Tue | Feb 20, 2018

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Alternative facts

Published:Wednesday | January 25, 2017 | 12:00 AM

On Sunday, the world got introduced to a new expression: alternative facts. The euphemism was added to our vocabularies in an MSNBC interview with former campaign manager and counsellor to the newly minted US president, Kellyanne Conway. (That's a whole lot of titles, but pretty much, she's now Donald Trump's Olivia Pope).

She was making reference to details shared in an impromptu media briefing called by Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday, his first media briefing since entering the White House.

What the world saw with their own eyes on Friday afternoon: The crowd in Washington was thin. Certainly, thinner than the crowd at Obama's inauguration. The 'alternative facts' put forward by Spicer: members of the media were engaged in false reporting.

"This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration. Period."

He claimed reporters intentionally framed pictures to minimise the support that Trump had received while being sworn in.

He gave reasons for the seeming lacklustre numbers, suggesting that white floor coverings highlighted the empty spaces more than in previous years where there were none. The media were properly scolded and their reporting of the inauguration he felt was "shameful and wrong".

Fact-checkers, including CNN, went to town with Spicer. They wound up discrediting most of what he reported as facts, even the floor covering cover-up. (Turns out, floor coverings were used in Obama's 2013 inauguration. You just couldn't see them because people were standing on them).

The press conference, in many ways, diminished the power of the platform. To call your first press conference to dispute something as immaterial as attendance numbers created a bad first impression. This was a message the Trump administration felt was so urgent to communicate, it couldn't have waited until the first scheduled press conference on Monday.

The only time I can recall a head of state calling a press conference for something more trite was when then president of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, called a briefing to announce that he only had one wife. And he called that press conference because his wife made him do it.

The whole thing got me thinking about how we use our voices. And just how much we are judged by what we say. Sean Spicer's 'alternative facts' compromised his credibility. And Kellyanne Conway's defence of those 'alternate facts' have people wondering just when the Trump administration will emerge presidential.


Setting the agenda


As commander-in-chief, the expectation would be that you set the agenda. Calling press conferences to respond to 'fake news' plays right into the hand of those creating the smoke and mirrors. In his first two days in office, Donald Trump allowed the media to set his agenda, and the agenda of those closest to him.

In the face of what's arguably the largest US protest the day after his election, the president used his Twitter voice to respond, saying, "Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn't these people vote?"

That comment is no alternative fact. It's a truth even we here in Jamaica could learn from.

Your voice and vote are powerful tools. Those Americans who did not turn up at the polls and instead turned up at Saturday's rally silenced themselves. Donald Trump won the election fair and square. So for the next four years, presidential or not, petty or not, this is the voice America voted for, and that's just the fact.

No alternative.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.