are more reliable and discusses the particular problems with presidential inaugurations.

As press secretary, Spicer should understand the news cycles. Misinformation is common on radio, TV and daily news reports on current events as opposed to in-depth feature reports. In the past, newspapers used to have several editions which would update the news and information, something like a morning and an evening edition. Now the news is being constantly updated.

The bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. story was later retracted.  I didn’t see it. Spicer said it was tweeted, but why waste the time of all reporters for the mistake of one person, something that was, retracted?

News from the radio or TV was less reliable and more prone to error than the daily newspapers. The daily newspapers were less reliable than the magazines. As an event unfolds and more facts are revealed, if the event is important enough, then a book will be written. The book will likely use newspapers, archival films and photos and magazines, and will likely find mistakes and corrections.

Incorrect information isn’t necessarily “fake news” or lies. Fake news or lies implies that there was an intent to deceive. This may or may not be the case. If a reporter is unsure of the news or the source, then the best practice is attribution or to note that the information hasn’t been confirmed or it has been “alleged” or “reported.”

However, when a press secretary refuses to take questions at a briefing after instead perpetuating something that one can visually see if false, then the press becomes an even more vital check to the balance of power.

Further, when Kellyanne Conway offers “alternative facts,”  it becomes clear that the press and the people cannot trust the counselor to the President of the United States (Conway) and the press secretary (Spicer), and that one should question the integrity of the presidential campaign and the very presidency of Donald Trump.  Alternate timelines and facts are fine with science fiction and comic book fantasies in print or in movies, but not with a real presidency. One can’t make America great again with dishonesty.

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace confronts White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.

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