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Explainer: Why would Trump's White House present blatant lies as 'alternative facts'?

It’s worked for him so far, but for how long will it last?

Trump Inauguration President Donald Trump and senior advisor Kellyanne Conway. Source: Evan Vucci/AP

WHEN KELLYANNE CONWAY went on television yesterday to defend White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, President Trump’s senior advisor introduced a new phrase into the political lexicon.

“Alternative facts”, were what she called Spicer’s blatant inaccuracies.

In case you didn’t see it, Spicer took to the famed podium in the White House to go to bat for President Trump.

The previous day, Trump had insisted against all evidence that he drew 1.5 million people to his swearing-in ceremony on Friday.

Spicer then doubled down on Trump’s claims, telling assembled journalists that there had been “deliberately false reporting” by the media.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period,” Spicer boomed at the reporters before walking out without taking questions.

As MSNBC pointed out in fact-check of his comments, Spicer also deliberately or mistakenly used incorrect figures to back up his and the president’s argument.

Source: MSNBC/YouTube

Brian Fallon, a former Hillary Clinton advisor and Justice Department spokesperson, was more forthright.

“The press secretary came out yesterday and told a fundamental untruth, he told a lie and we shouldn’t beat around the bush about it,” Fallon told CNN.

“We need to call it out for what it is. And that is a lie.”

If he was put in the situation by President Trump or Reince Priebus or anyone else to go out and tell a lie to the American people he should have resigned rather than go out and take the podium.

Enter Conway, the woman who moulded the final days of Trump’s successful campaign and is now his senior advisor.

On the Meet The Press show, Conway got into a testy exchange with Chuck Todd of NBC News in which he challenged her on what he called Spicer’s “falsehoods”.

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. Sean Spicer our press secretary gave alternative facts,” she responded.

Source: NBC News/YouTube

The phrase was jumped upon by many who felt that it was yet another illustration of how Trump and his supporters have lied and distorted the truth for their own ends.

Many have made comparisons with George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 where the authoritarian dictatorship constantly broadcasts blatant lies to maintain the government’s appearance of success and control.

“These are not normal times. These are extraordinary times. And extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” veteran US TV anchor Dan Rather wrote on his Facebook page.

When you have a spokesperson for the president of the United States wrap up a lie in the Orwellian phrase “alternative facts”. When you have a press secretary in his first appearance before the White House reporters threaten, bully, lie, and then walk out of the briefing room without the cajones to answer a single question. When you have a President stand before the stars of the fallen CIA agents and boast about the size of his crowds (lies) and how great his authoritarian inaugural speech was. These are not normal times.

Why lie?

When it comes to politics, and especially to incoming administrations, picking one’s battles is key to success. Lose credibility early and it can be an uphill struggle thereafter.

It is therefore quite extraordinary, even for Trump, that his administration’s first battle be on something on which they are so demonstrably wrong.

So why do it?

The likely reason is because it’s worked so far and Trump knows no other way.

Attacking the media and doubling-down when their claims are shown to be false was part of parcel of Trump’s campaign.

Creating an ‘us and them’ mentality against the press also rallies Trump’s supporters, most of whom do not trust the media.

Source: NBC News/YouTube

As the New York Times pointed out about Conway’s “alternative facts” interview, she even appeared to attack the media for its “approval ratings”.

Her argument was basically that the public’s trust in the media is so low that they aren’t in a position to judge.

The reality of course is that facts are not things that are ‘judged’, but rather objectively reported.

Even the famous American dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster couldn’t resist pointing this out after Conway’s remarks

A fact is “a piece of information presented as having objective reality”, the dictionary said.

So while attacking the media might play well with Trump supporters, it remains to be seen who the wider public will believe. The President or the dictionary.

Read: Trump’s chief advisor Kellyanne Conway defends crowd claims as ‘alternative facts’ >

Read: Obama definitely beat Trump in the battle of the crowd sizes >

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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