PolitiFact: No, Donald Trump's inauguration wasn't the largest ever

Published January 22 2017
Updated January 22 2017

The statement

"That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period."

Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, Saturday in a press briefing

The ruling

At the first press conference of the new administration, White House press secretary Sean Spicer blasted the media, saying they deliberately misled the public about the size of President Donald Trump's inauguration crowd.

Spicer pointed to changes in infrastructure that gave the illusion of low turnout.

It was the "first time" that floor coverings were used to protect the grass on the National Mall, which had highlighted empty spots in the inaugural crowd, an effect not experienced in past inaugurations, he said.

But this is not the case. Floor coverings were also used in 2013, and floor coverings remained on the Mall during the Women's March on Washington on Saturday.

Spicer also blamed the "first time" usage of fencing and magnetometers on the Mall for "preventing hundreds of thousands of people being able to access the Mall as quickly as they had inaugurations past."

According to a 2017 Congressional Research Service report, screening magnetometers, or metal detectors, have been used in past inaugurations, though it's not clear if they were placed on the Mall itself. The screening zones, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, did include two busy metro stops close to the Mall.

Spicer then knocked the press for tweeting out "inaccurate numbers involving crowd size."

"No one had numbers because the National Park Service, which controls the National Mall, does not put any out," he said. "We do know a few things. So let's go through the facts."

"We know that from the platform from where the President was sworn in to 4th Street holds about 250,000 people. From 4th Street to the media tent is about another 220,000. And from the media tent to the Washington Monument another 250,000 people. All of this space was full when the President took the oath of office."

Many news organizations, including PolitiFact, have noted that it's difficult to gauge crowd size and that estimates are inconsistent. The National Park Service stopped tallying crowds on the National Mall in 1995 after a dispute over the attendance of the Million Man March.

Spicer's claim of full spaces on the Mall — which photographs contradict — would give Trump a crowd size of at least 720,000, which is higher than preliminary estimates reported in the media but are on par with the 700,000 to 900,000 organizers expected to attend. The president himself touted 1.5 million on Saturday at CIA headquarters. But that still wouldn't have been the top figure.

Here are the attendance estimates for past inaugurations: Trump 2017, 250,000 to 600,000; Barack Obama 2013, 1 million; Obama 2009, 1.8 million; George W. Bush 2005, 400,000; Bush 2001, 300,000; Bill Clinton 1997, 250,000; Clinton 1993, 800,000; George H.W. Bush 1989, 300,000.

Spicer suggested 720,000 attended Trump's inauguration, while organizers said they expected 700,000 to 900,000, and Trump himself estimated 1.5 million. All of those figures are less than the 1.8 million people who attended Obama's 2009 inaugural.

We rate Spicer's claim Pants on Fire.

Linda Qiu, Times staff writer Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.