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Seems this has become the new issue of the new administration. Even Sean Spicer spent time during media briefing to talk about it and even went so far as to say

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period"

This is the picture in question:

enter image description here

were the two photos taken when Obama and Trump were giving their speeches?

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    Related "Were these photos of presidential inauguration crowds taken at the time claimed on the photos?" skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/36847/… – Mawg Jan 25 '17 at 8:58
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    To give some context, Trump received 4% of the Washington D.C. vote, and Obama received 92% of the vote in 2008. – Casey Kuball Jan 25 '17 at 16:53
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    The questions in the title and the body do not agree. – Carsten S Jan 26 '17 at 23:36
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    1) that particular picture is irrelevant because it was taken before those areas filled up, so the pictures aren't comparable. 2) The 2009 inauguration was an unprecedented historical event (1st black president). Trump's was a routine transition after a contentious election. There's no reason to expect that the crowds would be comparable. So the only reason for the media to make the comparison was to belittle Trump. (cont'd) – user11810 Jan 29 '17 at 7:36
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    3) Spicer's issue wasn't the crowd size. He used it as an example of part of an ongoing effort by the media to denigrate and delegitimize Trump's presidency. His point was that crowd size should have been irrelevant, particularly since total viewership set a record, so it wasn't shabby. – user11810 Jan 29 '17 at 7:37
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The pictures by themselves are not much of an issue; there are obviously fewer people in one than in other but there is not much more that can be concluded about it1.

The issue is that in his habitual style, Trump and his aides could not stand any information that did not suit them, and engaged in claims that his inauguration had more attendance than Obama's (including attacks on the press that reported otherwise). Even when other data (number of metro rides that day) debunked that claim, they pressed their own claim, to the point of talking about alternative facts.2

Now, the issue of how many people there were is minor in itself, but the way Trump administration has reacted is worrisome: deny the data they do not want, make a major issue of a point without importance, attack anyone who produces information they do not like, and invent "alternative facts"3.

It is not the only incident of this type Trump has protagonized4, so it has lead to doubts about his personality. If this is how he reacts to bad data about the public attendance to his inauguration... what should the public expect from him if economic, intelligence, etc. data does not paint the picture that Trumps wants to see? This is the whole point of the debate.


1For example, maybe more people prefered to get out for a weekend trip than to attend Trump's inauguration on a Friday, or it was colder, or whatever. If you want more details about how many people were at each inauguration, this question in skeptics addresses the issue.

2BTW, the video covers the whole issue pretty well -although with an humorous spin-, it is worth seeing it full.

3Alternative facts would be OK if Trump were POTUS in an alternative reality, since he is not it is desirable that he learns to use actual facts.

4Up to claiming fraud in the elections that nobody disputes he won, which is AFAIK a first in Western history.

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    Was going to post a similar answer, but this hits the nail on the head. It is very similar to the Streisand effect. You might consider linking this SE question for debunking Spicer's claim: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/36832 – Alexander O'Mara Jan 24 '17 at 20:40
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    It appears that Trump is particularly sensitive about specific information which does not suit him: ratings, including election results and turnouts, and about his public image. This may reflect his history of a TV entertainer. He does not seem to take comparable offense from dissent in actual political key questions: Tillerson and Mattis on the importance of the NATO or the role of Russia or torture; Haley on Muslims; Price on health insurance for all; the Tea Party on spending. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Jan 26 '17 at 15:19
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    @AlexanderO'Mara Something akin to the the Streisand effect appears in Bert Brecht's poem "The Invincible Inscription": Mussolini's soldiers try to erase an offending inscription in a wall, but the increasingly drastic efforts make the inscription only more and more visible, until it is actually chiseled in stone. A nice example of dialectics at work, and much older than Twitter. Foucault touches similar mechanisms by investigating how suppressed topics become actually ubiquitous, like sex in the Victorian age. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Jan 26 '17 at 15:31
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    "Trump administration has reacted is worrysome" Of course, one could also say "the way the media has reacted is worrysome". Even today I was hearing news about this issue, while Trump was happily moving with his policies. – NPSF3000 Jan 26 '17 at 21:34
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    @NPSF3000 - Yep, Trump has the ability to use things like this to distract the press from what he's really doing. Meanwhile he's at work on his wall, has effectively fired a whole bunch of federal workers, and is rolling merrily along on his schemes to destroy the federal government, the environment, and the rights of women and minorities. – Hot Licks Jan 27 '17 at 1:49
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With regards to the 2017 picture, we can fairly definitively say that it was not taken during Trump's speech. The crowd grew significantly just as the event began. There is a CNN gigapixel taken during Trump's speech that shows crowds in the areas that are empty in that picture.

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    This does not answer the question. – indigochild Jan 24 '17 at 20:52
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    @indigochild yes it does, the question was the right pic the one taken during Trump's speech. That is demonstratively false. – K Dog Jan 24 '17 at 20:57
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    @KDog - Maybe the problem is that there is two questions. One question is, "Why is there so much talk about this picture...?" - which this does not answer. I would agree that it answers a second question ("were the two photos taken when Obama and Trump were giving speeches"). I think that second question is off topic, and a better fit for Skeptics.SE. – indigochild Jan 24 '17 at 20:59
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    @KodosJohnson there is zero evidence to the contrary. The crowd was smaller at Trumps inauguration. There are no facts to debate there. The arguing about what time the photo was taken has no bearing on the crowd count that day. – user1530 Jan 26 '17 at 8:27
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    Actually, the CNN picture you linked to does not show any evidence of "crowds in the areas that are empty in that picture". Quite the opposite, in fact, if you zoom in on the areas that are visible on both pictures, you'll see the fact same patterns of full and empty areas. – jcaron Jan 26 '17 at 16:41
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Attendance at the inauguration has become a widely reported story because it's used by folks in the media to illustrate excitement behind a candidate. Whether rightly, or wrongly, it's become a point of comparison that managed to be a major point in President Trump's first press conference.

Politifact has an excellent analysis on the claims made in the press conference that provide data-backed analysis, rather than opinion or spin.

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    The article that you claim is "data-backed analysis" is opinion and spin using cherry picked numbers to appear credible. – Dunk Jan 25 '17 at 19:07
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    What specific evidence do you have to challenge the content as anything but fact? – LearnWorkLearn Jan 25 '17 at 19:42
  • Easy, start with the source's questionable integrity. Second anytime someone uses "unnamed", the report is automatically suspicious if not totally discredited as in "that two unnamed law enforcement officials told him". Third, the picture was obviously not taken during the inauguration as there are other pictures proving that fact. 4th - Listing EXACT numbers for other inaugurations and a wide estimate for Trump's. The intent was to mislead into thinking attendance was low. 5th - Using the Communist News Network as a source of statistical data discredits the entire report. – Dunk Feb 8 '17 at 16:46
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This was the crowd when Trump gave his speech, courtesy of Brit Hume via Powerlineblog:

Photo of the crowd from above and behind the stage

There is a back and forth on the subject because there is an effort by the media to discredit Trump and downplay his mandate, such that he has one. There is also an attempt to pressure Spicer to get more accurate in his speech, which is needed. So there is a little tit-for-tat going on here. In the realm of things, crowd size has to be one of the more trivial things to argue over.

Note I think that the NYT's posted your pic in the OP on twitter here. Kind of embarrassing that they get pwned in the first reactive post on it, however.

https://twitter.com/nytpolitics/status/822944374883545090

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    I'm confused as to what you think that photo does...discredits the other photos? It's the same crowd. – user1530 Jan 26 '17 at 8:25
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    This photo is useless for distinguishing whether there was a normal attendance or the sort of extreme attendance that happened in 2009. The area near the podium, the foreground in this picture, would be full in either case. The difference would be at the Washington Monument end, and the angle there is far too shallow to tell whether there is empty space or not. – Patricia Shanahan Jan 26 '17 at 14:35
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    @PatriciaShanahan is totally useful to demonstrate that the New York Times publishes fake news with an obvious axe to grind. – K Dog Jan 26 '17 at 14:43
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    1. You need to stop calling reports that choose facts over what you want to hear "fake news". We can't take you seriously otherwise. Crowd sizes were smaller. 2. The NYT image is obviously a different one (it seems you've only included it here to try to get in a very silly little jab at NYT). 3. Cherry-picking one image of the front of a crowd as you did is very disingenuous. You don't even give us a comparable image to compare against. And really, I can still see the empty patches, even with your image's angle that obscures them. – Alexander O'Mara Jan 26 '17 at 19:38
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    @kDog, I'm curious, would you consider this interview by Fox News host Chris Wallace about the crowd size being smaller than 2009 bring fake news? After all, if you're saying "media = fake news" I would think you would also call this one 'fake news' also? – Noah Jan 26 '17 at 21:07

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