Kellyanne Conway, a senior aide to President Trump, said yesterday that the White House press secretary had presented "alternative facts" on Saturday when he falsely stated that Trump's swearing-in ceremony drew "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration".

White House press secretary Sean Spicer made that claim during a late Saturday afternoon briefing, in which he scolded reporters for trying to "lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration" by deliberately reporting numbers that were lower than the White House believed.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer used 'alternative facts' in his crowd size claims, says Trump senior aide Kellyanne Conway.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer used 'alternative facts' in his crowd size claims, says Trump senior aide Kellyanne Conway.

The National Park Service, which controls the Mall, where crowds gather for the swearing-in ceremonies, does not release crowd estimates.

But visual photographs and other means make clear that Trump's crowd was far smaller than the 1.8 million people that President Obama's first inauguration was estimated to have attracted in 2009. Television ratings released by Nielsen on Saturday also showed a smaller audience for Trump than for Obama in 2009.

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Confronted by Meet the Press host Chuck Todd about Spicer's characterisation, Conway responded by saying: "You're saying it's a falsehood, and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that."

Conway later backtracked and said there was no way to know which audience was larger.

"I don't think you can prove those numbers one way or another," she told Todd. "There's no way to quantify crowd numbers."