National Park Service apologizes for tweets showing poor inaugural turnout

Side-by-side images of the 2009 inauguration, left, and 2017 inauguration show smaller crowds for Donald Trump on Friday than Barack Obama in 2009. The National Park Service apologized for retweeting similar images showing large gaps in the crowd, in what many saw as a jab at the incoming president. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI

Jan. 21 (UPI) — The official Twitter account of the National Park Service was restored after briefly shutting down when a staff member retweeted images implying there was a low turnout on the National Mall for President Donald Trump‘s inauguration.

Media reports about the size of the crowd also drew a rebuke from the White House during a press briefing on Saturday.

The images, which were widely shared by Trump critics on social media — and by media outlets across the country — showed the mall teeming with an estimated 1.8 million people for Barack Obama‘s first inauguration in 2009 next to a decidedly less-than-full crowd in the same space Friday. The Park Service did not offer an estimate for the number of people who attended Trump’s inauguration.

The Washington Post reported the incoming Trump administration ordered the Interior Department, which oversees the National Park Service, to suspend its Twitter accounts after the offending tweets began receiving significant attention online.

“All bureaus and the department have been directed by incoming administration to shut down Twitter platforms immediately until further notice,” the Interior Department wrote in an email to staff on Friday.

As of Saturday morning, the National Park Service Twitter account was up and running. The inauguration tweets were deleted and the department apologized for the incident.

“We regret the mistaken RTs from our account yesterday and look forward to continuing to share the beauty and history of our national parks with you,” the agency tweeted Saturday morning.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer laid into the media during his first briefing at the White House on Saturday, saying the images were misleading. He said the reports were “deliberately false reporting.”

Trump himself said the media had deliberately tried to downplay enthusiasm for his inauguration. During a speech at the CIA on Saturday, Trump took aim at the media for its coverage of the event.

“We had a massive field of people — you saw that,” he said. “I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field. I said, ‘Wait a minute, I made a speech, I looked out, the field was, it looked like a million, million and a half people.’ They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there and they said, ‘Donald Trump did not draw well.'”

Spicer pointed to the Park Service decision to cover the grass on the mall with white plastic, which he said had the effect of making gaps in the crowd more glaring than in 2009, when there was no plastic. He also said the increased security measures prevented many people from reaching the mall on time, giving the impression fewer people showed up.

Though he conceded there were “no numbers” from the park service estimating the size of the crowd Friday, Spicer said it was “the largest inaugural crowd ever, period.”

Still, the side-by-side photos taken from the center of the mall looking back at the Capitol clearly showed more people in 2009 than 2017.

Spicer did not take any questions from reporters during the briefing.

Afterward, The New York Times pointed out two other factual inaccuracies in Spicer’s comments. He said it was the first time “in our nation’s history” the plastic floor coverings were used, when they were used four years ago. He also said Metro ridership in Washington showed more people had used public transportation across the District of Columbia than eight years ago.

At 11 a.m. on Inauguration Day, an hour before Trump was scheduled to recite the oath, ridership was significantly higher in 2009 and 2013 than it was for Trump’s inauguration. Politico reported it was also higher Saturday for the Women’s March, an anti-Trump protest that drew hundreds of thousands to the National Mall.

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