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The National Parks Service made a fatal error when they posted photographic evidence that proved otherwise, retweeting a side-by-side of aerial photos of inauguration crowd sizes in 2009 and 2016.
The NPS tweet was abruptly taken down the day after inauguration. And the White House temporarily banned the Department of the Interior from tweeting.
The next day, NPS posted an apology in the place of the original tweet.
The Washington Post dove into the details Thursday of what caused NPS to delete its tweet. Trump called acting NPS Director Michael T. Reynolds and demanded that he produce additional photographs of the previous day’s crowd sizes, based on information from “three individuals who have knowledge of the conversation.” Trump then expressed anger over the agency’s retweet.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed to the New York Times that the conversation took place.
“It was a, ‘What’s going on?’ type of thing,” Sanders said. “Why is the National Park Service tweeting out comparison photos? That was the bigger issue there.”
Reynolds didn’t speak publically about the phone call, but word rapidly spread throughout NPS and the city about the tense phone call.
According to the Post:
“For Trump, who sees himself and his achievements in superlative terms, the inauguration’s crowd size has been a source of grievance that he appears unable to put behind him. It is a measure of his fixation on the issue that he would devote part of his first morning in office to it — and that he would take out his frustrations on an acting Park Service director.”
NPS wasn’t the only entity to post side-by-side photos of the National Mall. Photos comparing Trump’s inauguration crowd with former President Barack Obama’s was posted by unnumbered Twitter users and by virtually every major news outlet from the New York Times to CNN to Fox News.
Many news outlets included context such as Metro ridership figures and the weather. Independent crowd scientists were even consulted. All reached the same conclusion: Trump’s 2016 presidential inauguration was not the most widely attended in history. Compared to Obama’s inauguration in 2009, less than half attended Trump’s inauguration in-person and 19 percent fewer people watched it on television.
Since Trump’s inauguration day, many government agencies have tweeted sparingly, if at all. The Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t tweeted since the day before Trump was sworn in due to an effective gag order by the Trump administration. Many “rogue,” unverified government agency accounts have cropped up in the interim.
Republicans have called for “new management” to head the Department of Interior, which is responsible for the conservation of federal lands and natural resources and oversees NPS. A scheduled vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday to confirm Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to be the next Interior Secretary was postponed indefinitely.
Zinke, a former Navy Seal, has a score of 3 percent on the League of Conservation Voter’s environmental scorecard.
Amrita Khalid is a technology and politics reporter who specializes in breaking down complex issues into practical, useful terms. A former contributor to CQ, a Congressional news and analysis site, she's currently a master's candidate in international relations at the University of Leeds.