When President Donald Trump’s press secretary claimed that the crowd at the 2017 inauguration was record-breaking, the United States had a nervous breakdown.
Fact-checkers launched into action, analyzing charts of past attendance numbers, as well as metro ridership the day of Trump’s inauguration, to show why Sean Spicer’s claim was demonstrably false. Journalists compared photos on live television. And Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway infamously justified the falsehood by stating that Spicer had used “alternative facts.”
It was a bizarre precursor for what would become a historically inaccurate presidency — and it felt like a defining moment for American fact-checkers. But the obsession with crowd size isn’t only a feature of American politics.