Did The Media Lie About Trump’s Inauguration Crowd?

Amidst the coverage of Donald J. Trump’s Inauguration on January 20th in Washington DC on image caught the attention of social media, as well as media outlets on TV, the internet and in print.

The image shows a view of the National Mall taken from atop the Washington Monument, comparing the crowds for Barack Obama’s 2009 Inauguration and Trump’s 2017 Inauguration.


Evidently this image frustrated Trump and his team as both the President himself, and his spokesman Sean Spicer, made hyperbolic claims about the crowd size and accused the media of making this up.

Within Pro-Trump circles two images have been popular to show the “media bias” – one is a “gigapixel” panoramic image from, ironically, CNN. The other is a shot taken from the capitol building behind Trump looking toward the Mall.

The operator of popular conspiracy website What Really Happened posted the following image on his Facebook page:

So, is this actually exposing media fakery or is something else going on?

Well the most important thing to note about these images is that they actually show very similar crowds. If you look closely at the “real” photo above you will see large amounts of empty space on the mall in the distance.

However as the angle is lower and the crowd is more distant from the camera it is less obvious. The distance compresses the crowd in perspective, and the lower angle means people obscure more of the empty space behind them.

It’s also noteworthy in the conspiracy claim image above that the creators have deliberately removed the timestamp that is evident in the original image – which states that the image was taken at 11:49am – not “hours before” the start, but only around 10 minutes before the scheduled start time.

In the image below I’ve highlighted the matching areas in the two shots so you can see that they are very similar overall.


There is also a timelapse from the Washington Monument camera that shows the growth, peak and subsequent dispersal of the crowd. It’s clear from that video that the crowd didn’t peak significantly beyond what was shown in photographs.


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