One day prior, White House press secretary Sean Spicer had falsely claimed in his first statements from his new briefing podium that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” It was not.
Asked to contend with Spicer’s factually inaccurate claim, Conway wiggled her way out with an Orwellian turn of phrase.
“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving ― Sean Spicer, our press secretary ― gave alternative facts,” she said.
Conway’s startling claim, which flies in the face of what a fact is, as Merriam-Webster pointed out later that day, left many mouths agape due to its shamelessness. But its very concept is not new. George Orwell, author of the anti-authoritarian dystopian novel “1984,” wrote in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” about the misuse of words by the powerful to distract citizens from objective truth:
Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
But there is actually another, more recent quote that more accurately describes the underlying issue at hand with Conway’s “alternative facts” phrasing. And of all places, it appeared on the British sci-fi show “Doctor Who” exactly 40 years to the day before Conway’s appearance on “Meet the Press.”
In “The Face of Evil: Part Four,” which premiered on Jan. 22, 1977, the Doctor tries to make peace between the Saveteem and Tesh tribes. In the middle of the episode, the Doctor tells his future companion Leela:
You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit the views.
Of course, whether or not you think the quote summarizes the current political climate is a matter of opinion. That’s how opinions work. But the the facts are and will remain the facts. And here’s one fact for which there is no alternative: The audience on Friday was not the largest one to ever witness an inauguration, period.