After the inauguration, the White House was heavily criticized for President Trump’s repeated criticism of the media over how big of a crowd he attracted at his inauguration, particularly in comparison to the inaugurations of former President Obama. As I stated at the time, I thought both Trump’s comments at the CIA and Sean Spicer’s first press conference were mistakes. They lost the first 48 hour news cycle to a discuss about Trump’s perceived insecurities and factual assertions that were later challenged. Newspapers have reported (with White House staff as sources) that Trump was alarmingly obsessed with the issue. It was a performance that even stalwart supporters like Charles Krauthammer on Fox called “weird.” Likewise, Fox News has described Spicer’s facts as “incorrect.” While it does appear that the crowd at the inauguration was smaller (which again I fail to see as a serious problem) and the figures released by Spicer on metro ridership were wrong, but the BBC is reporting with other sources that Trump’s inauguration a study on live streaming sources that supports Spicer’s claim that the actual viewership was in fact the largest in history.
One claim may now be supportable. Spicer said that Mr. Trump had drawn “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.” Various media outlets denounced that claim with the other claims as unsupported. After all, the Nielsen ratings show Trump at 19 percent below Obama’s audience in 2009. Trump had 31 million. By comparison, Ronald Reagan racked up 41.8 million.
However, in his second press conference, Spicer insisted that he was not claiming television viewership or attendance alone. “I am saying that it was the total largest audience witnessed in person and around the globe.” Spicer insisted that you have to the 16.9 million who viewed it on CNN. That figures is clearly relevant though CNN says that it is not very precise. It does confirm that at the peak of CNN’s livestream coverage at 12:15 p.m., there were 2.3 million devices (desktop, mobile, connected TVs) streaming CNN’s feed of the inauguration.
However, Akamai Technologies, reported that the Trump inauguration was the largest single live news event that the company has ever delivered. It counts 4.6 million people watching the inauguration simultaneously — far greater than the prior peak of 3.8 million back in 2009).
That means that the Spicer claim of overall viewership could be true. There is still grounds for debate but it is a plausible argument that the Trump inauguration was the most watched.
In the end, I still do not get the importance given to this issue by President Trump. As I previously discussed, the most important figure are those millions of voters who elected Trump. A huge number of people attended the inauguration. Was it equal to the Obama inauguration in 2009. It does not appear so. Yet, what does that really mean about the election or the new President? By attacking the media and obsessing on the issue, the White House made this the leading story of the first week of the Administration. The fact is that Trump has kept a remarkable number of his campaign pledges in the first week. That should have been the overriding message of the White House. Instead, it dealt with days of debate over false figures and heated attacks on the media.